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So I Hate My Writing Style

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Nov 25, 2018.

  1. For context I've returned to my WIP after several months not working on it. This is a book i've been working on for about two years and it's on the second or third draft. I talked about it in the thread Hard Decisions to Make, and speaking of, I haven't really made anything resembling a decision.

    It deserves mentioning that in the intervening time between now and last I actually tried to do any writing on it I've read like 30 books that were new to me, started writing and submitting poetry, got a job...lots of different stuff that has contributed probably to me being somewhat of a different person and writer. At least I have to assume this happened because why else would I have this problem so soon?

    I kind of hate my writing style.

    I feel like i used to value using clever word choice and turns of phrase, but now I feel like a lot of my writing is overdoing it/confusing/overwrought/whathaveyou. The opening chapter of my book definitely is all of those things. As I reread I find myself liking only the passages where I wasn't trying too much or thinking too much. And I really like purple writing styles, but something is not right here.

    I guess this adds another dimension to my WIP dilemma since it means there will be a hell of a lot more rewriting involved in whatever i'm doing with it than I thought.

    I have this secret fear that maybe I'm not all that great at writing and i'm not actually meant to finish anything, but that's not relevant...

    Anyway. What's different so soon? Is it just that i've had time away from the WIP? But how do you change your own writing style? How do you revise with that in mind?
    Rob McDonald and Night Gardener like this.
  2. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

    Yes, DragonOfTheAerieDragonOfTheAerie, you will change your writing style, and notice what you don't like about your style... For the simple fact that you are still *developing* and *discovering* your writing style.

    Taking some time off from a WIP, especially one you were already frustrated with, lets you set fresh perspective and new experience to add to your own inner critique. Now, you've noticed something that you like, something that is capturing your critical eye. Noticing things that aren't holding up to your new sense of scrutiny. So what? Many would call that progress, a creative arc.

    I don't see how reaching that kind of break through and insight in such a short time is a bad thing. It just means you'll have a lot of work to do, should you choose to undertake the challenge.

    However, that leaves the task at hand... the rewrite.
    The particular WIP seems to be troubling you. So, leave it alone for a while yet. Hone your new sensibilities on a new project. Brainstorm, jot down ideas. Keep writing poetry. Try something new, different ideas. Try to put the original WIP out of your mind for a while. Why? Because, that might be the prescription for getting the inner tools you need to truly be ready, in time, to rework and rewrite that 2 year project.

    And, I feel comfortable as a writer and visual artist giving that suggestion to you. Sometimes, the answer is time away and fresh perspective when you come back. I can't tell you how many canvases got painted over, to attempt the painting again. Yes, that means I lost all of the original hours, creative energy and labor. But I gained so much more restarting. It was truly satisfying work. Freeing. I wasn't trying to force something into existence that for whatever reason wasn't translating into reality or working creatively or technically. And I've shelved more than 1 WIP in my lifetime. I typically have one major work, and some side projects, just to avoid burn out as best I can. I can relate to coming back to a shelved WIP and saying, 'um nope. This isn't working.' But, I discovered what was salvageable about it, and took those themes and ideas to a 'fresh canvas' to start a re-write.

    I will give you 1 tip: if you go for a rewrite, totally re-write. Don't plan on stuffing in earlier work or sections into a new draft, you'll be hyper-critical of the merging. It won't transition with writing style, etc. Don't destroy the older draft. Reference it. I can hear some Scribes cringing, but this is advice for those with extreme creative blockages. Not for the faint-hearted. I would advise you to do this: read your WIP chapter. Wait a day. Then, try to re-write the chapter from recent memory. No cheating! You might be happily surprised by the results.

    I wish the best of luck for your endeavors. You asked some tough existential questions of yourself. You ask, Why keep writing? What if I never finish? Am I actually not great at this? I could drone on for hours about how much of this is a peripheral cultural problem encroaching on your innate sense of creativity, but that's a side issue.

    I ask...Why not? Why the hell not?

    Writing makes about as much sense as anything else we choose to do with our limited time... on this spinning ball of rock... with an atmosphere... with a wild and improbable oasis of life living on the surface... orbiting a sun that will go supernova in the future of an incomprehensible time scale and destroy our solar system... in the vaccuum of an expanding universe... in this, we can be merely specks of dust, or glitter. Either way, it really doesn't matter, does it? So you have to answer 'why not?' for yourself. I say, shine on. Be the glitter.

    Learn and live the difference between self-criticism, and self-critique. Not just a play on words, it's a change of mentality. Free yourself! And just write!
  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    you might want to take a look at some of the comments in the 'presentation' portions of the Judgment Threads for Top Scribe. While grammar plays a role, what I'm looking for the most is clarity - who is speaking, what they say, what's running through their mind. Long descriptions, purple prose can get in the way of that. If I have to reread a passage to grasp what's going on - unless there's some sort of trick or mystery - then something is wrong.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  4. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    What you're saying is that the person who wrote that book is no longer you. If that is so, I'd say it is unfair to your past self to impose your current standards on them. Perhaps you have simply developed a personal dislike of your writing because you are overexposed to it. Have you tried showing your work to other people? If so, what did they think? If they like it, I'd say you should just finish it in line with your original intent and move on to the next story. Otherwise you'll just end up rewriting the same story for eternity, because your writing preferences will change again and again and again.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    You cannot walk in the same river twice. I just made that up.

    The advice to step away from a work, give it time, and gain a new perspective, is always presented as if a new perspective is necessarily a good thing.

    It ain't necessarily so. I just made that up, too.

    The new perspective has always for me been somewhere between disheartening and terrifying. I wrote *this*? How am I supposed to fix *this*? How could I even have written such claptrap in the first place? I don't have the heart to throw it out and I don't have the skill to fix it. That's probably because I'm a lousy writer. und so weiter

    I lose heart several times a month, sometimes several times a week. I would be more confident if only thousands of people would give me unstinting praise. Doesn't seem all that much to ask. Also doesn't seem all that likely. So I have to decide (several times a week) that I'm going to keep writing. Not for this or because of that, but simply and fundamentally because I choose to keep writing.

    The danger of purple prose for the young writer is that it's harder than it looks. It's not a matter of knowing words but of understanding language. What often happens in bad examples is the writer has used the words and constructions without art, so what seems clever is actually clumsy, or on the nose, or uneven. Going for purple prose is a bit like trying to sound like an opera singer--it takes only a single false step to break the illusion. OTOH, if you're just playing bass in a bar band, you've got more room for mistakes. Purple prose, like opera, is also less popular and less widely understood, so you're inevitably going to leave behind a larger section of the audience. At least in the opera they don't throw bottles at the band, so there's that.

    Only you can judge whether a particular story is worth the salvage effort. And you won't acquire that judgment until you've done several. You could regard it as an exercise in craft. You could regard it as an utter waste of time. Or you could walk away and write something else. Just don't throw it away. Keep all of it, even the rubbish. When you're famous, some lit major will get a dissertation out of it. ;-)
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Many writers have gone through this, including myself. So, don't beat yourself up about it. It's not an unusual thing. Just endeavour to do better. :p

    It's always more work than you think. Ugg. Do your best, and try to guard against the eternal rewrite/edit. Sometimes, you just have to walk away, not because the work isn't salvageable, but because of the time required with no guarantee of results. Sometimes it's just simpler to start something new, because it won't be cluttered with baggage.

    Nothing like a good dose of fear to light a fire under your rump. For me, I kind of fear the time when I'm not a bit scared when I write something. Self satisfaction leads to stagnation and is the first step on the road to regret.

    As for changing your writing style, I don't think it's necessarily about drastic change. It's more about just keeping things simple and trying to speak in a more straightforward manner. That doesn't mean there isn't room for flourishes, personality in your writing, but part of it is about learning control, knowing when to be simple and when to add a little flair.

    For me, I try not to say something with 20 words when I can say it with 10. One of the things I learned was that when you overwrite something, it can have a distancing effect on the reader, making it more difficult for them to connect with your characters and story.

    my 2 cents.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  7. Thing is, I've already rewritten 75% of the whole thing from scratch before i realized my plot was structurally screwed and I had to start over...again. So that's how my third draft is also my second draft, because I never actually got to The End in the second. So if I do that again, it's gonna be on a timeframe of like 5 years in the future. But look, I probably won't have any interest in the book at all then.

    Which raises the question: if i don't think this is lastingly consuming/important, why keep scrounging for reasons to finish now?
    Night Gardener likes this.
  8. So what happened is: I kinda lost interest in my WIP and it kinda just...disappeared. I didn't make the conscious decision to quit, at some point I just closed the document and didn't open it again. I hadn't cared about it for a good while and now i'm not sure I ever did in the first place.

    Well A couple days ago I did in fact reread it and had two thoughts. First: "My MC is an immature idiot." Second: "The writing in this thing is a mess." And it was very shocking to have the first chapter go from really good to garbage in my mind so quick. I think I really don't want my writing so sound drab, but at times I end up actually working to avoid plain, serviceable writing and it just does not go well when I'm trying hard to make every sentence Not Just Any Sentence. Maybe it's okay to have Common or Garden variety sentences.

    I mean...I feel like the first chapter came off as so awful because i'd been over it so many times? Maybe? I don't think I actually hate my style. I just think I've only ever seen it in a raw and untrimmed form because I can't finish a damn thing. I have so many good scenes and dialogue that makes me laugh even though *I* wrote it and imagery that snap-crackle-pops in this WIP. But I don't have a second opinion, almost none of this has been shown to anyone else, I have barely a grasp of where to put commas, and I've just never gotten to the polishing stage. Because writing books takes time and I have lots in terms of free time but not much in terms of actual time I have spent on earth. And I have ADHD and that means I bouncy-ball from idea to idea and there has to be some reward my brain is getting from staying with the story for it to even be a presence in my conscious. I forgot about this WIP, guys. I didn't even mean to put it down. I just realized I didn't have any readers once my high school friends stopped talking to me and that no one cared and I would have to go through at least another damn draft before I could put it online or something and it just got horribly isolating sitting here with this thing knowing it was so far from being presentable and that likely only a couple family members would ever read it and probably wouldnt like it.

    I love my mom and shes hella supportive but she likes books like little house on the prairie and anne of green gables. My MC slits someone's throat int he first paragraph of this story.

    On some level I know this could be a really cool story and i want to keep going, but I don't know how.

    And seeing that i'd need to polish my writing just made this thing seem more like a burden. I should have KNOWN that, of course, but I thought it was readable if imperfect. It's actually very confusing.

    And it's WEIRD. I write really good fight scenes, but I write everything like a fight scene it seems. Snappy and action-y and strongly verbed and whatever else. Then I internal monologue for paragraphs and I can't figure out how to trim that because so much of the conflict is internal. It's really strange and I'm not sure why. I

    I really want another story idea to work on, and I have several that are just ready to go, but I can't motivate myself to work on any of them. I can't remember ever going this long without writing anything at all. I feel like i have to finish this if anything else is going to work for me and yet I feel like I can't finish this. The job gets bigger the more I flail about in it.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  9. I feel like a lot of aspects of my entire writing "process" or style or whatever--just, aspects of me, writing, and my ability to do it--developed really early, like prodigy-like, and many others that are really important and essential I didn't develop at all. I've been told my whole life that I'm super advanced at it, but that's only in certain parts of it, in some ways I'm really new to really basic aspects of writing.

    Like when you're told you're gifted as a kid (I was supposed to be some kind of goddamn super genius kid lol) you may be really advanced mentally but emotionally you're still a child and it kind of messes you up. It's like that. Because when I was like 12-15 my ideas were big and advanced and my style was really really advanced, at least for my age, but I didn't have the mental ability or the emotional maturity to stick out the full process of writing a novel or a series, and that messed with me, because I spent my teenage years feeling like everything is there, all these great ideas and stuff, and I could spit out publishable opening chapters like crazy, and I *knew* all the technical stuff but the mental/emotional capacity to actually write a book and go through the whole process and stick with an idea and view it from a big-picture type perspective in practicality was not there.

    And that's how I still feel: I feel like so much is THERE. I feel like I have all this ability but I don't know how to practically execute any of it. I just never learned how to emotionally regulate myself in a creative sense. When I was 12 I was technically able to write a novel but everything was there when I was like 10, at least the basic stuff, and I could write a scene and dialogue and structure sentences in a way that kids that age absolutely can't in a general sense. When I was like 12-10 I wrote lots of fanfiction (this wasn't self-insert with some hot celebrity, this was me making up a plot that ended up barely connected to the canon and mostly original characters) and wrote like a dozen half-novels. When I was 12 i finished one. And I feel like it had a lot more to do with childlike impulsiveness and distractibility calming down enough for me to actually stick out the process, than it did with me acquiring the raw ability and knowledge.

    I'm not saying any of this to be like "look at me and how smart I was/am." I'm saying that I am the kid who was declared a genius when she was 6 so she was put in school with kids twice her age, skipping a half dozen grades, and breezed through high school without opening a textbook, and now she's in college having a mental breakdown because she never learned how to study or take notes on a lecture or take a test because she never had to. All of that is metaphor. About writing. I didn't develop in the same way as a lot of writers because I was a pre-adolescent when I got all the basics down and now I can't remember what I knew about writing a book when I was 12 much more than I remember being 12. Or something like that. I just feel like a lot of other writers are little baby writers or apprentice writers or journeyman writers or so on and i'm stretched between all different developmental stages and I'm missing a lot. Most of all, my self esteem is worn down from a lot of failure and lack of ability to finish things when all of that came not from being a new baby amateur writer but a new baby amateur HUMAN BEING.

    I've been beating myself up over not having finished a lot of stuff when a lot of the stuff I never finished was when I biologically and psychologically had an attention span of like 20 minutes. I wrote a book before I had ever written a 5 page essay.

    I expected a hell of a lot of myself in a writing sense when i was a young(er) teenager and I accurately judged where I was as a writer on some level but I completely failed to factor in where I was as a person. And like. I knew *how* to write and finish books and revise them and how to get from A to Z basically and I hated that I couldn't do that but I realize now that my brain was...a child's. And even if my skill was technically at a high level the brain that held it was very new to the world and just...

    This stuff is messing with my brain.

    I guess what i'm trying to say is that there's a reason infants don't learn to walk before they can sit up, and I did exactly that. And I didn't realize before that 15 was so small.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2018
    Night Gardener likes this.
  10. Malik

    Malik Archmage

    Hatred of your writing is a side effect of self-awareness. It happens to every author once they start reading and writing critically, and it's compounded by the realization that every draft but the last one is bullshit.

    The good news is, it means you've hit an important mile marker on your journey. The bad news is, this feeling never goes away. Even if you live to 120 having written every day, you'll die wishing you'd been a better writer.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Sometimes I think the worst thing we can do is to tell a child they're brilliant or beautiful or gifted. Things they are, rather than things they do. Because now they have to live up to the hype. I was lucky. My dad told me I was an idiot.

    DotA, you're in an echo chamber inhabited by one person. Break out.

    I and others have mentioned short story writing. You might try that as an exercise, but only ONLY if you submit it to magazines. That step is even more important than the writing of it.

    Another approach would be Wattpad or similar places. Take a novel. Publish a chapter. Publish another chapter. Oh, and read other people's work and make comments.

    Which connects to the third approach, which is a writing group. In both cases you will benefit from the requirement of critiquing the work of others. It's a skill, it can be developed, and it can help in your own writing. The critique group has a further benefit in that it can offer you deadlines. Having to produce for others can get you past the sentence-polishing and more into writing.

    In all three cases, you get feedback on your work. In the first two, you have to finish stories or at least scenes. In the second two, you learn to critique. And there's no reason at all not to try all three.

    I don't know about others, but for me this is true: writing (maybe all art) is downright poisonous when practiced in isolation.
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    I spent several years writing and rewriting the first 100 pages or so. I didn’t write past that point. I’d stick it in the figurative drawer and not read it for months. I’d take it out, I’d be unhappy, so I edited and rewrote. Rinse/repeat. This was half plan/half result of life in general. Then one day, I opened up the file and said “damn that’s good. That’s what I want it to sound like.” So I finsihed the book, then I edited and refined more, hired an editor, and after the final edit... still edited more. I’ve read Eve of Snows at least 20 times, and listened to the in production audio book 2-3 times checking for errors. Yeah, I could always tweak something, but it sounds and reads exactly as I intended, bending grammar rules, informal voice, and all. Some folks aren’t going to agree, but that’s the nature of the game. I have not gotten sick of it (which amazes me) and I still get sucked into the story. Which means, I guess, that I’m writing the exact story I want to read and writing the way I want it written, and hoping other folks have similar tastes.

    But this has been an on and off again process for the past 20 years starting with screenwriting before too many people in H’Wood told me to write the novel first and come back, LOL. I’ve now flipped my own script: I used to write loving what I wrote until later, when I would deem it garbage. Now, I will sometimes get disgusted while writing it, but later realize it’s just fine. Or the writing was good, but the story had veered.

    This is a long process, and realizing you suck (so to speak) is an early step to no longer sucking. Way too many skip this step, heh heh. Eve of Snows has drawn comparison to Tolkien, Martin, Sanderson, and Jordan, and oddly enough, two comparisons to Herbert’s Dune, and there’re a couple of people across this globe already re-reading the book to catch things they missed! That makes all the sucking worth it in the end.

    Embrace the Suck, then stab it in the back. More than once, make sure its dead. No mostly dead.

    I refuse to die wishing I was a better writer. But, there’s no way I’ll die without wishing I’d written more.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  13. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    Oooh, I dream of writing in isolation! LOL.

    Being told you can write and should be writing can be aggravating as heck when you disagree. I always seemed to hold this notion that I could write better than many published authors, but for whatever reason I didn’t. But then again, that’s probably part of my psyche. If sitting at the table and someone else broke a $40 wine glass, I’d be “oh well, shit happens” but if I broke it? I’d be so pissed at myself. Or, if you presented me with two identical drawings, one of them mine, I’d like the other person’s better, LOL.

    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  14. The thing about being gifted is that it's still an abnormal type of development. That's what no one addresses when they deal with gifted kids. Almost all of us, including me, end up with issues stemming from it, whether that's self-esteem related, anxiety, social deficits, not knowing how to study or really how to learn upon reaching higher education, or just being told as a kid that you're Super Smart and beating yourself up as you grow up for not being able to accomplish things before everyone else does like you did when you were 4 and could read on a 5th grade level. Gifted kids feel special and appreciated when they're little and they end up hurting themselves more and more when they're older trying to reclaim that feeling. It sucks to be a young adult and realize all of a sudden that you built your self-esteem on a pattern of over-achieving and surpassing all your peers that wasn't ultimately sustainable.

    Of course in my case it's complicated by the fact that that I'm autistic. Sometimes that shows up as a kid who's "weird" in some way and set back socially a good deal but extremely gifted. Idk.

    And it's true that most of my writing progression has been done in almost total isolation and it has not been good. People say that I have to wrote because I like writing, not because I want people to read it. Well, writing is communication. Talking to yourself gets tiresome.

    I've tried to write short stories but I don't know what's so difficult about it. I have like 5 unfinished ones lying around. I kind of hate writing them.
  15. I strongly dislike how much I relate to this...
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Writing a short story is nearly as hard as writing a novel, for me. Other people can write them like crazy (see Bradbury or Clarke or Asimov). I think it's a gift, but as with any craft it is also a discipline.
    Peat and Sheilawisz like this.
  17. It really is. But I don't like them because I just...don't have the time to let the characters evolve and become their own thing and let the plot do unexpected things and I can't write 60 pages of worldbuilding or obsess about scenes 30 chapters ahead. Short story writing omits a lot of what's fun about writing.
  18. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Did you try novellas? Longer than a short, but not as massive an undertaking as a novel.
    I can't claim to be a master of the format, but I'm greatly enjoying it. It lets me go deep with one character and their story, and it lets me explore the world along with the character. The world building doesn't get terribly deep in each story, but each new novella adds a little bit to the previous one.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I completely get that. But there are other benefits to the short story. I take Poe as my guide here, with the great SF writers looking over our shoulder. A short story is all about delivering a single emotion. Short stories can do other things, but we leave those to one side for now. One emotion (or one concept, for SF).

    If you decide to try your hand, you might think of it this way. There's none of the development, world-building, etc. that goes into a single scene, right? A scene is all about delivering something--a bit of character development, a fight scene, a secret revealed (or concealed). A short story is that.

    In a short story we take the world for granted. Our characters aren't going to undergo any great changes or, if they do, it's a single change. The plot serves gets us to that change; it exists to spring the surprise, to catch at the heart, to horrify or delight or amaze. No you don't get to do all that other stuff, but all that other stuff happens in your novel-in-progress so it's not like you're denying yourself anything.

    And the benefits are real. One, you finish something. Two, you submit it and (one hopes) you get the work critiqued by someone who is well read in your field (a magazine editor or panel of readers). Three, you practice telling a complete story. There's a real argument to be made that the more one starts and does not finish, the more one trains oneself to start and not finish.

    It's entirely your choice, of course. There are plenty of novelists who do not write short stories. I make the suggestion only because you sounded stuck in a rut and were looking for a way up and out.
    Peat and Night Gardener like this.
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    Yeah, this is a nasty one. The good news, at least for me, was when my writing hit the standard that made me not throw up, it was all downhill from there, LOL. I’m so contented with how I write now, that it makes me fear I’m delusional again. So it’s good I published and got feeback from other people in other countries who I know arent related, heh heh. Now the trouble is, because the “off” button on my inner editor is broken, It’s as hard for me to read other writers now as it used to be to write. Go figure.


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