Friday, March 23, 2018

You May Not Hate Your Writing as Much as You Think

“I have such a long time until I can start editing,” my friend said after I sent her some positive feedback.

“Because you’ll get demoralized if you’ll read it?”

“Yeah. I’ll start thinking it’s so bad and won’t want to go on.”

“I think it’s closer than you think.”

I got drunk one night and in the spur of positivity and love that is Drunk Charley, I had sent her a text both admonishing and praising her, demanding she stop restricting who she really was with that “objective” and bland bull crap she was forcing herself to write for the academics and say what she really wanted to say. “You’re insightful and funny and interesting, so what the hell is this!?”

The next morning, I was surprised to wake up to two pages of the most heart wrenching personal experience you could fit in 1,000 words.

We’ve been working together on it since, her periodically sending me pages and me making generalized comments. It wasn’t until she sent me a piece she was especially nervous about that I went in and make extensive notes on my opinions. When she told me she was nervous to actually rewrite, I was a little surprised (even though I’d heard it from her before). The vast majority of it just needing expanding, more information and details rather than changes to what she already had. That in itself would fix most of the concerns I might have with the prose, and what was left in her voice was mostly just minor tweaks here and there—fixing some repetition, typos, clarification, the usual sort of thing that you can expect from any first draft.

While it has some amateurish tics, she herself already knows about them, making comments before I even looked at it.

Which brings me to say, her fears of being a terrible writer are more or less unfounded. At least, unfounded when it comes to her work being such a terrible mess.

So where is it coming from?

Funnily enough, I had a similar experience not a few days before. One of my Stories of the Wyrd came from a section of the manuscript Silver Diggers that was somewhat of a transition scene… and it didn’t have a lot going for it.

If the scene had remained in a normal, full book, I would have probably cut it apart and placed bits of the conversation amongst other, more eventful moments, but as it was, it felt incredibly meaningful and important to their characters, and, for various reasons, I believed it could stand on its own—just so long as it underwent major changes.

Whenever editing one of the scenes from the old manuscript, I have this moment of desperation. Each time, I haven’t even picked up the chapter yet and already I’m dismayed with how much work it’s going to be. It’s a lesson in keeping things tight, to be sure, but there’s a lot more flexibility when working with a longer narrative filled with transitions and cool down time.

Is the writing bad? Well, sometimes it’s painful. But that’s not necessarily what causes the issue. In fact, if it is useless or banal, I can just throw it out and move to the next scene. It’s actually when it has some merit that I find myself irritated.

See, I start by reading the next section of my old manuscript that hasn’t seen the light of day in perhaps ten years. I don’t know how much of it is going to turn into a story. Is the whole chapter important? Is the first part funny enough to be salvaged into something new? Is the information going to need a complete rewrite? Some of the prose isn’t up to snuff, and I’ve even started to prematurely “Find” and delete the ‘frozes’ and ‘looks’ just to speed things up. Sometimes it’s actually pretty great, but I won’t be aware of that until a few paragraphs in.

You may have heard me say that readers enjoy something more when they trust it enough to invest in it? Well imagine when you’re reading through something that you might just trash in the next five minutes. Not that fun.

When I moved from New York, I finally had ready access to a printer. This was a relief. I made myself a copy of this particular scene, knowing it would need a lot of work, and took the highlighter to it. Having read it once before and thinking the information was important, I had already forgotten a couple of weeks later what occurred in that chapter specifically. But, instead of fixing cringeworthy moments or jumping right into inserting action, I just familiarized myself what I had written. I highlighted anything that needed to be changed, but didn’t slow down to critically evaluate it.

Having it on paper made it a faster and more comprehensive read than the computer, and letting go of my critic made it more enjoyable. Then, once I had a page riddled with changes and quick notes, I went through and did a few line edits. I added in some description needed to turn it into a short story. I expanded on things I thought could turn into a plot arc. I printed it out again.

This time the read was easier. I felt more confident, and was more relieved; it was not only turning into an actual story, but it actually made sense to become a new introduction of readers to the world, considering the topics discussed some fundamental questions and characteristics. I added more information about the Wyrd itself than I’d discussed before. I made some big notes about where I could take the action.

I realized I needed to cut down. The story grew a thousand words and the conversations had started to become tangential. While adding in some motivation and plot elements, I merged sentences, salvaged a part of the conversation for later, and cut down on individual lines.

Over the course of time, my feelings flip flopped. Instead of exasperated and somewhat helpless, I began to feel capable and in control. I focused on it, slowly worked it as I figured out how, and even after only a few drafts I felt much better about it… and myself.

Do you really hate your writing? Is it really bad as you think? It’s a question we all ask ourselves, and in my opinion, I believe that that sickness you feel when you see it has very little to with the writing itself.

Sure, you’re probably right in that it’s not up to your standards yet. But perhaps you’re taking it so hard not because it’s too far from being something you love, just that you don’t know how to start.

So take it easy. Read through it, make a few changes. Read through it again, make a few more. Don’t try to do everything at once and don’t try to be perfect. You’d be shocked at how quickly those feelings of dread vanish as you realize that it’s so much easier than you think.

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