Teaching my manuscript the butterfly stroke.

I have a confession to make, I feel a bit bipolar at times when I think about my writing. Sometimes, when I write something or come up with an idea I think is really great, I’m on cloud nine. Other times, I’ll read through it and question my very ability to write even the most basic of sentences. This is also true when I’m reading other authors’ works. I will be reading a book I really like and thinking to myself, ‘my writing is as good as this.’ Then at another time I will be reading someone else’s book and thinking, ‘sweet baby Moses, what was I thinking, my writing is nowhere near this good!’ But I think this is necessary for a writer to be able to produce something good. If I wasn’t bouncing between these two poles, I’d either be writing and thinking it’s so great I don’t need to fix anything (hello delusions of grandeur) or else I’d be crying myself to sleep at night and swearing off writing forever. But between the two thoughts, can lie a very well written MS (manuscript) that I can be proud of. I question it enough to work hard to make sure it’s not a pile of dung, but I have enough faith in the writing to put myself out there for others to read. Maybe this isn’t true for all writers but I think if you want to put something really great out there you’ve gotta have a mixture of both of the mountain high and the valley low (my apologies if you have that song stuck in your head now).

So what have I been doing to try to improve my MS? Well, aside from having wonderful, trusted people read it and offer feedback (which you’ve heard about ad nauseum) I have also been reading books by other authors in the genre I hope to enter, both Young Adult and also Science Fiction. I can’t stress enough how important reading is to a writer. We learn to speak by hearing our parents and those around us use the language. We pick up vocabulary, correct word tenses, even accent from those we listen to, day in and day out. The same goes for writing, we learn how to write from those books we choose to read. We learn to recognize a writer’s voice, we see the world from a different point of view, they show us how it’s done. If you aren’t reading, it’s like only going to school up to the third grade and then being asked to address a group of graduate students about the philosophical ponderings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Ok, so I may be exaggerating to prove a point but that’s only because I believe in my point so strongly.

Aside from reading books in my genre, I’ve also picked up the book On Writing by Stephen King. Now I will be honest, I’m not a big King fan. My dreams are bad enough without delving into the horror genre, and I personally try to steer clear of obscenities when I write, that’s just a personal preference. These are two very prominent parts of King’s writings and this book includes them both so if you’re at all squeamish, well, it’s a Stephen King book. But I will admit that he does have some good advice in here on the writing craft. It has been a great refresher and I’m glad I’m reading it now before I go back into my second round of editing. A lot of it is stuff you have (or should have) learned from your grammar and writing classes in school, but he talks about key things that should be read over and over again to keep them fresh in your mind. He also offers other suggestions for books to pick up if you are looking for more help in this area. If you are interested in some suggestions please jot a little comment on this post and I will be happy to give you some other books that are helpful.

I recommend you at least find something that you can use to refresh the basics of writing every once in a while and this time while I wait for my readers to finish, is the perfect opportunity for me to refresh myself. I’ve gotten my story down on paper (or I guess I should say on my computer) so I’m not worried about getting my story out, now is the time to refine it, both grammatically and artistically. For the grammatical aspect I’m checking to make sure I didn’t use the passive tense. I’m making sure my manuscript is typo free (or as close to typo free as I can get it). I want to rid my writing of any sentences that don’t make sense or places where I go off on something that has nothing to do with my story. I want to make sure the pace is at a good tempo, not too fast, not too slow. I want to make sure my facts are consistent and the plot and dialogue is believable. I need my characters to be three dimensional but I can’t take up too much wordage talking about who my characters are as people and not have enough room for a storyline. I have to watch out for information dumps, though this is tricky when you’re writing science fiction because you have to explain a lot of new things. It’s a balance of world building and holding the reader’s interest. Then there’s ensuring that each character has a unique voice, which is really hard for one person to do. I must tie up any important loose ends so they are not hanging out there without any resolution. This are just some of things that I’m looking at when I do my revisions.

There is so much to do that even my multitasking brain struggles to keep up. I write myself a lot of post-its and record a lot of messages to myself on my handy-dandy tape recorder in hopes that I will remember everything I need to do in order to polish my novel. Even after sending it off to my readers there were a couple of times where I told them I needed to send them a new copy because I had made some changes even though I thought I was done. It’s a long and arduous process. Frustration, panic, anxiety, hopelessness, impatience, these are just some of the feelings I’ve felt over the past few weeks. But I’ve also felt excitement, hope, pride, expectancy. Most of all I just want to get this baby out there to sink or swim. It’s been a long process and I know it’s not done yet so I will do my best to be patient. And in the meantime, I’m spending all my free time in the proverbial pool teaching my MS how to do the butterfly stroke because I want this sucker to really go far!

  • Great post, Kara. I’ve had similar feelings. For a while I thought I was alone in this, but now I think if writing doesn’t bring about some drastic mood swings the author must not be doing something right. . . after all, a well written book gives the reader mood swings. And I agree, King’s book is a valuable tool. Good luck with your current book and all your future works.

  • That is an excellent point! I often vacillate, too, and the roller coaster of emotion is exhausting. The highs are so fun, but that this-book-is-complete-and-utter-crap-and-I-can’t-write-for-anything feeling is the worst. Still, it does keep us humble, doesn’t it, and looking for that all-important feedback? So you’re right; both feelings are necessary. Thanks for the reminder!

  • I don’t know why I didn’t stumble by this blog before! I think you have a real knack for writing ’cause I was so absorbed by what you’ve written in a mere blog post, which is one hell of a feat! I’ll definitely be sticking to your blog from now on! 🙂

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