Thursday, March 03, 2011

Writing about writing....again.

   Writers:  I  have been writing about writing in my free time, here and there, for years. Someday it will be a book. What parts of writing are difficult for you? What stops you, confounds you.  Comment here, please, and help me spend the ink where it is most needed.



beth said...

For me, it's revision--specifically, knowing what needs revising! I do very well when I have others (critique partners, agent, editor) tell me what is wrong with the ms, and it becomes apparent after they tell me, but I have great difficulty figuring it out for myself.

megan said...

I think that the process of developing characters and worlds would be something I'd love to read about.

I love reading about daily "writerly practices," too.

Music and Faries 2795 said...

What is really difficult for me is evenly spreading things out. I don't want too much dialogue, nor do I want too much detail. Everything needs to be perfectly in balance. Otherwise the story can get boring and/or messy.

kathleen duey said...

Thanks to you all, please tell friends to stop in and leave their agonies and puzzlements here, too. I so appreciate the guidance...

Beth: Almost no one sees their own work objectively--please don't think of it as a problem. (editors have jobs because this is true.)
But....some lone-wolfish writers wait a year to read it cold. Or a month or whatever interval works. Once you get a pattern going, it can work like an artistic pipeline.
Shorter term, for a crit group, print it and leave your office/home/ neighborhood w/o a laptop. Sit in a cafe and or the park or wherever you have never written. Switch brain-set from writer to reader, and you'll see more clearly.

Megan: The world building and character development process is too big to tackle here, but many writers start with one and make the other to fit. Whichever is clearest and most fascinating to you--start there. And then invent a place/character just as fascinating, one that befits what is already in place.

Music and Faries:
If you think of the elements as tools, like an artist using different brushes, colors, shapes....and if you stop and start over when the scene goes flat...trying another tool on the second shot...the balance will come more naturally. Some people are comfortable in description but not dialogue, etc. Maybe your overweighted areas are what you are a strongest at? The goal is to make the scene sing, though. So you don't want to decide which tool to use by an arbitrary formula built on page space or frequency of use, I don't think. Use the tool(s) that make the scene *vivid* and cut back the wordage, surgically, carefully if needed after that is accomplished.

Amanda said...

For me, the most difficult part is just keeping on when I have no idea whether what I'm writing will ever be seen by another pair of eyes except my own.

Nona said...

My biggest problem seems to be plotting, especially through the middle. I usually see the beginning clearly and have a good idea of the ending, but I never seem to remember just how long the middle is, so I think I'm finished way too soon. Then I have to go back and try to make it all fit. I've been trying to use an Excel spreadsheet to plot ahead of wriing and that helps some. Is there a better way?

Machelle said...

Confidence. More accurately, the lack there of, is my greatest hurdle. It has taken me 25 years to convince myself that I can do this. Since I originally chose a different career path, I'm now competing against those with degrees and certifications in writing. But my inner writer has never given up.

Jeff said...

This is what I have learned:

Abandon any notion that you must know and subscribe to universal rules of form and composition. Resist feeling that your writing must conform to learned 'techniques.' Such things are impediments, inhibitors, fomenters of fear, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough.

What is best of your writing is what is within you, what burns inside, what cries "Let me out." That's the good stuff.

Let it out. Just let it out!

It is best written, inspiration there beyond rule's fences, cavorts free and fed of dream's wonder.

kathleen duey said...

One of my great aunts wrote short stories. No one knew it until she passed away and we found them in a hat box. They are *good*. Knowing that there had been a good and persistent writer in my family encouraged me so much. None of us ever know if anyone will read our work, who will read it, or what effect it might have. Writing a book is a personal pleasure/agony and what happens after that is happenstance. Just write. Find/form a critique group, or hand your work to reader-friends and listen to their reactions. Then write some more. That's how everyone who ends up published starts out—they focus on writing great stories.

pacing is always a concern. There is no quick answer, because there can be LOTS of reasons for middle-drag, but in general, provide more obstacles for your protagonist--logical ones including the mis-fires that would happen because of what he/she does while trying to solve the problem. Think about how the character’s goal would change with the experiences.
Also: I met a woman when we were both on faculty at a writers' conference last fall. I usually hate systems for plot mapping and I don't use them, but she is really good at explaining story structure, and she is kind and smart and nice. This is the first of her YouTube "sessions" on plotting. There are twenty or so. I have listened to the first four or five and they reflect what I saw her do “live”. She does sell books and materials I think--but she is giving you a gift of the basics here:

I graduated from a really good public high school and have pursued a sketchy education in whatever interested me in my local libraries and online. I hold no degrees. I started writing seriously when I was 40. Pre that, I lived off grid for 25 years. ((If you ever need your goats milked, you know who to call. )) If you want a degree, there are fabulous programs all over the country. But life experience, passion, and the ability to research can be a good foundation for a writer, too, especially if you want to write for a general public audience.
It’s a brave thing, putting your heart on paper, then handing it to strangers. It isn’t easy for any of us. Conferences, organizations, and making writer-friends will help your confidence and broaden your skill-set--which will further support your confidence. If you want to write for kids or teens go explore the international community of writers at and their many fabulous conferences. If you want to write for adults, there are genre organizations and literary conferences that focus on every kind of writing you can imagine. And thanks to the internet you can search out comments from attendees before you decide to spend the money.
Local writing clubs can help. Hanging out with other writers will not magically dissipate your writer-doubts but knowing you aren’t the only one is a great relief!! Solitary confinement is almost every writer’s default setting so most of us need to get OUT sometimes. As in real life, a few will be annoying, perhaps a real crank or two, but most will be good-to-wonderful. It’s about the same ratio as in the general population except the wonderful ones are super-duper wonderful because writers often care deeply about things and love to learn. Most writer’s clubs read work aloud and/or exchange manuscripts for comments. Terrifying at first, but it is good preparation for listening to and interpreting an editor’s remarks--and you will be amazed how spotting problems in other people’s work improves you own. Whether you love your local group, find a single kindred soul, or outgrow them all over time and find peers elsewhere, writer friends can keep you going, producing pages. And they will expect payback when they need support!!

kathleen duey said...

Jeff, I agree, almost completely. I do think taking the time and effort needed to learn craft and get good at it is worthwhile, before taking a run at the cliffs, experimenting/bending,freeing the artist.

Most of us need some tools that feel at home in our hands, that we know how to wield, a set of basic skills from which to begin innovating. Otherwise you can spend your life reinventing the wheel instead of standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us. The greatest musicians still learn the scales first.

Chris said...

I'm often afraid that my story won't mean anything to the reader or that they won't become invested in its characters and their problems. When I write, I sometimes feel like my characters have become the victims of a silly plot and are not reaching their full potential. For now I'm hoping time and practice will help me rediscover why they are important to me.

kathleen duey said...

I am not sure how to respond to this because it echoes my feelings just before I decided that outlining was making me push my characters around, making the puppet strings show. Try not outlining, or outline as always but give yourself permission to abandon the plot and follow the characters. Instead of "what happens next", try asking yourself "what would he/she DO next."