Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Revision Strategies Part III: Guest Blog from Lynne H.

*raises right arm to the square*
I promise not to call you “delusional” for thinking your writing is perfect.

Some aspiring writers struggle to honestly criticize their own work  They fail to notice awkward word choice, repetition, redundancies, sloppy plotting or awkward pacing, and underdeveloped characters. As any good therapist will tell you, “admitting you need help is the first step.” There are ways to tackle this; let me show you a few.

Read your work out loud, either to yourself or to somebody else. Hearing your words read aloud might help you identify what sounded good in your head but doesn’t work on paper. If your speaking voice sounds too much like the one in your head, have somebody else read it aloud to you. A different voice speaking your words might make a big difference to your perception of your writing.

Find some people to read and critique your pieces. Choose friends, colleagues, or even relatives whom you trust to not look at your work through rose-colored glasses.  If you only choose people who are afraid to be honest or who really aren’t critical thinkers, you’re not going to get much help, so perhaps you could start by giving them one chapter and see what suggestions they come up with.  If people use words like “interesting” or “amazing” or “needs more detail” but cannot tell you what they specifically find “interesting” or “amazing” or just exactly what details they’d like to see “more” of, they might not be the right ones to help you. Look for people who can ask you specific questions about your work. Readers should ask questions like:  “How did Cecelia and Elliott get from just-meeting to best-friends so quickly?” “So, Justine is an expert sword fighter after only one lesson?”  “I’d like to know more about what the building looked like.”  “Wait--is she really as ‘slender as a willow sapling’?” “Do you need to describe the sun as ‘glowing’?” You may, of course, ignore any and all questions, but I submit that seeing your writing from the perspective of another can be a real eye-opener.

Some writers find writing groups helpful.  You can join groups of writers who are all working in the same genre (romance, fantasy, etc.), or you may prefer working with a mixed group of writers who are working in diverse genres. You may be uncomfortable with the intimacy of reading and discussing your project face-to-face with live people, but it may be preferable to having undetected ridiculousness in your writing, and the bonus is that you’ve caught it before it got out there for people like me to get snarky about.

Or, if you prefer the relative anonymity of cyberspace, you can join one of the dozens of online writing communities.   A caveat:  It’s an absolute crapshoot as to whether you find reliable, helpful critique buddies on one of these or not. I’ve seen some pretty laughable stuff get rave reviews.  I’ve also seen some nasty flame wars.  The same anonymity that protects you can turn other people downright hateful and cause them to say things they’d never say to a person’s face. 

Read negative reviews of published works.  Pay attention to what caused the reviewer to give a negative critique of the work in question.  Get cheap used paperback copies of novels and underline the crappy bits.  Write notes in the margins.  Converse with the author. It can be therapeutic to see that bad stuff gets published all the time. Tell yourself that surely you can overcome some of the foibles that made this particular author look so ridiculous.

Of everything I’ve mentioned here, however, I’ve saved the most important bits for last, and even gave them bullet points for emphasis (you’re welcome):

     Analyze your work as a reader and not as a writer.
     Analyze others’ work as a writer and not as a reader.
     Develop a thick skin.
     See writing as a journey and not just as a means to an end.
     Take responsibility for your own work.  Don’t count on editors, beta readers, or your writing group to fill the gaps in your skills.

Up next:  Some help with “fleshing out” your characters.

Be sure to check out Lynne's blog at