“I was given a manuscript to read, but it was so bad I sent it back/deleted it immediately.”
“A friend asked me to read their writing. I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything nice to say, so I just gave it back and said I didn’t have the time.”
“I wrote my first novel and it still sits in my garage- I was so proud of it at the time, but now I realize how awful it is.”
Sound familiar? If you’ve poked around in the world of writing at all, you’ve probably run into stories like these.
These stories speak to the deepest, most neurotic corner of my heart, and they tell me one thing:
“Your writing is possibly, even probably awful, and you’re just too close to see it.”
The temptation to burn the whole mess, (in effigy of course, let’s not get crazy here. I still want my laptop for recipes,) is strong. Just kill the story, move on with non-creative pursuits, stay happy and safe from rejection. I’d sure get more house cleaning done…
Deep breaths. Stay calm.
Writing is an art. Taste is subjective, BUT there are definite markers for good vs. flame-worthy.
The following are a few things I’ve tried, hoping to ensure quality.
- Find Safe Readers.
I’ve run into a great deal of professional advice telling me not to lean on people I know as readers- especially not relatives or friends. As a newbie to this whole ‘biz, I’m going to come right out and say I ignored this. I needed readers who were going to leave me unbloodied from my first exposure as an adult author.
I was fortunate to have people who were both very literate, and honest enough to let me know if the overall project should probably be kept ‘just for me.’ After my book passed the eyes of four people I trusted, it was ready for the next step.
- Find ‘Scary’ Readers
I entered my novel- a much earlier draft- in the Athanatos Christian Writing Contest. I made the first judging cut, (yay!) but not the finals, (sigh.) Besides the experience of exposing my writing to professional scrutiny, I received a whoooole bunch of feedback.
Warning: Taking professional feedback was hard.
Still, once I got over the initial “But…but…but…” reaction to some of the constructive criticism, I was able to put it to work for me, and come out with a MUCH stronger draft of the story than I started with. The experience was valuable and enlightening.
I’m not sure WHAT draft I’m officially on, and I still find sentences that could be strengthened and errors that I taught students to avoid. I’ve read, reread, taken a break and then read again. Articles by other authors have been invaluable in pointing out common errors- apparently I am very fond of adverbs, and unnecessary speech tags.
- Read Aloud
Especially in the case of dialogue, something might look great in type, but once you say the words you realize they sound bad enough to make angels weep. I hyperbolize, but seriously, reading aloud has helped me pay more attention to word choice and flow. My kids look at me like I’m crazy as I go around talking to myself, but they did that anyway.
- Read Other Books
Apparently my female protagonist’s name was an extremely overused one. Who knew?
Avoiding clichés is easier if you know what other authors have written. Also, excellent authors encourage me to rethink word choices, to stretch and to grow.
- Don’t give up!
If we give up, we’ll never succeed, or even improve! If one piece doesn’t pan out, the next might be better!
Besides, let’s face reality. If I give up now, the house won’t really get any cleaner- I’ll just be out one more excuse.
Do you have any tips to share that strengthen your writing and allay your fears?