There are some tactics and tendencies writers tend to abuse–we talked about a handful last time–but there are also techniques and approaches that writers don’t take full advantage of. I’d love to start a discussion about some of those things today.
Some items in this list are more emotional/ mental, dealing with how we approach our writing. One is more practical (at least in application). But they are all things I know I, at least, tend to undervalue or pass over.
1. DON’T OVERLOOK THE READER’S INTELLIGENCE
One of my basic rules of writing is “trust your reader.” Why? When I started writing I thought I had to spell out everything explicitly, and many times that is far, far from necessary.
Some things are easy to connect, or to comprehend. We are all human beings, after all, and we all have a shared understanding of the human condition, even when we come from different cultures. As a result, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, when you overemphasize the obvious:
- It is boring for readers.
- It bogs down the story or your argument.
- It insults readers, as though you as an author don’t trust them to understand something that is rather simple.
In truth, an author isn’t doubting the reader when she overstates the obvious. In my first novel and first short stories, I was doubting my ability to make my thoughts clear to a reader. My ability to express myself well.
But readers can’t judge what you are thinking or feeling; they can only see the words on the page, and in this situation the words on the page say, “I don’t trust you to get this unless I hammer it in.”
Trusting myself as a writer is tough. I’ve learned that trusting my readers is simpler. I can trust people to “read between the lines.” When I do that, I focus on “showing” something and don’t feel as tempted to “tell” it too.
For example, I can show that a character is nervous by having her twist her hands, or have him stop and start when explaining himself. I can have someone move his eyes to the door or pull on her hair. Such physical signs, in combination with a context that would cause a normal person stress, is enough to imply that a character is stressed out. I don’t have to say, “this person is anxious right now, don’t you see? Is it clear?”
Readers will get it.
Now, this may seem like an obvious thing–trusting readers to pick up on the obvious–but believe me, it takes a while to realize that you can trust your readers when you’re doubting yourself. And speaking of doubting yourself as a writer:
2. DON’T FORGET YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
Take writing lightly, or the difficulties and mistakes inherent in the process will weigh you down so much you can’t move forward.
Especially when you’re starting out, you can’t take writing too seriously. You can’t worry that what you’re writing is ridiculous. It might be: so keep it to yourself. You don’t have to share your fiction with anyone, right?
The first novel I wrote was totally ridiculous. But you know what? I loved what the people I wrote about stood for and fought for. What they sacrificed for. The story was so melodramatic it would make a decent Lifetime movie, perhaps. I didn’t let that embarrass me; I was just careful about who read the novel.
Writing that novel taught me how to write. It also gave me an outlet for self-expression and a haven of sorts during a time of serious transition. And that’s wonderful.
You have to write for you, as I always, always say. And you have to be able to laugh about yourself. Maybe that means knowing your novel isn’t publishable, but you need to write it anyway (for whatever reason that is). Maybe that means not getting discouraged when you realize that chapter is AWESOMELY bad, or that plot hole is so glaring it’s absurd you never saw it before.
3. DON’T FORGET PERSPECTIVE
- Writing is tough, for all of us who write fiction. Make no mistake.
- We all struggle to find time to write.
- We all struggle to figure out where our stories need to go.
- We all fight our characters (and our preconceptions of who they really are.)
- We all, in turn, judge the same passage that we wrote a month before to be a masterpiece, then utter swill, then okay but not great, then horrible (again).
These things are normal. Neither you nor I are the only writers who experience these roadblocks, and these roadblocks don’t mean a project is doomed.
And even if a project does turn out to be unworkable? Unable to be fixed? Is that really the end of the world? Hardly!
Rewrite it, avoiding the problem that killed the story the first time around. Or write a different story. Heck, maybe you’re a fledgling writer who learns that fiction isn’t really your thing, and you go on to pursue a different dream, grateful and happy that you gave writing a chance and knowing you can always give it another try later on, should you want to.
All of that is wonderful.
So, what things do you overlook as a writer? How do you remind yourself of them? What do you think are the most common things writers forget?