Entire lives pour out of my fingertips on a fairly regular basis. Letters form into words that describe entire worlds… Well, they used to. Description used to be second nature to me. When I first started writing, entire books could have been comprised of descriptions of a club or the physical appearance of the love interest. I could paint a picture of the narrator’s room better than I could configure a plot. Gory scenes could be written in such vivid detail that you could almost forget the fact that every single one of my characters talked like a fourteen-year-old girl.
Nowadays, I like to think that my plot-development and dialogue-writing abilities have grown tenfold. But I seem to have traded one (or more than one) problem for another. My ability to gauge a good description seems to have vanished into thin air.
I’m bored with describing people’s hair and eye colors. I’m tired of adding in details that aren’t necessary to the plot. I think I’ve also been scared away from description a bit with the harsh critique that I received almost a year ago in which the critic told me that I was using too many adjectives.
All of this blows, to say the least. Well-placed description is essential to a good book. It sets the scene and the mood, it builds characters and worlds, and it makes the reader feel like they’re inside the pages. It isn’t something that I can brush off- I have to be just as good at description as I am at everything else if I want my books to go places. It’s the one thing that I’m really working on right now. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it used to be my favorite part of writing.
How about you? What is your fatal flaw when it comes to writing? Have you had a similar journey in your work?
When I was younger, I always had to finish reading books. That was just my way- if I picked up a book, I was going to finish it. It didn’t matter how much I hated the book, or how long it took me to finish it. It didn’t even matter if the book turned out to be wildly inappropriate for my age (I distinctly recall reading a vampire book where every other word was a swear and the narrator mentioned giving a blow job in the first chapter. I was eleven and I didn’t even know what a blow job was, but I knew for certain that it was something that would never happen in Twilight, the peak of high-brow literature). The young me would absolutely balk at the current-day me. And not even just because I am not currently married or pursuing marriage to Robert Pattinson.
Nowadays, I do not finish books all the time (DNF-ing, as people savvy to BookTube call it). Sometimes I give a book until at least halfway through before I give up on it, but other times it only takes a couple of chapters. I fling unread novels left and right, happily skipping through my TBR, and ridding myself of the overrated BookTube books that I am easily hypnotized into buying (on sale, because paying full price for anything gives me a migraine).
Despite how common this has become for me, I always feel regretful that I didn’t make it all the way through these books. The elementary-age version of me still has her hooks in me a little, and this shows up in the fact that I tend to leave bookmarks in my unfinished reads, in case I ever decide to return to them. So they just sit there on my shelves, little flags of guilt waving in the air-conditioned breeze.
But no more, I say! I am done with feeling guilty for not finishing books that I’m just not into. What’s the use of suffering through a book with a main character that drives me to drink, or a plot that I completely call in the first three chapters? Reading should be an enjoyable experience, and if I pick up a book that doesn’t follow this simple guideline, I am giving myself permission to put it down and not feel like I just single-handedly destroyed an author’s dreams. Cool, self? Cool.
So what are your feelings on not finishing books? When do you usually figure out that a book just isn’t for you? What’s the last book that you had to set aside? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Well, shit. Remember that horror novella that I’ve been talking about nonstop? Well, maybe it’s a novel. Hear me out. I am a very suggestible person in a lot of things, and that’s basically my whole argument. But, let me start at the beginning.
When I finished my bright and shiny first draft, it happened very quickly. I was basically half asleep for two and a half weeks as I tried to stay in the dream state where the idea had come from. I’m sure I seemed insane to anyone who had contact with me. When I finished the story that had been told in my nightmare, I thought that meant it was the end. I briefly considered doing a Room-like “after the fact” to turn the story into a novel, but I ended up just leaving it as it was.
I was as happy as ever to trot along and edit this novella, leaving the plot alone. And then a critique came along that threw everything to the wind. It was just one simple little suggestion that made my indecision creep in- “You should consider turning this into a novel.” And that suggestion didn’t mean “tack more onto the end” either. I was supposed to work within the confines of the beginning and end I already had, but make it longer.
Remember thirty seconds ago when I said that I was suggestible? Right after I read this particular suggestion, I was like, “Well, obviously I have to do that now.” But, since I’m also indecisive, I had to take a few weeks to beat around the bush and be in a “will they, or won’t they” relationship with my own story. And then something happened that sealed the deal- I started imagining more scenes in the novella. Once that happens, there’s no turning back.
So yes, the horror/comedy novel that I started (and was aiming to finish this summer [that definitely wasn’t going to happen]) is going to have to wait. The story that already has over 25,000 words is taking precedence since it’s closer to being a complete novel. I have made this decision now and I definitely won’t change my mind twenty times like I did when I was writing my last novel… Definitely not…
You know you’re writing a horror story when the scariest thing of all is imagining someone you don’t know just happening upon your search history. I swear I’m not a psychopath- I’m just trying to write good horror. The following list is some of the things I’ve looked up while writing my horror novella. Can you out-creepy any of these Google searches?
Would you die if you got your tongue cut out?
From how far away can a scream be heard?
Signs of an abusive relationship
How long can you live without food?
How long does it take for bruises/broken ribs/whipping wounds to heal?
What’s the name of that circus song?
How long does it take to die from a stab wound to the internal organs?
Kidnapped people with the longest time in captivity
I don’t think I’ve taken enough critiques in my life. I don’t know if this is my fault, or the fault of the people who have seen my work (mostly my fault for not seeking out actual feedback. It was so safe and happy in that little cocoon where friends and family only praised my writing).
I feel like the people who are not me that I can blame are my English teachers. Like, what the hell, guys? You’re supposed to mentor me with your constructive criticisms. You’re supposed to take my slightly-above-average writing and force me to make it fantastic. You’re also supposed to teach me how to not start crying when someone gives me feedback. And what did you do instead? Just be super nice and supportive all the time. Buttholes.
I experienced a real critique for the first time several months ago when an actual agent sent me tracked edits of the first three chapters of my second novel. Yikes. I cringe when I think about someone from the actual publishing world reading that train wreck. Now that I look back on it, it’s really no wonder she didn’t say anything nice about it. It was terrible. But that’s not the point here. The point is that I was ruined for probably a good three months after receiving her painful feedback. I was completely unprepared- I thought that everyone besides me would think that my work was infallible. Boy did I get a rightly-deserved slap in the face.
That experience, no matter how important to bringing me into the real world of writing, was not a great one. Because I had never really received any kind of criticism on my writing, it destroyed that book for me. There was literally not a single complement in the entire critique, so I was sure that I was doing everything wrong and I never wanted anyone to see my writing ever again. What a dark, naive hole I had fallen into.
It wasn’t until just recently that I found out how wonderful getting critiqued can be when it’s done correctly, using the sandwich method. (I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s sandwiching a piece of constructive criticism between compliments.) I kind of love critiques now. Or, maybe that isn’t exactly accurate. Reading the criticism bits, no matter how constructive, feels like being stabbed in the stomach with a tiny knife. “The critique partners send their regards.” I guess I should say that I love what critiques do for my story.
I’m fixing up my novella right now in the hopes of trying to publish it with a small press. And I’m honestly just fawning over the new and improved story I’m building. I love every change that I’m making, and I can feel the story strengthening like I’m funneling magical powers into it. Are these the bittersweet writing moments that I’ve been missing out on my whole life? I repeat- what the hell, English teachers?
Just recently, I made a one-year plan (because thinking ahead five years stresses me out). It was an interesting exercise to lay my goals plainly in front of me like some kind of adult or something. I had headings like “Business Goals” and “Money Goals” and I don’t think I’d truly felt my childhood die until I made a bulleted list about saving money and building my resume. Freaking gag me. (But honestly, it’s very important and no matter how tool-ish you think it is, having some kind of rough outline of what you want is always a good idea.)
A majority of my goals revolve around writing and the career that I’m trying to build with it. The first page is the fun stuff like actual creative goals such as finishing novels and writing weekly blog posts (so far so good).
The next page is all research on publishing and marketing and self-publishing because I recently decided that the one thing that would combine perfectly with my hellish procrastination is being solely responsible for any work that I attempt to publish in the future. Don’t you foresee this going well?
The next page is about money and having a job. Psh, lame. Then academic goals, which includes the phrase “learn all the things”. And finally, we have the personal goals page, under which I simply wrote “Who has the goddamn time?” So you can see what my priorities are.
What are your long term or short term project and life goals? Do you have a plan, or do you just believe in allowing the chaos of the universe to guide you where it will? Let me know in the comments so I don’t feel like the only lame grown up.
Sometime within these past few weeks, I became busy enough with incoming college freshman stress that I forgot that this blog was turning two years old. My poor, lonely little blog had to go through a toddler Sixteen Candles. Sorry for not remembering, buddy.
I suppose this should be a time to reflect on how this blog has grown and how much I’ve developed as a writer and how I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished. All of that is true on some level, but I honestly feel like I might have been holding this site back and that’s really a bummer for me. I love writing posts and seeing people’s responses to them. I feel like I always have something to say, but I haven’t been saying it on here like I should. So here, before my followers and the blog god, I am promising to write more often. Once a week, in fact, and you can hold me to that.
There you go, little blog buddy- hopefully that’s a good belated present for your second birthday. No longer neglecting you- what every brain child wants.