Monday, October 1, 2012

The Journey

Not so long ago I took a writing class taught by the amazing Nova Ren Suma. Her agent came to one of our chat sessions (it was an online class) and answered questions about the industry and about writing for one full hour. One thing he said really caught my attention, "It's a journey, not a goal post." I understood what he was getting at, but I didn't really believe it. I felt that if I got an agent (I'd still like an agent), I would be happy, because my writing has improved so much.
My writing has improved. In Dec. of 09, I started writing Redemption. I finished it in Jan of 10, and it sucked. Everything about it sucked. It mimicked Stephenie Meyer's voice (nothing wrong w/ her voice except that it's not mine), there was way too much physical description, and the characters were not well rounded. I knew it sucked. I did  not know how to fix it, so I didn't revise. I didn't even write for a while. I just read. A few months later (March or April of 10) I started writing Phantom Fires, which I still refuse to believe sucks. But it has some problems. Primarily, the plot. It does have one. It's just not strong and with all the subplots, it's hard to tell what the main plot is. Determined to improve, I wrote Chance Encounters. It sucked as bad as the Redemption. Back to square one. But the problem was still plot and pacing. With an identified problem, I could find a solution.

I started taking books apart on my blog. All of my favorites, and I tried to stay with well known books, so I could ask people if I had correctly identified the plot points. I found I had a harder time identifying the main plot in a paranormal romance. Interesting, because this was primarily what I wrote. With a new understanding of plotting, I wrote a short story, and a novel for Nova's class. I did improve on plot and pacing--like ten fold. So much so that where my pacing used to be slow, now it's almost rushed. (I can fix this). My plot is strong. (Yay!) But now that I'm rewriting the novel I can see my use of language is weak. Too many overused words. Too many un-needed words (and this word count is already low). New problems. Now, I need to improve my use of language. At this point, I can see I will constantly be trying to take my writing to the "next" level. It's a journey not a goal post.

Any suggestions for improving actual language? Where are you on the journey?


  1. Sometimes you can say so much more with fewer words. Once you can get that down, you're golden.

  2. I'm a language nut, Beth. The plot, the characters, the setting are important when I read or write, but if the prose plods I can't say I like the book. There's something about cadence and the style that has to engage me. Good luck with your journey. You sound like you're doing a great job improving your craft.

  3. Crafting a compelling plot is really tough, so kudos to you for making progress. Improving language skill is accomplished by writing, and getting specific with voice. It's all comparable to exercising-work the muscle to strengthen it.

  4. This is so true-- my first attempt at a novel was a steaming pile of crud, which still sits in my Google Docs to remind me how far I've come. The more you write, the more you critique and allow yourself to be critiqued, the better you get.

    For improving language, I've been doing what you're doing-- looking through the books I admire, and analyzing what makes them work. I don't want to steal another author's voice or technique, but it's useful to break down their approach and see why certain things work.

    I also go way out the YA genre to look at language. Poetry is a great place to get some ideas. The best writing is often described as 'poetic prose' for very good reason. Tight sentences that say just enough, the perfect word choice -- poetry is a great place to study that.

  5. I agree with what the others have said. The more you write, the more you'll be able to choose the words that "sing" or flow smoothly in the context of your story. I spend a lot of time looking for just the "right" word to set the mood for the story. Still learning and always will be on the journey.

  6. My first novel was/is like that. I've tried revising it a couple of times, but it's just so jumbled in its original form, anything readable would be a completely different novel.

    I try to aim for concision when it comes to language. Then work on figuring out the "voice" of the story and characters.

  7. The it's a journey quote is perfect! I'm scratching it on paper after this comment, and sticking it by my desk! I have one poorly written novel in my desk. My second attempt is on revision 8 and off visiting a reader. Sounds like you are doing all the right things.

  8. You're on the right track. Keep at it. It helps me a lot to analyze books that I've read as well.

  9. It's more like a turnstile, and some of us (I think it's an emotional age thing) keep going around and around and around. Then we slog to the next turnstile.

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me that part of the problem here is that you're trying to copy strong voices you find in what you read. Stop, breathe, and write with your own voice. The words will come.