Friday, January 21, 2011

Quantifying the suck

It's easy as writers to get caught in the "this is so terrible, I'll never write like Suzanne Collins/Stephen King/Nora Ephron/Dr. Seuss" mindset. It's also easy to forget that you're reading the final spit-polished version of a story that everyone and their brother has weighed in on to make it the best book it can possibly be. We're emotional people, the creatives of the world, and it's as easy to send us into a tailspin of self-hating depression as saying two words: I suck.

And you know what? You do. I do. We all do. Are babies awesome at walking from the get go? Have you ever watched a baby giraffe (called a calf, which made me giggle) try to walk for the first time? Hijinks ensue, let me tell you. Every person and every thing in the world sucks when they first try something. Michael Phelps doesn't swim a gold medal run every time he trains; he trains to be able to swim that gold medal run when he needs to. We can't look at the final version of years of effort and assume our first draft WIP that's only half-way done sucks in comparison. Of course it sucks. It's supposed to suck. Our job as writers is to identify how it sucks.

Enter the quantification of the suck. It's not enough to say "this is terrible." You have to know why it's terrible. Are your characters falling flat? Are you not grounded in the scenery? Is the dialogue stilted or does it contain too much realistic speak that trips up the flow of the story? Have you shamefully abused your adjectives and adverbs? Does your piece not keep a consistent voice throughout? These are all questions you should be asking yourself during the revision process. If you hear a beeping sound in your house you don't stand around going "man that's annoying. I wish it would stop beeping." NO. You go FIND the source of the beeping. So go find the source of your suck.

Me? I le SUCK at setting descriptions. I can do them, sure, but it's like pulling teeth to get me to think of it and then give an interesting description of a building. It's a building, people. Can't you visualize that? Apparently not, according to my writing class, my crit group, the P-i-C, and anyone who's ever read my writing. Does it annoy me to holy heck that I have to go back in and describe all these things I don't care about? Yes. Will I ever be as good at it as L.M. Montgomery (that woman could go on about trees six ways till Sunday)? No. But will I eventually put in enough practice to make it good enough that it doesn't trip other people up while they get to the good parts of the story? I'd better.

Despair not, friends. Or at least know that I despair with you.


Jennie Bailey said...

Excellent post! I got here via The LiLa who posted your link today. Glad I came! This is right up my alley and what I needed to read today. My problem? I like meaty stories so I throw too much in and the subplots fall off the map in the first draft. Oh, he was supposed to be after that? Ooops. Forgot. Better go back and add more in or just take that subplot out entirely. It's easy to get lost in there! Have a great weekend!

JEM said...

Welcome Jennie! I have the opposite problem - my first drafts are always on the light side because I haven't added enough subplots in!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great advice. I know what I suck at but I'm not going to share. I'm hoping my readers think it all comes to me like stink comes to a skunk.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Very well stated!

First drafts are supposed to suck, aren't they? It's our job to find the gem inside trim away all the rough stuff and polish up the valuable part.

I have a hard time letting the first draft be sucky, sometimes. I want to perfect it ... and often it would be better if I just went ahead and wrote the story.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Ha! My cps just told me this week that I need more setting to ground readers in the story. Le sigh. I guess that dream of a perfect first draft isn't happening this time either :)