Posted June 11, 2010on:
I’ve noticed how so many of my fellow tweeters (twitterers) tweeple? ? in the writing community mention that the scenes they wrote earlier seem like garbage in the harsh light of day, like a one night stand, whose name you can’t remember, now drooling all over your pillow… ewww.
Why does this happen, how do we get better, how do we overcome it? That got me thinking… have I gotten better? I’m unpublished, unagented, so how can I tell?
I ran my earlier work past my harshest critic. Me. Little-known trivia fact about Patty – I am a HUGE X-Files fan. Back in the day, I wrote a few fan fiction pieces. The first was called Truthworthy and was about a woman that tempts Mulder into abandoning his quest for the truth and settling down to a normal life. In the second called Retrogressions, Scully has a crisis of faith when the agents investigate a series of crimes apparently committed by the devil himself.
I blew the dust off the stories and was appalled to see how often I relied on gerund phrases to indicate simultaneous actions… “Walking backward, I scanned the lot for trouble.” “Picking up the phone, I checked the caller ID.”
I don’t think I started a single sentence without a gerund. Ick. Passive voice, all show, no tell. I had to show every single muscle movement. Mulder didn’t just draw his gun… he first had to stand up, reach for it, move his hand… ZZZZZZZ.
Sorry. Dozed off there.
I was just as bad with emotion. I had this one scene where Mulder realizes he’s been duped by government conspirators. Again. One of my sentences just ran through a shopping list of emotions – “denial, shame, disgust, fury, rage…” At no point did I even attempt to show what he was feeling. There were no dropped jaws, raised eyebrows, wide eyes, not even a cliched gasp or two. *shakes head*
“Show, don’t tell” has proven to be the single greatest piece of writing advice ever… um, written. And, also the one that most challenges me. When I compared these early stories to my recent projects like “Border Lines,” I was amazed and proud to see dramatic improvement in my writing. As soon as life stands still for a few minutes, I’d like to revise one of my X Files, as a writing exercise. Could be fun but more importantly, it won’t be hard because the story is committed to paper, the characters well-established (of course, they’re not mine) and the plot tight.
Now imagine how this exercise might go if I’d never written a word of these stories.
Ah ha… did the light bulb go off?
I follow a group of writers on Twitter, each in a different phase of the writer’s career trajectory – some are published, others are agented, still more have just finished a manuscript. The talent, the wisdom, the experiences in this group of incredible people are impossible to quantify and just as impossible to deny. You need only to read their blogs for proof. And yet, almost all of them have lamented a scene here, a chapter there. When I see these tweets, I want to clasp my hands together, fall to my knees and sing an Hallelujah chorus or two because this means I am on the right track. If even the best writers have moments of self-doubt and push through them, than what’s stopping me or you?
I’m hip deep in “Send” right now. This is its second life. I’d finished the manuscript, did it wrong and am now rewriting it. But this effort is not flowing. It’s been a slow torturous ordeal for me where some days, I manage no more than a paragraph of new writing. It’s not great. It’s not even my best work. But once it’s out of my head and onto the page (or screen), I know I’ll be able to fix it because my tweeps have taught me the intense doubt, the urge to burn my MS and never again pick up a pen or put fingers to a keyboard… it’s all perfectly normal and part of the process.
I challenge you; examine your earlier writing and see if you haven’t improved.