Monday, March 17, 2008

But why?

After my last post, Laurie made comment that simple words and short sentences are the way to go. There are several quotes to that effect by various successful novelists; Laurie quoted Mark Twain.

Lots of the ‘how to’ books talk about not using a big word where a simple/straightforward/the first one you thought of will do.

One of the pieces of feedback I got at Christmas on my WIP was that I wrote clearly without trying to be too clever. I took this as a compliment.

But. Why is it that after a break, when I read back something I’ve written I think it’s total pants? Am I the only person to think my own work stinks? Will I ever think it sounds okay?


Helen said...

I think my own stuff is pants all the time. Personally I think some of the stuff I write sounds like a two year old has written it. My advice? Give that demon a big old kick up the backside and and carry on regardless. You have made so much progress lately.

Yvonne said...

Laurie makes a good point about simple is best, but I think it's also important that writers do not underestimate their readers' intelligence. My mate used to write for The Mirror and she was told to only use words that a 12 year old could understand. And their articles are deeply irritating. Simple English doesn't have to mean plain - if a Latin word suits your style, meaning and flow better than an Anglo-Saxon one, then use it!

After my two cents above, I'm the same as you - I always think my work stinks after a break, but the stinkiness receeds after each rewrite. As your style develops, so will your appreciation of it. And you sound great to me, neither plain nor pompous, just right!

Pacha said...

My stuff IS pants. I can write nothing else apparently. Sometimes when I write I think I am really clever and get excited (yes, I am a GENIUS, I think to myself!). Reading back inevitably is SUCH a disappointment.

I used to write far too decoratively. And I still go overdrive with description and adjectives but I've learnt to let my pants writing go. I can always edit out adjectives/endless sentences afterwards. On the other hand I find it harder to embellish starker/simpler pieces of writing when editing.

Hubby keeps telling me that I am a perfectionist and I should let other people judge whether my writing is pants or not. He claims it probably isn't anyway (love him he thinks I'm so talented and I so hate to disappoint him). But it really is. I know my novel is pants and am too embarrassed to let anyone read something so pantsy and crapulous!

And yet, I can't not stop writing or dreaming or hoping to rid myself of pantsy writing.

Cal said...

Oh god no. When I finished my first draft of HoWG I nearly CRIED when I read through it I thought it was so crap. Same after edit two. It's only now, after my total rewrite, that I think's not THAT bad.

But I rarely read anything I've written and like it. Even short stories that have won me prizes. Still read it and cringe!

laurie said...

are you the only one?

jj, the only ones who sit back and say, "wow, i'm great!" are the ones who really are total pants.

Debs said...

You're not on your own, Im always thinking my writing it complete pants.

JJ said...

Helen, Oh, it's the demon again is it? Bugger. I thought I just wrote pants.

Yvonne, yeah and I do agree with Laurie and I so HATE books that are so up their own backsides I don't understand them. (And while I'm not a genius, I'm not entirely stupid either). Thank you for reassuring me about my 'tone'

Pacha, oh are you jesting with me? I don't believe your writing is pants at all. Maybe Helen's right and it is just the demon back in a different format?

Cal, that's really reassuring: you never like anything you've written when you read it back over - even when it's won a prize?

Laurie, hahahahaha. Oh that made me laugh. Thank you. And good; what a relief.

Debs, it looks as though it's no bad thing, though, eh?


SpiralSkies said...

I think we all feel like that, most of the time. Have you thought about doing a course? Not that you need to do the learning but the feedback and scoring/marking would let you see how well you're doing without it seeming to be just compliments or air-kissing...

Lane said...

There's a quote from someone (can't remember who) in the Wannabe a Writer book - 'Easy reading is hard writing'
which I totally agree with.

Agree with Jen - maybe you could join an online writng group for some feedback.

Clare said...

"There are several quotes to that effect by various successful novelists"

I can add to the list, if you haven't already come across this one: Martin Millar. He talks about the "nice and good" phrase of writing, which is when he goes back over a manuscript looking for superlatives and replacing them with the words "nice" and "good".

The only problem is when you are trying to avoid repetition and find a paragraph with the same simple word repeated several times, and find yourself using ever-more-esoteric synonyms as you score them all out...

As for hating your own work, it's totally normal. personally I find I vary massively according to mood and other life circs. I can reread the same piece of my own writing, hating it one day and loving it the next. Something that helps me to see it in a positive light is (a) distance, and (b) external validation. This works across the board, so for instance at the moment I have a lot of confidence in my new novel simply because a publisher has just bought my last one. It's a good reason for seeking feedback from friendly people with good taste!

But also, if I put something down for a few weeks, I can return with a fresh eye. Yes I will spot problems, but I will also be able to see the good bits. I guess that's another thing: Remember, nothing you do is likely to be perfect, but that's what editing is for. Don't expect perfection, but praise yourself for the bits which are good, rather than letting one bad point ruin a whole piece.

Personally one of the problems I have with self-criticism is also connected to the Keep It Simple dictum. I hate dense prose and everything I write tends to be short and snappy and easy to read... with the result that sometimes I feel like I'm reading a kids' book, and not adult fiction at all. I have to work at that sometimes to get the tone right. But simplicity IS good, and worth striving for.

KAREN said...

After reading again and again the advice, "show, don't tell" I got into the habit of under-writing, and making everything sound too simple. It's hard to get the balance right sometimes. Whenever I go back and look at what I've written it makes me cringe, but letting someone else (maybe not family) give you a constructive critique might help?

I recently posted my first chapter on my blog, which was hideously embarrassing, even though no-one can see me, but the feedback was tremendous - even if people were just being kind, it gave me a real boost :o)

Willowtree said...

I thought my stuff was crap until I did that rating thing in your last post (a long time ago). My blog was rated "Elementary School" level. It was then that I decided the guy who did that rating gizmo was crap.