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So I Hate My Writing Style

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

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I think this happens with any art, Demesnedenoir. I took a music production course once. Right at the start the instructor advised us that learning this stuff was going to change how we listen to music.

    Ignorance may or may not be bliss, according to one's taste, but I've never heard anyone claim knowledge is bliss. :)
     
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  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Knowledge could be bliss, if you know the winning lottery numbers beforehand. but then, if you miss the deadline to buy a ticket, it’d be hell.

    I agree to a point. But, so many writers talk about reading voraciously... I can’t, and not just because of the adverb, it’s because my brain staggers over writing habits it doesn’t like. There are a handful of writers I’ve found who cause minimal hiccups: Tolkien, Martin, Gaiman, McCarthy, Eco... plus a couple classics like Dickens and Conrad. And I know it’s in part psychological because I’ll give indie-authors more of a pass than the big pubs.

    But all that’s a bit of a hijack of the thread, heh heh.
     
  3. Now I'm not sure if there's that much wrong with my writing style, and i wonder if it just needs fresh eyes and revising and editing, something i haven't been able to accomplish.

    I mean it works in some places. Others not so much.

    The thing about more "purple" styles is that they snarl and tangle and mess up much easier.
     
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    After reading your newer posts, IMHO, it might be a good thing for you to set all your old work aside and just start things fresh. The thing about working on something for a long time is that it collects a lot of baggage about what it should be, what it could be, and what it isn't.

    For me, that was my first book. Part of the reason I had to walk away from it was because I realized that I was trying to finish/fix a story from the perspective of a person/writer who really no longer existed. I had moved on from that place, and every time I tried to fix that piece, I was cluttering it up with a mixture of new ideas and new prose that didn't necessarily fit in with what had been established by my younger self. And if I kept trying to fix that same story, it would lock me into a vicious cycle.

    When you start something completely new, you get a chance to establish a new way of working and maybe a new way of thinking. It gives you a chance to also grow your confidence because you're constantly building something new and fresh instead of constantly staring at something old and broken.

    Also realize that a part of being a writer and getting better at anything in life, it's a process that includes lots of failure. If you learn from your failures, you get just a little bit better. Let failure fuel that drive to be better.

     
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  5. More meditation has led me to the conclusion that my writing needs a hard reset. Meaning:

    1. New story, standalone, not too complicated.
    2. Hard commit to it. Make playlists and pinterest boards. Don't glance at or think about anything else.
    3. Do a decent amount of planning, at least more than I did for Red Nights.
    4. A timeframe...planning to actually start by January and get through the first draft in a year seems decent.
    5. Some way of getting it out there and seen by readers. Wattpad or something.

    No sequels! Standalone! One book!

    I can't do anything else to this current story. It's twisted and complicated and I don't know what to do to help it. And I want to just have something new to do.
     
  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

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    I think it's ok to shelve things and not try to resurrect it. That being said... what themes, ideas, character, plot...."what" was it about your older WIP that you're having a hard time letting go that is currently embodied in that work? If you can answer that question, you can phoenix-from-the ashes-that sh$t to a new, fresh project.

    I've had that 'ugh, this is rubbish' reaction too, going back to older work. For much of the same reasons you're describing. It's perhaps technically correct but missing something. The characters aren't developed as well as I thought they were. Plot or logic holes. My own voice as a writer (my teachers forced me to write differently for many projects, so that has completely influenced my writing voice today. (To the point where some of my beta readers are not convinced I was the only writer :/ ) Other Posters are correct: your writing voice and style changes as you get older. Even with published authors, so don't be discouraged. It's natural. And, like opening any other time capsule (even one a few days old) you'll notice things with fresh analytical prowess. Your writing is a reflection of who you were the day- the monents- you wrote those specific passages.

    And, start something totally new if that's what it takes to keep you writing. Guess what? You might spend a lot of time and energy on it, and end up not liking that one either. Nothing is a total failure, so long as you have learned something.

    Right now, you are learning about yourself, finding your voice, your style, your purpose. You have a long journey ahead of you to a destination unknown, so enjoy each step. Even if you stumble now and again, keep going forward. You'll know where you're going eventually. There's a lot of meandering and wandering in the beginning. And, I'm starting this thread of yours as your 'beginning': you've had a moment of real self-discovery as a writer. Yay! Now, try not to terrorize or over-scrutinize yourself to death and you'll be just fine.
     
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  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Sounds like a plan. I think it's a good decision to make, and I also think it's good to make the decision, if that makes sense. :)
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Every one of those points are eminently sensible and equally important. We'll be here to cheer you on.
     
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  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Looks like a good plan. Sensible deadline. Reasonable goals. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how complex, in a good way, a simple straightforward standalone can be.

    For me, with my first novel, the time away, the distance gained, and with the growth of my writing skills, allowed me to look back and see where and how I was going astray in broad strokes with that story. Honestly, I've forgotten a lot of what I put in that novel, which I think is a good thing, because what I do remember, for the most part, is only the good stuff.

    A little while ago, I was writing a short story, and I realized it connected up well with the basic idea of my first novel and could easily be taking place in the same story world. It sparked some ideas, and after ten years, I think in the very near future I may try my hand at writing stories in that world, maybe even revisiting the idea of that first story, with nothing to reference back to but my memories. If I can't remember it, then it doesn't exist, especially all the bad stuff. :D

    Maybe you can do this in the semi-distant future. Maybe not.
     
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  10. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Oof, oof, ouch. Dragon, I haven’t got any qualifications to give advice here—haven’t published anything yet, and I’m still plodding away at a first/second/first complete draft. But I’ve been there, and I’m in a much better place than I was two or three years ago. I was also a “gifted” kid writing fantasy novels at 11, dreaming about being published by 16, though perhaps not as prolific or good at it (these things were novelettes at best, and not even my wonderful mother could’ve called them publishable). The talent myth—that you’re either good at something or you aren’t—can leave you searching for validation and coming up short. All I can tell you is a few things I’ve learned about myself in hindsight, and hope they’ll be helpful to you.

    If you really want an outside opinion that doesn’t mind throat-slitting, I would be happy to take a look at your first chapter—but honestly, all you need to know about your writing is something you’re already aware of.

    It’s good, but it’s not there yet.

    It has potential, but it’s not ready to suck in readers. There are great glittery diamonds in the rough but other people may not be able to spot them yet. This is just reality—the reality of an unedited draft of an unfinished novel from someone who’s still learning how to write one. It’s neither completely terrible nor completely amazing, and your brain keeps twitching between the two, trying to prove something, anything. The only way to prove anything to yourself is to keep working and learning the craft.

    There’s nothing unforgivably wrong with your prose, and there’s nothing wrong with you. More than that, your prose will only improve over time through writing and editing—and your habits and dedication will only improve the same way. So you need to find what will help you move forward first, before anything else. What I have found, time and time again, is that what really stops me is a problem with the story. Bad prose on the page can be a stumbling block, and life interruptions happen. But what keeps me from returning to and enjoying writing for long periods of time is the plot, characters, conflict. Either I’ve got it wrong, or something important is missing, or I don’t understand what I’m trying to write well enough. Trying to plow forward without addressing the underlying cause only ends with me blaming myself and my bad writing, ignoring the fact that me and my writing were doing fine a month ago.

    It’s so hard to admit the stories we love and daydream about in the shower might be flawed, even irreparably so. They seem so perfect in conception. But like dreams five minutes after the alarm goes off, they can fade into confusion when you try to examine them. We have the sweeping emotional high points all rehearsed...but how do we get there, precisely? What seems to make sense in our heads might have problems with logic, causality, motivation, pacing—and these are knotty problems to work out while you’re also wrestling with prose. Easy to think the prose is the issue, and if you just wrote it better…

    I think you’ve made the right choice to shelve the story you were working on, from everything you’ve said. I know there’s so much advice out there about finishing, finishing, you can only learn by finishing…. It’s true that reaching the end of a draft, the final edit, will teach you things that nothing else will. But if trying to finish something that’s not working and that you have no passion for is dragging you into the pit of despair and you’re not getting any writing done...that’s the opposite of the advice you need. At this point, the progress you make in your mindset and skills is more important than the end product. Learning how to write a book—how you write a book—is your priority. And at 18(? Honestly, this applies to 16-22-year-olds as far as I’m concerned) it’s not going to take you 100k words to learn huge, style-changing things. Of course you want to rewrite stuff from a year ago, your synapses are multiplying as we speak!

    Write with your best ideas, with the best of your ability. Grab what you feel confident in and discard things that aren’t working. Learn from it, that’s all that matters.

    When something sticks and you want to follow it all the way to the bitter end, you’ll feel it. Sure, there may be periods of doubt, but you shouldn’t feel soul-sucking despair for months on end. If you do, please give yourself permission to do something else. That’s not failing, that’s moving on. And there’s a pretty good chance that at some point you’ll wake up in a cold sweat—tomorrow, or five years from now—with a totally killer take on this story that changes everything and you’ll wonder why, why you clung to those old ideas for so long when it was always meant to be told this way. That’s inspiration for you. The stuff you came up with at 16 shouldn’t hold you back from what you can create now.
     
  11. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Oooo-kay, that’s a wall of text about letting go of an old story. Hope it resonates and all—and based on your last post, I think it might. But now what?

    Please work on your story before you start writing.

    Okay, couple of caveats, I suppose. Working on a story can take a lot of forms. Brainstorming, obviously. Outlining. Outlining is a whole beast that I could talk about more if you’re interested but that I will graze by here. I have heard some authors need to write like a 30k into a discovery draft before they really know what they’re writing. I think I may have backed into that one accidentally, down to the 30k mark, but uh...I thought that was the draft that would take me there. If I had been able to step away once I got seriously stuck, gone to the drawing board, outlined what I had, really worked through it and started over again in good grace, perhaps that would’ve been a good experience. But it was kind of miserable, because again, I was trying to force myself to keep writing on a draft that I didn’t like and didn’t know the shape of. If you don’t do that, and can accept with grace the near-guarantee of rewriting a discovery draft, and really really really want to get started right away—maybe that’s for you? Perfectionist to perfectionist, maybe not.

    Whatever it is, work on your story. I think there is a long gestation period of brainstorming that needs to happen, sort of formless, raw creativity. Since you say you have ideas lined up, you may already have this stuff. Once you do, once you have something…. Write down what you have in your head, in some form. Force yourself to articulate the story. Stream of consciousness summary, synopsis, even a query pitch, stuff like that. If you find yourself punching it up to sound more interesting, maybe lean into what makes it sound cooler. The story in its essentials is wrestling its way out of you. You have to find it.

    Ask yourself questions. Where are the characters coming from? What are their goals? What’s holding them back? How do they change? How does the world change? What are the themes, the emotional keystones of the story? Make sure there is solid conflict in the world and personal stakes for the characters.

    When you have events and characters and a central plotline coming together...this is when I think outlining, and outlining using story structure, is incredibly useful. You have story soup with some big meatball scenes. Story structure will help you string it all together, and pace it so you’re not stuck wallowing in the middle. Personally, I really liked KM Weiland’s podcast and books, great on the basics, and through her recommendations picked up Truby and McKee. But you might really dislike reading advice and story manuals at this point. Maybe it’s not necessary or fun for you. The important thing is to grow to understand your story.

    The principles are pretty basic. Are plot-moving things happening at regular intervals? Is there a big event or revelation in the middle? Does the climax tie everything together? Is your protagonist making choices that, for better or worse, move the plot forward? You can take it down to a granular level and frankly I find it enjoyable to do so, but you don’t necessarily need to analyze your story at the meta level to make it work. What that requires is understanding your characters, the conflict at work, and the plot events that are happening. Are they the best choices you could make? Can you heighten these events?

    At least for me, getting down to the scene level was incredibly helpful to bridge the gap between story soup and words on the page. I took myself through every scene in summary, noting goals, conflict, outcome—and discovered so, so much about the story. About what the characters were dealing with. What was wrong with scenes in my first draft that fell flat.

    An outline isn’t just a list of scenes. It’s about why those scenes happen, and what happens as a consequence, and how it all weaves together. And it will absolutely change! No matter how deep you go, it’s function is to structure the story, but it will settle and change as you go. Everything is part of an ongoing process.

    Augh, I swore I wouldn’t go into outlining, and I think my thumbs are going to fall off from typing this all on my phone… To sum it up. Work on your ideas. Work on your story/plot/characters. Then work on your process/drafting/habits. Then, in the midst of that but mostly in revision, you can work on your prose. Each of these things will support the next.

    I know it’s crazy that I’ve written this whole long thing and barely touched on your concern about your style, but seriously. Prose is a surface thing. It’s a scapegoat. It’s more important to work on what’s underneath, what you want to say, what the story is about, than whether you’re saying it in a pretty/clever way in this sentence of your draft. We can save the overanalysis for editing, when all the story is fixed, well in the future. I’ve been at a place for a while, after being purple as hell for all my teenage years and a few too many of my twenties, where I value clarity and image much, much more than poetry. Dense prose can be a distraction not only to the reader but to the writer, make us unsure of what we even want to say or why we’re saying it. I think you’re right to have that instinct.

    Please trust yourself, and don’t be too unkind to the kid you were.
     
  12. Gonna reply to y'all now before I forget again:

    You get it pounded into your head a lot that you have to finish things. Finish-finish-finish! That's why it took me almost an entire year to realize that this unfinished mess is holding me back from making any progress. These past months have been the longest time i've spent without actively working on anything in forever.

    The new story is an already established idea that I have a partial first chapter for as well as a basic cast of characters and some world-building. I have some grasp of the plot. All this is more than I had when I started Red Nights.

    I love discovery writing; it's fun, but Red Nights ended up with some serious structural problems due to the haphazard way it was concieved. There was no planning for that story. Just none at all. A basic cast of characters, a premise, a couple ideas for scenes...I got too excited, jumped the gun, started literally one day after coming up with the idea, and somehow , through some miracle, made it to the end. Now i don't have much idea of how to fix it. I made it really complicated and now the skeleton is warped. Its unusual conception is what it owes much of its uniqueness and flair to, so i don't regret doing it the way I did necessarily, but it's going to take time to actually get it functioning.

    The second draft is honestly an astonishing jump in quality from the first so there's that. But it has so much further to go because i started with the contents of a dumpster.

    So. It's time to shelve that one and move on to something new with what I learned from the last attempt at a book as my guide.

    So i'm starting with developing the world, figuring out some basic things about the characters, and having a general direction for the plot. I think getting too crazy with planning will make me lose my mind when i try to write the thing. I'm not a planner. It really makes me go insane. But i'd say even for a discovery writer you've got to figure out basically what you're gonna do with the plot and enough worldbuilding to have a frame for imagination and elaboration. At least this is what I found with Red Nights. I had to do so much research and worldbuilding between drafts and it would have been quicker and easier if i'd had even a basic idea of what kind of world this was at the start and this wouldn't have had to cut out a ton of anachronistic technology and random bullshit that just sounded cool.

    I made a pinterest board yesterday and brainstormed some scenes and ideas for New Book. One of my characters is Sharon, a demon who has been laid off from Hell and is now the MC's therapist. It's honestly going to be great.

    And I can't think of a concievable way this could become too big for one book so it's going to be one!! book!!!

    There's so much in Red Nights that was a kind of impassioned outpouring of who i was and what I was dealing with at the time. I have this memory of the time i abruptly almost started crying during a scene because what i was writing hit me in a way that made me realize it wasn't about this one character i'd made up in my head, it was about me. And now everything it different. And it's like looking back through a window. Trying to shape that story is like molding wax that has already dried.

    So now I move on, I guess.
     
  13. Oh, the things we get forced to accept, and only later realize how wrong it is.

    That's happened to me before, and it was the most unexpected character, too: a twisted, love-starved, love-craving, frightened child transformed into an eldritch creature from being overwhelmed by pain and trauma.
     
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  14. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Heh. This sounds very familiar, except the “made it to the end” bit. To be fair, I wrote 80k on that story—terrifyingly, that didn’t bring it anywhere near the halfway point of the planned plot.

    There’s a lot of value to that, and it’s understandable that you would become attached to the story. There can be a wide gap between what we wanted to write, ideally, and what we needed to write at that moment in time... Juuuust makes it real hard to re-read.

    It sounds like you have a handle on things, Dragon, and if thoughtful discovery writing works for you, you should pursue it. I want to add one possible suggestion—that of pausing the draft at 50k/25k/a quarter of the way through the plot/after the first big plot point/whatever makes sense as a big chunk of this story. At that point you review what you have, plot the next chunk a bit taking into account how the story’s changed, and actually edit what you have so far.

    I think there need to be a few rules to make this work: 1) you set a deadline of X weeks before you have to start writing again and at that point aren’t allowed to change anything else, and 2) this has to be big plot/character fix editing, NOT prose polishing. But I think this might help prevent or at least prune the plot sprawl that compounds the further you get into the book. For me, the knowledge that I’m not allowed to fix anything until I reach the end of the draft is despair-inducing, and leads to worries that I’ll plow ahead with something I kind of know is bad because that’s what I’ve got... So the 50k edit for me is like a beacon of hope up ahead, but not too far ahead. It helps me keep moving, making notes of what I want to change then. I haven’t actually hit that mark yet on my current draft, so it might go belly-up, but it’s a learning curve, right?

    Just an idea that you may want to try—of course, if you do and find yourself getting bogged down and an editing break does more harm than good, ditch that sucker. Gotta listen to yourself.
     
  15. Going back to the original topic of the thread, maybe I'll experiment with a simpler writing style with this new one.

    Also writing in third person now because I need to move between POV's and avoid being confined to the characters too much for this. With first person you're limited in what you can show and that's just not gonna work.

    Unsure about feelings of 1st vs. 3rd.. I liked first person a lot for a good long time, but it's not very versatile. Several of my recent story ideas would be hobbled by it. It was a very good choice for Red Nights, especially since my MC is kind of an unreliable narrator and belligerent about opening up to the reader. That's very fun to play with. But POV switches? Don't go well.
     
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  17. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    I'm late to this party and a lot of the good stuff has been said but I did want to say this -

    I think you're on the right path and I think, judging from the posts, you've been thinking through things in mostly the right way.

    The one thing about your thought processes that might help you if you change it is the amount of pride and ego you've got in your projects. Sometimes that's a good thing but it isn't always so. The investment shouldn't go above healthy levels and if a project is twisting you up as much as your posts seem to sometimes indicate, then its probably above healthy levels. Keeping the level right is really hard but I feel confident that good things will come if you keep the level right and keep approaching things sensibly as you've done so here.
     
  18. This is probably excellent advice and yet i've never been able to be moderately invested in anything. I think perspective would often help. or setting my goal as to just Have Some Fun.

    On some level, emotional investment in something helps me stay sane. I tend to veer off in anxiety/depression/existential crisis/bouncing randomly between obsessions every week/all of the above type directions if everything in my life at the moment is a casual undertaking. At some point I should probably be able to achieve some sort of balance in my life, but im just going day by day right now
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I hesitate to estimate how others think about their own writing, but I can at least speak on my own behalf. In the past I've thought about my ideas. I thought about what I might have to say. I thought about "being a writer." None of that seemed to get me anywhere.

    When I finished my first work, which turned out to be a novelette, all I wanted to do was tell a story. I didn't even care a whole lot about which story (I had plenty of ideas). I just wanted to get something completed. That done, I wanted to get a novel completed (that was Goblins at the Gates). In the course of writing that, my focus shifted a bit. By that time, I had a short story under my belt as well as the novelette, so I knew I could get to the finish line.

    The shift in focus became the story itself. I wanted the characters to be worthy of the plot, and I wanted the plot to be worthy of the characters. I wasn't trying to express anything, dazzle anyone, or say anything profound. It wasn't even about the writing. I just wanted to tell a good story.

    That continues to be the focus, and it works for me. I can't claim I'm having fun because it isn't. It's a labor. I owe the story this work, so I don't begrudge it, though I do moan about it regularly. It's a bit like deciding to build something. The focus is on the thing itself, to make a completed work that I can show to others, and while some may like it and some may not, that's not really the point. The point is that I did the very best I could on that particular piece.

    Underpinning this has been developing my craft to the point where I can tell when I've done the best I could and when I've been sloppy. That's trickier than it looks, and I'm still working on it. Once I've done the best I could, I can show it to others (an editor) and find ways to improve it, but first I have to be able to tell Shinola from that brown stuff on the ground. The only way I've found to do that is to write complete stories all the way to published.

    I dunno if any of that rings true for others. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.
     
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  20. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    Believe me, I totally understand that.

    But it is possible to be very hugely invested in something and to know that something doesn't define you as a person and that you're not a failure if it goes wrong. I'm not talking about treating it as a casual undertaking - just a degree of separation for your own protection. Perspective is a good word here.

    As I said though, its a hard thing to do and you know best what you need to do today for your own wellbeing.
     
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