clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Write Like Shit

It is time, ladies and gentlemen. Raise your insecure left hand, and repeat after me:

I < state your name> write like shit. I wander. I cast about for description. I modify. I confuse my plot with my conflict. I obscure my character's emotions and motivations. My pacing is off. My infinitives are too often split. I'll find any excuse not to write on my declared project. I love the sound of deadlines as they go wooshing by - especially those I've made to keep myself on track.

Lower your hands. [ The last bit is courtesy Douglas Adams but I think he'd approve ]. Welcome to the self-loathing edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group courtesy CAPT Alex and the ninja army. You can find them all here.

Now, you didn't know June was self-loathing month? Well, it is.

The year is half over and you still suck at writing. Your project is behind. Your family now thinks being a writer means talking to yourself, looking for your writing sweatshirt, "going for coffee," and spending time on the couch watching men whose high school had the world's worst guidance counselors catch crab. Again. 

I have a secret. We all write like shit. Oh, Mr. Irving and Mr. McCarthy who are regular commentators here on this blog are not. They're good writers. They have time to surf the net, comment on my witty blog posts, and watch guys catching crab. The rest of us all suck. Yes, we suck. 

We chose to tell stories and even when we've sold a few books (not me) we still suck or we'd be posing for our Nobel portrait.  I'm posing for mine nude, by the way. A Watery Tart inspired me. There - you've got that to look forward to.

The secret secret? We might suck at our drafts but we can be brilliant at editing. Yes - few writer's can craft well from the original ink. We can all however edit like the Moses. Editing can fix many of our most glaring problems.

Oh - before you doubt Moses as an editor know there originally were twenty-seven commandments, eight practices to be avoided, and thirteen "strong suggestions." The original author had promise but displayed a bit of an inflated sense of literary ego that spilled onto the tablet.

Case in point. I have a story I like. It reads like shit. I edited out all adverbs, all witty little writer bits where the narrator says something and waits for applause [ cue Ralphie's Christmas theme scene from _A Christmas Story_. ] , and all the adjectives. All.

Then, I put the story away. I came back. I read it cold. I thought - what the hell? Where did the conflict go? Who is this guy telling the story - is this a music video? Make the narrator a character, have him want something. Maybe he's the instigator? Dress the line. Tuck in that shirt tail. Suck in that plot.

I almost had a story when the edits were done. Almost. Total elapsed time in the first pass clean-up on the first post-adjective-adverb-removal? Thirty minutes. Yes. I shit you not. What was needed was crystal to me without all of "me" in the way. That's style man - you threw out style ! I hear you all the way over here.

Bullshit. I threw out clutter. I am the author. I speak directly to the reader when I give a character a name. Otherwise, the story tells itself or I got in the way.

Get the junk out of the way. Read the story clean without any make-up and boom : the weak parts scream at you. It is , after all, a bloody story.

First, the tale has to stand on its own. That's conflict. Then, the desires and thwarted desires of all the characters (everyone wants all the time) must show. That's plot. Sharpen the dialogue. Cut the exposition. Employ narrative summary where the dialogue is droning. Do we need to take the car ride with the protagonist where she watches the tress go by on the side of the road? Really?

How about the antagonist? Don't have one? Oh, the conflict is man vs himself?  Buy some party invites. Let's get an antagonist in the story. Call it dog-piling. Your antagonists have haunted you your entire life. Let your character have a little of that fun, too.

Any scenes when the protagonist is alone? Why? No - really. Why? I thought so. Put someone in or get the protagonist out.

We're getting there.

We might write like shit but bad writers can become wondrous editors. THAT should be the goal.

You at a party:

 My writing - oh, my drafts are pretty bad. My should see my edits. Wait - you do see my edits! Check the NYT bestseller list. Shamus in Heat is #6 this week.  

Tell the story. Admit it is crap. Get over it. Edit like a god. The story is in there. The editing will help bring it out.

After the sixth or seventh, your unedited draft may no longer be crap. By then though, you'll not be insecure.

Go get 'em. There is shit to edit.

Here's some help:

Keep writing. 


Anonymous said...

Not buying it. Won't admit to writing poorly, though I do agree, superb editing doesn't hurt.

jack welling said...

Hmmm. Not a poor writer. Interesting.

Not casting about for a metaphor - even a little bit?

I suggest an MFA. That will return you to a position of self loathing. If not for the inherent self-doubt such a program might produce, at least you'd engage in loathing for the debt you would drag endlessly behind you.

I suspect then this denial means you are ready for a better brand of scotch. No more bottles with pictures of animals on the label for you!

That means, I'll be looking for a courtesy shot-and-a-beer at Backspace. I'll be the one at the bar Janet Reid is threatening to spike with her shoe. You cannot miss me.