The Stages Of Writing
- Phase 1 is to think everything you write is amazing.
- Phase 2 is the growing realization that everything you write isn’t actually as amazing as you thought. This is more than just getting a critique from someone –often, it’s actually understanding the thing being pointed out by the critiquer. This feels a bit like learning Santa Claus isn’t real. Your world view becomes a little shaken.
- Phase 3 is the mounting horror as you come to believe that everything you write is so terrible that it should be burned in a fire. (This one isn’t as much fun as Phase 1)
- Phase 4 is the calm, stubborn understanding that nothing you write will ever be perfect, but it’s never as bad as Phase 3 thinks it is and that it’s WORTH the pain of imperfection for the privilege of writing and being read.
Worst of all? You don’t stay in a single phase. You bounce around a lot. Heck, in Unicorns, I ran through the whole gamut, from 1 to 4 at least twice, if not three times.
Just because you’ve pushed through the pain of advancing to Phase 4, that doesn’t mean you get to rest on your laurels. It DOES mean that getting past Phase 3 is easier next time. And easier still the time after that.
How To Get Past Phase 1
Sometimes, you’re sitting on Phase 1. You can see Phase 2 from here — other people see your work and point out flaws. The frustrating thing isn’t that you don’t believe them, it’s that you DO believe them, and can’t see the flaws yourself.
The work reads fine to you.
First off? Big hugs.
Secondly? Realize that we ALL begin this way.
That being said, you can’t just sit there if you intend people to keep reading the stuff you write.
The first recommendation (and possibly, the most important) is to READ YOUR STORY ALOUD.
Record yourself doing it.
Replay the recording after a little bit of time has passed. A couple days, at least.
Ideally, you’ll catch a lot of stuff when reading, but if you don’t, hopefully you’ll start to hear some of the flaws when listening to it.
This one’s hard, because no matter how good or bad a writer you are, it’s difficult to have something you love poked, prodded, and picked to shreds.
But if you can’t see the problems, one of the very best ways to learn how is to have other people highlight them for you.
Pay attention. Understand as much as you can about what wasn’t working so that maybe you can see it when you write it again. Over time, maybe you’ll stop writing it, but in the short term, you just want to be able to recognize it when you see it.
Let Your Favorite Author Teach You
Another way to improve is to take a book/scene that you feel did a GREAT job of … whatever it is that your critiquers are telling you is missing from your stories. Characters, pacing, romance, action, dialogue … whatever it is. For the sake of argument here, let’s say that you are Rhonda, and you want to write Romance, but your readers keep telling you that your characters are cardboard-thin and your romantic scenes are awkward.
Rhonda loves Diana Gabaldon, so I want you to grab your favorite novel. Outlander.
Pick two scenes from Outlander. First, the opening scene – where the writer introduces the main character. Second, a very emotionally-charged romance scene. There are … ah…multiples to choose from. *cough, blush*
- Read each scene once.
- Type/copy the scenes into your own document. (not plagarism unless you pretend you wrote it). This is your fingers feeling out the words other people use. It sounds dumb, I know. Do it anyway.
- Print out your typed copy (assuming that’s okay with you. You can do this digitally if you want, I just like to take notes)
- You are going to destroy your printed copy. Sorry if that disappoints you. Grab multicolored highlighters. Dissect that copy. What worked? Highlight in yellow. What didn’t? Highlight in blue. What precise words were used to heighten the tension and make you feel like part of that character’s life? Highlight in pink. How long were the passages? Write that out to the side. What were the most powerful words? Pink again. Do things like highlight a phrase or dialogue and make a note : “because of this, I know the character has a good sense of humor” or “because of this, I know how strongly the character wants to kiss the hero.”
- IMMEDIATELY AFTER DOING 4, go back to your story. Read the character introduction from a recent thing you wrote AND a love scene you recently wrote.
Now STOP, because you’ve just convinced yourself you suck. Deep breath.
You don’t suck. You CARE and you’re new at this and there’s NOTHING wrong with that. The only wrong thing here is to give up.
One more deep breath.
You just compared one of your first pieces of writing to someone you consider to be a VERY GOOD published author. If you came out of that comparison smelling of roses, I’d doubt your sanity. Nobody ever thinks they do well when compared to their heroes, no matter how good a writer they are.
What you need is to develop the kind of eye that can see the flaws in your own writing. Until you do that, you’ll keep writing them. (Heck, even after that, you’ll keep writing them .. but you’ll see them in revision and recognize them).
Now. Another deep breath. (don’t those feel good?)
Back to your writing.
Repeat number 4 above, but with your pieces.
This will hurt. Do it anyway. You’ll have more pink than yellow for now. That’s totally fine. Expected.
Draw lines to text and write notes in the margins “this didn’t work” or “bad sentence structure” or “need to do more X” (where X is something your favorite author did).
And when that’s all done?
Revise your original scenes. You’ll be tempted to just throw them out and completely rewrite them — I urge against this, because you’ll learn more from this revising than you will from a rewrite.
Don’t spend ages on this, especially if you’ve decided you won’t use it for anything. DO spend enough time to learn what it feels like to heavily edit your own writing at this level. It’s just two scenes — one for each big flaw you’ve got in your own writing. If you can’t revise two scenes to learn to be a better writer, then you’re really going to freak out the first time you submit an entire NOVEL filled with these errors and your agent/editor sends you a bunch of revisions.
This is the hardest way to learn, but you’re getting lessons from a successful, published author whose work you admire AND all your suggestions came from yourself. YOU saw them. YOU noticed them.
You did this.
And that is an amazing thing. =]
Don’t Give Up
Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself OR your writing. So many times, I’ve heard people say that the most important writer trait is persistence and I believe them.