When Your Own Bad Writing Makes You Sick

Ever look back and read work you’ve done in the past to realize it sucks so bad you almost feel physically ill?

Yep, that happened to me in a big way Sunday. The previous week my son started school on Wednesday, so I started working on my new novel with gusto (I’d been waiting all summer to start!), but realized I had some background information and research that needed to be done first. Then I got the bright idea to read the half completed first draft of my second novel (Dark Territories) over the weekend. God, what a horrible, awful, terrible disappointment that turned out to be.

I couldn’t even get all the way through two chapters before I decided I’d had enough, because I was real close to vomiting. Yeah, it was that bad. And I can’t even pinpoint one specific thing that was terrible. There was a well balanced amount of terribleness from stiff and completely out of character dialogue to plot leaps that would make a mountain goat proud. There were tie-ins from one story arc to another that left me wondering exactly how much I had to drink that day. And please don’t even get me started on my long windedness. I could probably make a schooner set sail with all that blustering air moving about in each scene.

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Writing Groups: Not for All Writers All of the Time

One of the first pieces advice I received as a young writer (about eight or nine years ago now) from multiple sources (mostly from writing books and sage advice from published authors) was that to be successful at writing one must join a writing group. I was told writing groups would make me a better writer by giving me a place to talk and learn about writing as well as put me around other like-minded individuals for the support I needed to keep writing.

I took that advice to heart and joined a writers group two years after I began my cool hobby of writing, because I wanted to take my cool hobby to the next level.

It was the best decision of my life.

Until that defining moment of joining my first writing group, writing was a fancy. Something I did in my spare time. I had big ideas of being published, but it was a pie in the sky kind of thing. Joining a writing group made me realize that writing isn’t as romantic as I first thought. It’s lot of hard work (and a building of strict discipline and great effort), but work that had a hell of a pay off in the end (and I’m not talking about being published).

Through the help of my new writing friends, I learned that writing was not just something to do or some passing fancy for me, it was a way of life… my new way of life. And for two years, I went to every single writing meeting religiously (every other Saturday afternoon). And no sickness or excuse would keep me from going (okay, so if I was running a fever I wouldn’t go, but you get the idea).

Then I started getting restless. Something was wrong, very wrong and I didn’t know what it was. The meetings weren’t as fulfilling anymore and more times than not I would come home from a meeting totally frustrated, wondering why I’d wasted hours talking about writing and other things that had nothing to do with writing (because my writing group did love to get off topic a lot).

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Common Phrases Used by Authors

commo phrasesNow this is an interesting little chart I stumbled upon as I browsed Facebook. This post from the Writer’s Circle. I often enjoy the posts this page puts up, but this one made me stop and think. And the question that popped in my brain was… What would be the most common phrases in my writing?

An argument could be made for the listed words and phrases as being too simplistic and possibly boring. But considering the intended audience (young adult), is that really a bad thing? And it opens the question… is simplistic writing possibly a better way to go? After all, these series are best sellers.

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Guest Post: How to Accomplish Effective Self-Editing

Hey, writers. I’m Cheri, a co-admin over at OKPotato, (or cherikamei, my personal writing blog), and, thanks to Cynthia Griffin, I’m here to discuss the process of self-editing.

For anyone following either of my aforementioned blogs, you’ll have already seen multiple posts on my writing process and a myriad woes. A brief rundown for everyone else: Last year I completed my M.A. in English, Creative Writing, and am expanding on my thesis to finish a full novel. It is a sci-fi dystopia with a kick-ass group of POC women and their token male. (You can see more here. Publishers, feel free to contact.) (Not kidding.)

As a poor, part-time writer, I rely on self-editing for most of my works and a writing group composed of friends for the rest of my feedback. Whether you’re writing a poem, short story, novella, or novel, it is important for you to know how to edit your own work, both for technical writing errors and inconsistencies or problems with overall arcs and character development.

Why?

For one thing, the only way to get other people to take your work seriously is to present it as perfectly as possible. No one knows your writing as well as you do and so only you can reshape it with intentions that match your story or poem. The smallest rewording can often change the meaning of an entire sentence

While I certainly encourage writing groups and getting feedback from readers, you can save yourself at least some trouble down the line (when you’re looking to publish) by self-editing early. It may even help you figure out how you shape your story arcs as you go along.

I’ll be showing you my process, which seems to be working pretty well so far, and I’d love to hear about any of your processes in the comments!

Here we go. I call it: The Side-By-Side.

1. Open up your work on the left side of your screen.
2. Now, open a blank document on the right.
3. Start re-writing what’s on the left…on the right.

cheripic

It sounds crazy. It looks crazy. But it works. Most people self-edit by re-reading their work and fixing the mistakes they catch as they go. It is a decent method, but one that can be hampered by your own superb knowledge of the writing at-hand. As the author, you already know what is coming in terms of wording, pacing, and grammar. This also means that it is easy for your eyes to skim ahead, jumping obvious mistakes, especially typos.

Rewriting as a form of editing helps you slow down and examine what you have actually written the first time. It will also help you find awkward wording as you go, as well as repetitive syntax (This Sentence Has Five Words Example).

The key is to pay attention as you rewrite. You will find the places that need expansion or clarification or the parts you should cut because it’s bogging down the pace of the scene or story. Approach it as both a writer and a reader and I guarantee that this new draft will come out much more polished. It also gets a significant rewrite out of the way, especially if you self-edit chapter by chapter for a longer piece.

Yes, it will take longer than a simple read-through for typos and misnomers, but it will also get you one step closer to a ready-to-publish piece, especially if you repeat this process several times.

Things to look for as you self-edit, besides basic spelling and grammar:

  • Repetitive sentence structures.
  • Repetitive wording: (“The castle was tall. Inside the castle was a cat. Looming above the fireplace in the castle was a portrait of the castle.”)
  • Reader confusion: Is it clear who the word “she” refers to in this sentence? Does an object start in a person’s hand and end up on table in the next paragraph without explanation? Do you mention that a character closes his eyes on page three and you notice now that he opens his eyes on page eight?
  • Lack of OR too much exposition. Don’t be afraid to cut if you notice your interest waning as you rewrite a part. Similarly, don’t be afraid to add if you feel a paragraph doesn’t have the right atmosphere or, as a reader, you find yourself wanting to know more about something (although, be reasonable. Not every character gets a long backstory and not every flower petal needs to be described in minutiae.)

The most important part of the self-editing process, though, is to know when to stop and to continue on with your writing (or, if you’re doing all the editing at the end, simply to let the piece be). At some point you will need fresh eyes to review your work, but, by then, you will be able to present them with a work you have carefully edited, and of which you can be proud.

Let Cynthia and I know how you do if you attempt the Side-by-Side process and how it works for you. Happy writing!

 

How Many Drafts Does it Take to Finish a Novel?

Now that’s a good question. I hear the “it takes three drafts” a lot, but really it depends on the writer and the writer’s experience. Though the more experience you have in writing, the less mistakes you tend to make the first time around and typically add more “correct” information in the first couple of rounds (because you have a stronger idea of what makes a good story).

Even still, there are many well-published authors who do a lot more than three drafts (check out Lisa Gail’s interview with authors as she asks How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?). It really boils down to writing style and an individual’s organizational mode. Every writer is different. Check out this interview with Earnest Hemingway…

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
— Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Gah! 39. Now that’s a lot! But he’s right, it’s about getting the words right even if it take 39 drafts or 390 drafts.

And then there are the super star writers who can do up a novel without much rewriting at all.

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence — no first draft.”— Dorothy Parker, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

And some people write drafts with certain issues they want to address in that particular draft.

Leslie Rose (from How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?) wrote:

Here are my drafts:
1 – vomit draft – let it fly baby
2- Story arc pass – main story subplots – overall structure
3- MC & supporting character arcs – including character development & embellishment
4- grammar/punctuation pass & bad habit pass (adverbs/tense/sentence variety/word choice)
7 – Hard copy read – make corrections
8 – Kindle read – make corrections
OUT TO BETAS
9 – Including Beta notes pass
10 – Holistic read – wearing my audience hat
11 – Corrections from Holistic read
QUERY TIME

Writing a novel doesn’t even really start until draft two and on (well, for most of us anyways). It’s the rewriting that shapes the story into what you actually want it to be. The first draft is just mental vomit.

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” — John Updike

In my case, I found I didn’t even know what I wanted to say until my third draft (my novel will take a total of five drafts to be completed by the way). I have whole chapters from draft one and two that will never see the light of day (thank god!).

“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.” — Helen Dunmore

And then there is the multiple rewrites that happen within a draft. You know, the tiny rewrites that happen over and over until you feel like you can bleed the words (though these rewrites and edits should happen in draft two and beyond).

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl

Basically it’s up to you how many drafts you write (and don’t let anyone tell you different!). What matters is that the story progresses in a way that you want and gets the point across.

Here are some other posts on how many drafts it takes…

Karen Woodward’s How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Joanna Penn’s Writing a Book: What Happens After the First Draft?

And check out this article on How Many Rewrites is too Much?

Sooooooo, how many drafts does it take (or will take) you to finish a novel?

 

To Be a Good Writer Means to Be a Good Thinker

Writing is 99% thinking, and the rest is typing. — Ray Bradbury

When I first started writing, I did it the hard way. I just wrote the first thing that came to mind. I got an idea, character, setting, or ect. in my head and I wrote it down immediately.

It was fun. I produced a story, or maybe a part of a story, or maybe really just words on a page. But damn if I didn’t feel proud of my accomplishment. A proud Momma with her precious baby.

And then I got some experience under my belt and that happy bubble popped when I realized I was doing it all wrong.

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Writing Tips from Fictions Authors

cropped-writing1.jpgI am always looking for advice or insight into writing and what others have to say about the writing journey. In my search, I found an article from iUniverse that gives 20 tips from authors some of them well mown like Neil Gaiman and Elmore Leonard. Some of the tips I’ve already heard, but they are important and are worth repeating (a lot). In fact, I may just print this up and put it on the wall so I can see it on a daily basis.

Check these tips out and see what you think. Tip number six is a real crutch for me. And I learned tip number two the hard way.

What tips do you have and would like to share? Feel free to post in the comment section below.