Monday, March 7, 2011

A Moment of Reflection

I think there is no truer saying than "We are our own worst critics."

A lot of times as writers, we tend to focus on all of the things we believe we're doing wrong. We haven't mastered the fine art of a fight scene, we can't nail (pardon the pun) sex scenes the way we would like, we aren't able to evoke the exact emotion we're shooting for. The list is long, and I'm betting most of us have had a bout of self-doubt over most techniques at one time or another. I, for one, have a horrendous time with high action scenes. To me, they come out sounding stilted and boring. I try all of the techniques people tell you to use: Short sentences. Removing the adjectives. Etc. Etc. In the end, they still end up reading like utter crap to me. They're my achilles heel.

But as writers, it's our "job" to push through this self-doubt and keep on keeping on. Claire touched on this with her post this past weekend. All of this self-doubt, if allowed to fester and nag at you, can really turn into a dehabilitating problem. I know for a very long time, I told myself I couldn't write sex scenes, therefore, I just wouldn't write them. Ever.

I think it was actually Kristen who sort of snapped me out of that thought process. If I remember correctly, she said something along the lines of, "Just because you're not great at them now doesn't mean you shouldn't keep trying to improve."

So true. (Granted, I'm still pretty bad at them. (g))

All this to say that sometimes, just sometimes, we need to take a moment to relish how very far we've come in our writing careers. For just a few minutes, don't focus on what we have left to learn...

...but look back...

...look back and remember all the crazy shit we used to do!

You thought this was going to be a serious post, didn't you? I think not!

Okay, peeps. Let's hear some of the whacked out things you used to do when you first started writing. I'll go first. :)

1. My first attempt at a novel was a bit of a *cough*rip-off*cough* of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Hey, who doesn't have a Scottish time travel novel under their bed? (Don't lie!) Anyway, I look back at my original file (yes, FILE, because I kept it all in one long ass file for easy access (g)) and realize I had NO CLUE what a return key was, where I might find said return key on my keyboard, nor how to depress the sucker to make a little thing called, WHITE SPACE. I literally have pages without breaks. Not between dialogue. Not between paragraphs (If I even understood what paragraphs were at that point). It was all just one big block of text. I'm telling you, I was one step away from sending agents a manuscript written out in magic marker. ONE STEP.

2. Gerunds. What the hell are they anyway? (I'm not sure I know to this day.)

3. Sex scenes. Oh lordy, but I have some truly terrible ones. I was completely convinced that I was going to revolutionize the way they're written by being brutally honest in the telling. (Somehow this translated to perfect encounters that blew both characters' minds...) I actually thought the word penis was a perfectly legit word to use. Romantic.

4. Repetitive writing that doesn't move the story forward. Let me break it down. I have many conversations in my early pages that go a little something like this:

"I don't want to tell you," he said, dropping his eyes to the ground.

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "I just don't."

"Please tell me."

"You wouldn't understand."

"Yes, I will."

"No, you won't."

*Can you hear the cogs of my writer brain working overtime, trying to figure out just what it is this boy wants to say??*

"I just don't understand why you don't think I will understand. Or why you won't tell me when I so obviously want to know. I mean, come on, yo...I've asked like two dozen times and this scene is now 3 pages long and we haven't moved past this point. I actually heard the reader yawn."

"I don't want to tell you."


My list could go on for days. The thing is, I have A LOT left to learn about the craft of writing. But at the same time, I've learned a HELLUVA lot in the last few years. Not only that, but I've completed two novels. Not everyone can say that, so while I know I have a long way to go in this crazy journey of mine, every now and then I need to take a moment and look back at how far I've come. We all do.

Okay....your turn! What crazy habits have you had to kick?


  1. LOL. I don't like to laugh at my fellow writers, but you gave me a good giggle here. ;) I too have looked back on my early work with some great hilarity. I put an excerpt of "chapter one" of my first novel (which was only 5k long, but I still thought of it as a novel...hehe) on my blog near when I began, and the entire chapter consisted of a few lines and a lot of exclamation marks.

    Anyway - thank you for sharing! And I agree, it's great to look back on how far we've come, at those moments when we're feeling crappy about where we are.

  2. Ah, Jen, LOL. Some beauties you have there. Almost as good as mine.


    Let's see ... I was a teenager when I first attempted to write a novel, right in the midst of my Lord of the Rings phase; needless to say, that unfinished (thank the merciful heavens!) effort is full of elves and rangers and warlocks and appalling writing ... as was my next teenage attempt, a contemporary spy novel set in France, chock full of Gitanes smoking, beret-wearing, croissant-eating, cliches of characters, all racing around the French Alps in Renaults and Peugeots ...

    I'm glad I put aside the writing for a very long while after that. I obviously had a lot to learn. :-P

  3. Oh, the list is long. :) I used to write plays where not a lot happened, just talking heads. I wrote a young adult novel that read more like a list of events than an actual story. I wasn't sure how to move time so we would follow characters throughout their entire day. I used to start most stories with "He woke up." Yep, I was that writer. My favorite though was that I didn't know which details were important, so I put them all in. Example: "He slowly pulled out a red apple from his green, weather beaten book bag, the zipper had broken off long ago during a tussle with a blond, tall student (a third grader) over a worn down basketball at recess." Adjectives and adverbs were my best friends.

  4. That's not true--I am your worst critic. Bwahahahahahahaha.

    But yes I have a number of stinkers. You can read them all at

  5. Oh, the memories! My "magnum opus" was going to be about a girl who could see the true nature of evil while she wove tapestries. And the trait was inherited and only a girl in the seventh birth order could get it. Genetics? Dominant? Recessive? Did I understand any of that? NO! And I don't now. I just don't try to write about it. giggle. Good way to start the day, Jen! Thanks for the memories.

  6. Gerunds...bwahahaha. So, what are you trying to say?? lolol. My sides. Sniffle. Woo.

    Oh man, our first attempt can be so cringeworthy, can't they? For me? Can you say melodrama? Everyone was shouting, wailing, crying, and professing. Cue the violins. Gah.

    Things I needed to learn? Brevity. (g) Obviously I'm still working on that! Grumbles.

    Great post!

  7. >Hey, who doesn't have a Scottish time travel novel under their bed? (Don't lie!)

    Traded it away on You can't prove nothin'. ;)

    (it may have been Irish, actually)

    Habits I've broken: My characters have successfully stopped chuckling, yawning and smiling their dialogue.

    Adverbs: mostly kicked.

    Might have a problem with ellipses, though...

  8. I love your dialogue, can't tell you how many times, I've done that very thing (all way back when of course....achem)

    As a teen, I wrote a "Watership Down" ripoff with rats instead of bunnies, rats that philosophized for pages about "Freedom" and "Fate" etc.


  9. Hilarious stuff Jen! It's good to laugh at ourselves, isn't it?

    Let's see... I was about 12 when I first wrote a novel. It was about a rich boy who falls in love with a poor artist. I knew nothing, absolutely NOTHING, about falling in love.

    I'm sure the writing was awful - but, here's the thing: not only do we have to learn the craft of writing, I think we have to LIVE a little in order to understand what we're writing about in terms of human emotion and experience.

  10. Great post, now that I've read it I don't feel so bad about the pitfalls in my journey of writing that are sure to rear their ugly head. Here goes nothin!

  11. Nice to meet you, fellow crusader!

    When I think about my first writing attempts, I cringe. Anytime I'm down on myself, I try to remember how far I've come.

  12. @Trisha -- Happy to oblige. (g) Definitely important to remember that being a writer means we'll ALWAYS be learning something new and growing. SO glad I've kicked some of my nastier habits, though they do like to pop up from time to time. :)

    @Rachel -- LOL!!! But at least you started off with good role models. :) My first attempt at a book was when I was in...hmm, I'm thinking right around 4th grade, and it was really plot driven and just packed full of tension. *Cough* It was about a girl...and her boyfriend...and how there was this EVIL beeyotch who was trying to steal him away from her. Oh the drama. Great literature. I should finish it. It was really sumthin'. (g)

  13. @Libby -- ROFL!! YES!!! I did that too. I think it was all an attempt to be really flowery and to show that I KNEW how to create a well-rounded, fully formed story with 3D characters that just popped off the page. In the end, I had a lot of boring drivel that no one gave a shite about. To quote the beef lady, "Where's the story??"

    @Rogue Mutt -- It's a diiiiirty job, but you can have it! (g)

    @Zan Marie -- LOLOLOL. That's awesome. Very high concept. (g) Ah, if only we could go back to being THAT fearless. We may not have been any good, but heck if we knew it at the time. :)

  14. @Kristen -- I'm trying to say that I still don't know wtf a gerund is. (g) Wait...I'm looking it up. ING words?? Really? Oh peeshaw... I use 'em. Don't hate the game, playah.

    Ah yes, good ole' melodrama. I'm noticing as I'm reading through BTPM that I have quit a few patches of melodrama that need to be weeded out. What can I say, I like me some snifflin'.

    @L -- ME TOO. I love 'em, though I've tried replacing them with em dashes. Now I overuse THOSE. (g)

  15. @Perri -- Bwhahaha! Now that sounds like an interesting book.... (g) I have to say that I still fall into the dialogue thing when I'm stuck on a scene. When I read it back later I can literally feel myself thinking too hard to figure out what comes next. That's when I know to start cutting.

    @Susan -- You're absolutely right. Of course our first efforts are fairly...dare I say childish?... We didn't know anything else. I was reading young teen books at the time and it was all about falling in love for the first time and the ins and outs of dating. Naturally that would be the first thing I would write. Of course, I'm not sure how this explains my Scottish time travel.... lol

  16. @Becca -- Hey, if it helps in any measure, WONDERFUL. :) I find there are still growing pains with my writing, and I have a feeling that there always will be. I'm just better prepared to handle them now. Most of the time. :) Good luck!

    @Theresa -- That's a great attitude to have. I actually started keeping a journal (gah, it sounds so vain) of compliments, or passages I'm _really_ proud of. When I get really down about things, I'll flip through that and remember that I'm not quite at the level of suck I feel I am in that moment. It's a nice little boost. As writers we often have those moments where our self-confidence takes a major dip. They're inevitable so it's always good to be prepared in advance. Thanks for dropping in!

  17. Hey Jen! Boy that conversation looks familiar... Can you say "writing romance as a teenager?" I have so many of those pointless dialogues that descended into sixth-grade level arguments, all when I was supposed to be writing about adults.

    Doing adult things, like, say, ordering food at a restaurant. My only-child friend, who's mother owned a restaurant, said "Why don't you have a sommelier in there?" Um, a what? Can't they just sit down and eat?"

    Then there was the time in fourth grade when I wrote about a bunch of kids toilet papering someone's house at Hallowe'en. I kept using the abbreviation TP for some reason, and then had to explain what TP was to my mom when she read it.

    I don't think I've ever written an action scene prior to 2007. Romance and sex however... I did write one on a beach, showed it to one friend and then had a few come around, asking me to change the names to them and their current boyfriends. MASH notes, anyone?

    *love* your journal idea - what a great thing for boosting your mood on the bad days!

  18. Deniz -- Glad I'm not the only one. :) And ahhhh...MASH notes. I loved me some MASH notes when I was younger. (g)

  19. Some of my faux pas in my early writing were similar to yours; endless convoluted sentences, long long paragraphs, head hopping...and LOTS of telling.

    Great point about realising how far we've come rather than beating ourselves up about how far we have to go!