Debbie's post about her friend who asked for a critique got me wondering about a good list of common mistakes writers make. But, rather than this being a vent about all the *other* talentless hacks out there, let's look inside and talk about what our own common mistakes are, issues we have, things we just can't help ourselves in early drafts and have to edit out later.
A writer friend suggested I do this and create my own punch list, things to look for on early editing passes, so that I could give myself permission to write that crappy first draft and just get it DOWN, then go through and fix all the things I know I do (like excessively relying upon ing and ly words...)
I constantly must resist the urge to make things too pretty. I like pretty things, but they're a bit boring to read, I fear.
Info dumpage--I haven't found a way to convey info without feeling like I'm just laying it down. Related to that, figuring out what to disclose when.
Characterization-I don't think I'm bad at it, necessarily, but I certainly think my work could be better.
Confidence--I think having a confidence in what you write really shows. It's how you sell your writing to readers.
Style--recently I've been thinking my style is just too plain and artless. I've been trying to add a little pizazz.
Story ideas--while I have a ton of story ideas, I frequently feel they aren't original or interesting enough. I need to work on reaching past the "first idea" and delving deeper.
Plotting and focus--deciding what the story is, and planning my elements around it is a constant challenge.
Edited to add: In rereading this, I see that maybe I've answered more generally than you intended. I think my smaller specific flaws are related to this, though. I don't generally have a problem with the prose, just with construction, larger scale story ideas.
[This message has been edited by annepin (edited March 21, 2008).]
Yeah right. Do we really have to go there? Where do I begin?
My first, the biggest, I like to write and write fast to complete my novels. But once they are done, and a brief edit, I am on to the next. I tend to spend more time editing the story flow, and plot problems than actual line editing.
And that leads to lazy writing and my next set of mistakes.
I use too many tags, and worse yet ones like shouted, cried, wept, roared, screamed, grizzled. The list goes on and on. This probably goes back to the first book on writing I ever read. It suggested, I jest you not, make a list of all the tags from other books, and keep them handy for when you write so you can vary your tags-I have two pages worth in a notebook somewhere. A year later I find out in good writing you shouldn’t even need many tags, and then keep them to he said/she said.
The other main mistake is –ly words.
Sometimes I even combine the two. “Come here,” she purred huskily. No, honestly, I have never used those two words together, but you get the point.
I am sure I have many more, but I most keep some pretense about my ability.
Endings. I can do great beginnings but sometimes it feels like the story threads get tangled up into knots by the end and I have difficulty bringing it to a satisfying conclusion.
That's all I have for now. I try to concentrate on one thing at a time so I don't get so overwhelmed and start thinking of myself as a hack -- confidence problems are pretty much a given for creative people.
I tell you what scares me at the moment is that I'm not sure what my weaknesses are. I'm past (I hope) the point of the obvious ones. I don't sprinkle ly adverbs everywhere--never did actually. Don't use a lot of passives which I used to use more than I should. No longer refuse to describe anything--I used to think even the slightest description "slowed down the action." LOL
Let me make it clear, it's not that I think my writing doesn't have weaknesses I should work on. But I can't say I see a pattern or something I could fix. *gnaws fingernails*
And that probably means I'm missing something important.
What I find HARDEST is plotting.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited March 21, 2008).]
My default mode of writing is to use "big words"/flowery language, and I never know how much of this to leave in or take out during edits. (The common reader's line between a pretty bit of writing and obtuse writing is a blind spot of mine.)
Describing things. I want to describe everything, even if it may not be crucially important.
POV uncertainty. I don't usually swap in the middle of a piece, but I dither endlessly before beginning, trying to choose which POV to use.
Losing faith (tied in to never finishing). At the beginning of a project, I think my plot/character/setting ideas are gold. Before the halfway point, the doubts set in and make me want to revamp to the point the project is unrecognizable.
Awesome list! Annepin, yours cracked me up because the main thing I discovered about my writing recently was the "figuring out what to disclose when" was a problem for me. I tend to spill it all early, thereby reducing the tension. I over-explain (it has something to do with telling versus showing but I haven't understood the point well enough yet to fix this problem of mine.) I think I don't give enough credit to the reader, or maybe I feel like they have to understand ALL of my rationale for certain actions or plot elements. I should leave more up to the reader's imaginations.
I do like my ly words. But that's getting easier to write around - I find I naturally avoid them except in posts.
I tend to procrastinate.
I think I'm on the cusp of a much deeper level of writing, getting farther into my characters, getting more of me on the paper. It's a bit of a vulnerable place, though. I am glad it's taking a little while to develop, so I can get comfortable with it.
I also find plotting to be my biggest challenge. I have a lot of nifty ideas, cool settings or situations that start a story, but when it comes to deciding what happens next, I am bad at that. When it comes to how the story ends, also bad at it. I have one benefit which is that I know I generally want stories to have an upbeat ending, so I have a direction to aim for - but usually don't have a clue HOW they should end until I get there.
I am still figuring out how to make my characters seem real. I tend to stick to the basics of physical description to explain them, and I need to move more toward showing their character through their actions, but to do that I need to set up good situations that cause the character to be revealed. See aforementioned point about what to reveal when and plotting. See why I procrastinate now??
I have a certain issue with why my stuff hasn't sold while I've seen worse stuff in print...but that's hardly an issue with my writing itself...
I have a bad tendency to write lurid stuff---pornographic, almost, except there's no sex---the kind of stories that filter through my mind as I'm trying to sleep but seem kinda disgusting when I'm writing them down in cold fully-awake light of day. The last few years, I've been writing 'em up, one at a time, which gets them out of my system for awhile, and then dumping them into my "file and forget" disks. (Though if a market opens up for them...)
Another, more recent concern, especially after it was pointed out to me in a critique, was a lack of sympathetic characters. Certainly all the lurid stuff above lacks them. But I also noticed almost all the ones I've sent out in the last few years had them---I guess the issue may have been bothering me for awhile without my knowing it. Of course, the issue of how to create sympathetic characters still burns within me...
(My current work seems to have some of the lurid, but the characters seem sympathetic---to me, at least. I'll see where it goes as it goes...)
Where to begin? Oh yes beginnings. It usually takes me days to find out where I want to begin a story.
I have a tendency to summarize. My characters lack depth. My plots are interesting to me but I don't develop them enough to make a great story.
I have a hard time balancing exposition. I spend alot of time developing worlds and places, but I either tell to much about unimportant issues or do not make clear important ones.
But the worst and most important. I cannot close. It is hard for me to edit those first and second drafts. I have to put them down so long to be able to look at it with different eyes that I too often never go back to them. I have a dozen collecting cobwebs and dust on my hard drive. I think I have ADD.
I also get stuck in two worlds that I have developed, but the plots I have in mind for them are novel length, and I don't want to go that road until I can write publishable shorts. Yet I cannot seem to redirect my attention to those.
Grammar and style...getting better, but I am sick of Elements of Style
Mainly just in need of expirience. I have only been doing this two months.
1) Procrastination. We're talking years, here.
2) Over-informing the reader. This comes from the fact that it takes me so much longer to write than it takes the reader to read that I always feel they need to be reminded of stuff. I can recognize this in other things I read, but when I re-read my own it often escapes me.
3) Cinematic viewpoint. I forget to get into the characters' heads. I show everything. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Oh, it's okay to show that POV characters are angry by having them slap a desk or something, but it's just as important to get into their heads and reveal their angry thoughts--maybe the real reason WHY they're angry, or what they're planning to do about it, or whatever. I always have to go back and insert this kind of stuff later--and then sometimes it changes the direction of the story, and I have to change everything.
I think those are the biggest.
[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited March 22, 2008).]
I've been in writing workshops and therapy long enough to feel I have to start with some positives: I've got discipline and perseverance. Writing, like many things in life, is mostly about showing up and doing your work. I'm growing more willing to follow the story where it leads, to trust it and help it be itself. The challenges: The "pretty" image, phrase, word, whatever, for sure. At least I've learned (after 3+ years of writing/workshopping) that when people say -- "there were so many great phrases, I had to just stop, re-read, and admire them" --- that's a bad thing!
I have a terrible time with the mechanics of inner monologue -- do I say "she thought this, she thought that", use ital as in stream of consciousness, just spit out the character's thought without attribution ? --- I waste a lot of time tinkering with this issue, and readers still mark it up as confusing.
I don't have a natural affinity to the short story format -- not my favorite thing to read through the years, so I struggle with 1) ideas appropriate to short story, 2) short story structural features. I just cut 3 pages of setting/backstory out of my piece workshopped here. One of the reviewers said -- this would be great -- in a novel! Why am I writing SS? After drafting a novel, I realize my writing teacher was correct in saying much (about sentence structure, character motivation, description, etc) can be learned by working on a smaller scale first, which will save you time in the long run on a novel. (But remember, a SS is more like a poem in form than a novel.)
I have a nasty tendency to be repetative. I have certain phrases that I like, and they seem to keep working their way into my writing. "Flame and flak", for example, typically shows up whenever there's any kind of explosion, fire, or other destructive circumstance going on in my work.
Another problem I have is focus. I have a nasty tendency to hop right into a new idea or storyline before finishing my current one. As a result (since I prefer pen-and-paper to writing on a computer), I have about a dozen writing journals scattered across my house in various degrees of completion.
I think I tend to put in too little detail/characterization. People have pretty distinct tastes about how much physical information they want about the characters. I tend only to list the relevent traits or something that the POV would notice about the person. I get a lot of requests for more information.
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I found out an interesting thing by reading this!
I have everyone of these problems, all the time, but only some of them at certain times.
I think each day I wake up and choose which 5 or 6 you have all mentioned I would like for that day.
Mostly, I have a HUGE problem with purple prose. I was addicted to Hawthorne when I first read his Scarlet Letter and started reading those types of books. Now I'm trying to write and my sentences are enough to satiate the 13 line rule.
Also, along with others, the perserverance. I've been scrap writing in my notebook for a few years, off and on, sometimes a week out of every couple months, and I've just now started to write WRITE.
Besides that I'm awesome though. And I kick people. It's not nice. But fun.
I tend to have trouble with maintaining an embedded point of view and keeping a consistent voice. I'm working on it, but I realize now that I had a series of rotten writing class experiences that kept me thinking too much about stylish prose and not enough about crafting a good story.
I think I've learned more by lurking around on this site than I did in the three or four creative-writing classes I took eons ago. Huzzah--I mean, hooray--for Hatrack!
I can see my weaknesses andthings I dont like about me as a writer in this list. So I might be just rehashing what other people have said, but that means we all have the same hang ups, yeah? Support group! arrrrgh....
I dont enjoy re-writing. I write a novel, let it stew, and think of more cool stuff that I could do with the story. That guy's motive for doing xyz are more selfish and self-centered, yeah that would be cooler! But to do that, would mean re-writing. I get bored re-writing, even though I KNOW it has to be done.
I have many cool ideas for stories that would make great novels, in MY sense, but I tend not to just write novels one after the other because I feel I need to work on the current one and make it GOOD... which leads to me being bored about re-writing 100k worth of words...
I am unsure of me at the moment. As a previous poster mentioned they felt they were on the verge of becoming a better or deeper writer? I think I am there as well. I can write a novel, and I think I can write a good novel. Friends read it and give me genuine compliments. But I want to take that further. I also want to take short stories fiurther. So, I submitted some work that friends said they loved, (13 lines in the other forum by me), but its been taken apart, justifiably so, I'm not whinging, by this forum. And the reject letters came back with some harsh truth.
So, I am currently in that vague place of transition. Being a writer that friends liked, to trying to cross over to the place where I am a writer that people I dont know like. So, as a writer, I currently dont like my lack of strength and resolve.
ANd my discipline as a writer. I suck at that too.
And how I feel all my characters, while starting off great in my head, all turn into the same colour by the end of the book and all speak the same.
My problem is that I make everything too complicated. I introduce ideas and characters, and then get way to interested in minor characters and their motivations. In short I need to work on telling one story at a time. All the way to the end,and then let the minor characters stay minor characters, even if they are more interesting to me than the main character. And I can't write boy. My woman kick butt, but if it's from a male perspective. woop writers block. That and I tend to write passive voice. and I have grammer issues that come from not being able to type at the speed i think. And lack of experience. I am still learning how much I don't know. Though I hope one day to learn what it is i don't know, and then figure out what I don't know so I can know it, you know? And I write confusingly.(with ly endings.) ~Sheena
[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited March 31, 2008).]
My biggest problem, is that I don't trust myself. I know I'm a fairly good writer, but I don't trust it. I find myself re-reading my work and saying "there has to be tons of things I'm missing." All through school I was the person known as the one with writing talent. We actually did an assignment where we were supposed to write just...something, then read it the next day in class. I was one of the last ones to read, and mine was followed by dead silence until the teacher finally called on the next person to read, and another kid burst out "that's not fair! you can't expect someone to follow that!" That actually happened to me a lot in high school. So now I'm at a point where I go "no way is what I wrote that good, just because I was the best in high school does not mean it's as good as it needs to be"
My second biggest problem, I don't finish things. I've got tons of ideas for short stories, several novels outlined, but I don't finish things. Especially novels. I start it, and it's daunting, then I get about 1/3 of the way through and have a panic attack about it.
Next is pacing. During the same story I find myself going "oh man that was a lot of information real fast" so the next several thousand words is slow and drug out, then I go "that was too slow" and back to the starting break-neck pace.
Then would be that I disturb myself. When I read back over my work I go "this is pretty good, but... what kind of sick freak thinks this stuff up? Wait...oh...me." So then I'm going "maybe I need psychological help..." and worry that no one will want to read what I've written because it's graphic and disturbing.