May 30, 2011

gauging writing advice

As you all know, I’ve been working on my steampunk project Chroniker City for some time now. I finished the fourth chapter last week, and I aim to finish the fifth in a few days. While perusing the internet and the many blogs I follow, I find that I’m ignoring a lot of posts that I would usually read. Posts on legacy publishing are right out since such does not pertain to me anymore, but I’m ignoring writing related posts as well – posts on how to develop characters, on how to write a gripping plot, on how to revising and editing, and so on so forth.

I have a reason, of course. I don’t have the most confidence in the world when it comes to my writing. I constantly doubt my own words. I have an immeasurable abundance of paranoia about my characters and plot. It takes reassurance from friends and my husband to keep the doubt at bay. So, when I don’t have them at hand to tell me how awesome I am, I tend to turn toward the wisdom of the internet.

I read posts on character development and think Did I do that? I don’t think my main character is developed enough according to this. Maybe I should tweak her personality. There, now she reads like this blogger says she should.

I read posts on openings. Is my opening gripping enough? Do I grab the reader’s attention? It reads a bit boring. I should throw an explosion in there; that will get them. This blogger likes explosions, so I know that’s the right way to do it.

I read posts on plot development. Do I have too many subplots? Is my main plot strong enough? Does the need of my main character come across in the first chapter? Maybe I should spell it out. I need to take out this subplot because it only sort of deals with the conflict of the main plot. I need to rewrite the plot completely. There isn’t enough conflict. I should add government conspiracy and time travel because this blogger thinks plots with conspiracy and time travel make for the best stories.

I read posts on antagonists. Who is my antagonist? Is ‘society’ not a strong enough antagonist? Should I personify the antagonist? That doesn’t really fit the story I want to tell, but I guess I should add a dark lord in there somewhere to add conflict… because this random blogger told me to.

It’s one thing to read books on craft and another completely to read the opinions of the internet. Even still, I don’t read books on craft when I’m in the process of writing. I stopped reading blog posts on craft while writing. Why? Because I read what they have to say and think that what I have written is not good enough. I tweak and change and edit until the story turns into this conglomeration of a monster that isn’t my story. It becomes a product of second-guessing, paranoia, and doubt.

So, while writing Chroniker City, I’m avoiding blog posts about writing, because if I don’t, the doubt will grow to a monstrous size and I’ll lose all motivation and enthusiasm for the book. That’s what happened with my first novel. It grew out of my control.

I want to know how you all handle reading blogs or books on craft while writing. Do you read about writing craft before, during, or after a writing project? How do you handle what you’ve read?


  1. Yipe! I feel the same way when I read writing blogs. As for how I handle it... they jury is still out. Perhaps once I actually finish something, I'll be able to go back and pick and choose which advice works for me?

  2. "It becomes a product of second-guessing, paranoia, and doubt."

    I have a really big problem. THis is my first WIP ever, and so I've really been trying to read up on craft. It's gotten to where I dont' feel comfortable enough working on the WIP unless I've read some blog post first.

    I want to thank you for this post. It was a huge wakeup call, because what I quoted above? That's what's starting to happen to me.

  3. Su, it's tough because you want your work to be the very best it can be. I think reading up on craft after the fact (between finishing a first draft and revising) is the best way to do it, or to read about craft beforehand.

    Leigh Ann, I am SO glad that this resonates with you. That's exactly what happened with my first novel. Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and what you've written. You have to believe in your writing, become a beacon of confidence, and don't forget to write the story you want to write. I hope that your project goes well. Good luck! :D

  4. This is so true. I also stopped reading those types of posts and often I wish I could forget everything I've learned and write the first draft uninhibited. When that's done, the rules can come back and I'll start tweaking to improve my story. Words first, rules second.

  5. Great points, Brooke. For me--I read all of it. Even when I'm writing. But I read all of it really critically, assuming that if I can be wrong--or if what I think is best isn't best for everyone--that everyone out there can be wrong, too. Even well-established books on craft might have points that just plain don't work for you or your WIP. Your writing comes first--the other stuff is there to inform it, to polish it, to improve it. But not to inspire it or create it.

  6. Brooke, I once heard a NYT author (can't remember who) say something that went like this: "If you think what you're writing is the greatest thing ever, then it probably sucks. Most of the best writers I know doubt every word they ever put on a page."

    So, you're in great company.

    For me, I follow advice I heard once from Sabrina Jeffries, I keep my editing mind separated from my creative. When I'm in creative writing mode I just write, I don't stop to edit. Then, when it's on paper, I go back and analyze it to death (or a bit short of). :-)

  7. I have to agree with the others. I don't read too many of those "you-gotta" posts anymore either. If you follow the formulas, you can all too easily end up with a formulaic story. If you want something unique, you need to follow the beat of your own drummer.

    That's not to say "throw out the rules," because that's a recipe for disaster. But if the rules get too specific, you need to give it some thought whether it's right for *your* story. I guess I'm a pantser at heart.

  8. Patricia, there are times I wish I could forget some of the advice I've read over the years. When I don't follow it, I always second guess myself. It's not healthy for first drafts!

    Rowenna, that's a great point you make. If we can be wrong, so can everyone else. Thanks for the insight!

    Susan, I have a terrible time filtering between writing and editing. I generally edit as I go, hopefully to cut down on editing later. That's a great quote. I must be a spectacular writer considering how often doubt plagues me!

    FARfetched, I completely agree. Formulas are there to help you build the skeleton of a story, but if you want something unique, you definitely have to write to the needs and wants of the story, even if they defy the established "rules".