Saturday, July 3, 2010

Out, out, damn sentence!

Writing. Some of us do it because we have to (I’m not the only writer to be marched to the computer by a character holding a gun to my head); some do it because it’s a fun, creative diversion; some do it because it pays the bills. We all get stuck on sentences and paragraphs. I’ve learned a few things from fighting with ideas and words.

a) Pay attention to your inner editor. I believe most, if not all, writers have one. It often starts out as a quiet voice but mine got louder the more I critiqued (or “critted”) other people’s chapters while continuing to work on my own story.

If something sounds awkward to your inner editor -- it just won’t behave by pouring itself nicely into a coherent sentence or two, or it hits some bumps as the words roll along -- there’s probably something wrong with it. Go back to it and think about it. Twist things around, look for something that flows with the rest of the paragraph. For myself, sometimes I decide that the reason I can’t seem to fix it is because it doesn’t have to be there anyway. A day or two later, I go back and read the same chapter, and I realize the rhythm is better without the troublesome phrase and I haven’t lost any important information.

Very often, the same phrases I have doubts about but leave in are the ones that my crit buddies on Critique Circle say need tweaking. They’re nice about it, but what they mean is, “Nooo, that’s like fingernails on a blackboard.” That reinforces my editing instincts. I had no idea when I started posting chapters to be critted that the process would become so central to my writing.

b) If you have a thought (sentence, phrase) that sounds great but doesn’t seem to click with the rest of the paragraph, maybe it doesn’t belong either. The parts of my WIP that other people say worked great are the ones I didn’t have to struggle to put together. I know how you feel.  The words fit together like puzzle pieces and say something in a clever way, but: they don’t belong. In this instance, writing is not like gardening where you can uproot something and find another corner where it works better. I look at it this way. Every time I have to make a writing decision that I know is good for the story but is painful, it toughens my skin. I’m gonna need that the more I ask people to comment on my writing.

It’s an interesting dynamic going on in my head. I have a Movie Director who controls what I see as I write. I’ve had to admit that the Director doesn’t always know what he’s doing. It was the painful admission of a writer beginning to show her work to others. My Inner Editor, I think, argues with the Script Writer. Combine that with characters changing the plot midstream and you have an answer to why writers often seem confused and some are going bald.


  1. I find this is exactly right--almost always something I feel waffley on is the very thing crit partners call me out on in a manuscript.

    I think this is a good thing for newer writers to hear. I know one of the bigger things to conquer is the feeling that you just don't know where the problems are. This was certainly how it was for me. The more you critique and get feedback tho, the more present that Internal Editor becomes, and the easier it gets to spot the flaws. Then it becomes about needing help on finding ways beyond them through new eyes, or how to incorporate other ideas to make it work. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Exactly. Thanks for stopping by so fast after I posted!

    I just deleted a phrase this morning from my second round of editing on the current chapter. I had "Fury ran through him like lightning" but, alas, that's telling or at least not the close 3rd POV I'm using. Nobody would think that about themselves, so it got deleted. *sigh*

    But without all the critting and being critted, I probably would not have realized that the phrase didn't belong.

  3. The lovely thing about word processors is that you can save all the cut bits, the shiny sentences or phrases you LIKE but which don't fit, or full drafts you're scrapping, or whatever. O:)

    It's still a struggle with developing an "ear" on some things--because it's easier to pick out what sounds off in someone else's writing than my own. Of course when in doubt, cut it. (Thankfully editing is not quite the same as disarming a bomb, lol)

    I like to save multiple copies of whatever I'm working on so if I DO end up cutting something I later decide is worth keeping (not often, but it does happen).

    Anyway, I just wanted to say good post. :) Self-editing is HARD but very necessary and worth all the work in the end. Thanks for this!

  4. Thanks Merc :)

    Yeah lately I've started putting bits that I cut at the end of the chapter. That way, if I decide later that I like it after all, it's still there. How did I manage when all my writing was done longhand??