Are you a writing Screw-Up? Five things I learned the Hard Way.

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A story that should have flopped.

We all secretly wish to write award-winning, book/article/blog selling perfect prose, the minute we lay our fingers on the keyboard and we all are slightly disappointed with our first drafts, when it turns out they are less than perfect. We may all understand that “crappiness” is part of the process but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

There are five distinct screw-ups I’ve made that have taught me how to get better at this writering and I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve sucked at and how it’s helped you improve. So, here’s my Top Five.

1. OBSESSION WITH W.I.P. TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL ELSE

I have been guilty of putting my writing ahead of absolutely everything and become obsessive about it to the point of a detriment to my day job (the one that pays the bills) and my personal relationships. This sucks and has not made me a better writer. Nothing, not even this writing means you should stop interacting with life at least some of the time. Don’t look at me like that, writing appeals to the loner in all of us, but without life experiences our writing is in 2D, it’s thin and lacks authenticity.

2. NOT PUTTING THE EFFORT IN

Okay, this is where I go the other way and hang out on social media and try to loosely prove to myself that “building a platform” is more important than the W.I.P. What is a Platform anyway? I’m not an oil-rig worker, I’m a writer! I’m a complete idiot when it comes to building authentic relationships via social media and that’s the new BUZZ message? Communicate, make friends and be real. But in  150 characters or less.

Or then there’s Procrastination which sounds like a disease and has the same ravaging effects. Whilst cutting yourself some slack is a good idea, there are times when you just have to sit down, suck it up and string sentences together.

3. PANTSER OR PLOTTER?

I am a Plotter who Pantses. I am now only about 10,000 words away from the end of the first novel and I am going to have to go back and plot and cut and re-draft. The second book will be fully plotted out before I start. It’s easier in the long-term and I’ve noticed a butt-kicking awesome lift in my productivity when I have a clear idea of where the work is going. A structure allows me to take the work in a different direction. A plan doesn’t restrict, it frees my creativity. Currently I have a lot more work to do because I didn’t do this the first time.

Whether you are a Plotter or a Pantser, just accept it and move on. Plotters don’t understand Pantsers and Pantsers don’t understand Plotters. We are two seperate sides of the Force. Of course I now realise that Pantsing is the DARK SIDE…..

4. REPETITIVE WORDS

There are lots of turns of phrase and words that as a new writer you are going to find a lot of in your work. I’ve listed mine in an earlier post. We all struggle to move our writing on. I thoroughly recommend creating a list of those words you overuse and then searching them out in your prose. Don’t remove every instance where you use them, as there will be occasions where they are completely correct and fit. Again we are back to the word balance…

5. THINKING ABOUT MY AUDIENCE

There will always be room for great stories and I need to accept the fact that all the storylines have already been taken. I don’t think there will ever not be a place for writing about all the great archetypes in our world. Yes, things do go through a cycle and you may find for a decade darker style fiction where everyone dies and there are no happy endings are in vogue, the next decade happy endings, hope and redemption win out in the light. My best example of this is Star Wars, a tale of heroes that became a major success in the same decade that gave us Scarface and Taxi Driver. Some stories will always “just” work.

Write what you want to write and stay true to yourself. Although some more fiction for grown ups and not teenage girls would be nice. Just saying.

COMMENTS, AS ALWAYS WELCOME. May the force be with you…..

14 thoughts on “Are you a writing Screw-Up? Five things I learned the Hard Way.

  1. Love this! You are so right and so eloquent with it, that I may just have to post some of your maxims around my study. Or is that a displacement activity?

  2. Very well written and i’m sure we can all relate. I am guilty of the first four (even though as you say the first two are contradictory!), although not so much the last one – i write for me, and if other people like it then great. My other main fault it spendng hours trying to find just the right word, and when it finally comes i have lost my thread. I try to let myself only think for a bit and if it doesnt come then highlight it to come back to tomorrow, but sometimes it just nags so much i can’t get past.

    • Ahhh, the correct word, noun, verb syndrome. I’ve been there cursing myself that my vocabulary is obviously rubbish to have the word appear like magic some time later and then reread the rest of the sentence and find that alas, a perfect word isn’t going to perfect “it” 🙂 – Thanks for commenting RG.

  3. Good post. I tend to swing between the first and the second fairly regularly. For instance, right now I’m procrastinating picking up work on one of my W.I.P… Sigh. And between plotting and pantsing… I never considered myself a Sith before. What a mess!

    However, I read back through a short story of mine the other day (I’m starting to work on a tie-in and was trying to recapture the tone) and the number of mistakes and errors was mind boggling. Which tells me that, yes, I wrote a bit of a screw-up. But the fact I can pick it out means I’ve gotten better since last January. I’m probably still writing screw-ups lol, but the the great thing is that they are losing some of the screwy-ness and getting more of the upy-ness (new word!)

    I’m endlessly impressed by people (such as our gracious host) who have the tolerance to actually WORK on their stories. Much better folks than I, I’m to lazy too do that.

    Oh, and tryingtowriteit, congrats on getting down to the last 10k words of your draft! That is awesome!

    • Thanks, there’s so much work to do on it that it could be in the dictionary next to s^&% first draft. Sigh. But it’s nearly finished the winning post is in sight. Who knew I could write close to 80,000 words and some of them even make sense! I know exactly what you mean about re-reading something and discovering it was not the epitome of loveliness you first imagined! Point 1 and 2 are my own Kryptonite. You’ll get there. Just keep going. It sucks but it works 🙂

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  5. I’m seriously considering plotting out my next book. When I was doing crazy extensive re-writes for the book I’m working on now, I made a rough outline of what I wanted to write, and it made my life so easy!!!! I’m sure any outline I make for a new book will change halfway through, but at least I’ll have something to go on 🙂 Excellent post!!!

    • Thanks Michelle, I absolutely love your blog and it’s high praise indeed. That’s exactly what I found, write it out and it becomes just so much easier. An outline doesn’t necessarily mean that things don’t change, it just helps understand if you pull a lever in Chapter 2 that something in Chapter 5 may have to change.

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  8. Great post; yet another one I wish that I’d read years ago. I once managed to drive myself to the point of a breakdown by obsessing over a (in hindsight, terrible) WIP. No, really >_<.

    I've tried both pantsing and plotting, but have now decided that the former will never work for me. I used to fall into #5, and still fall into #4 from time to time.

    As for #2, well…I should probably get off WordPress right about now. Bye!

  9. Pingback: “Plotting Versus Pansing and What to do if You Ever Want to Sell on Proposal” by Stephanie Haefner | Authors Helping Authors Resource Site

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