Monday, April 19, 2010

A little slashing and burning never hurt a draft novel...

Loved this guest post by Margo Lanagan on the topic of 'not writing' over at Justine Larbalestier's blog. Sometimes the words just won't come out, or when they do, they are dull or cliched or pointless. It is not only a good idea to take breaks from your writing, it is essential, to refresh yourself and your writing and keep the passion alive because if the passion is wilting it is nowhere more obvious than in your writing.

When I recently presented a workshop on children's writing to a group of adults, I did bang on quite a bit about the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Long passages of purple prose can kill a story dead, whether adult or childrens. Yet some readers cannot get enough of flowery descriptive passages. Sometimes these passages can define and make a book. It all depends. And I can't explain it clearer than that unfortunately. What I have learnt from experience is that most writers do tend to overuse adjectives and adverbs when writing. Ask yourself three questions when using adjectives and adverbs. Are these descriptions relevent to the story as a whole? Is there a more active way of writing this (and I don't mean people necessarily running around the place more)? And when did I last use an adjective/adverb? Of course some books rely on descriptive passages. In fantasy stories (traditionally the fatter books in the bookshop) description is relevent to the world building. In historical books description will set the scenes readers cannot help but be unfamiliar with and teach them something in the process. Do not rid yourself of every adjective and adverb but be sure that you will invariably be using more than you need. A little slashing and burning never hurt a draft novel :)

And last but not least I revealed to a friend the other day that I had submitted a manuscript to a publisher without anyone else having read it. She was horrified. Was I mental? I guess time will tell whether I was right or wrong but her reaction has been poking at my brain. Am I crazy? Writers are encouraged to join writers groups and have material critiqued. I know several writers who send everything to a manuscript assessor before editing and submission. Some writers have obliging, book-fan children/partners willing to read their work. But I have submitted a number of things over the years without anyones eyes but mine having been over them. Picture books, short stories and novels. Some have been published and some haven't. Would some have benefited from critiqing? Probably. I do tend to look for advice when I am stuck or uncertain. When I know something isn't working and a solution eludes me. I look for advice when I can't decide if the story hangs together right (and often just talking about a problem will elicit a solution without the reading being necessary). But if these problems are absent then I trust myself. And I find the critiquing process a bit like having a bath in sandpaper. I find myself doubting even the reviews of trusted extremely clever writery friends, not because they don't know what they are talking about (because they most definitely do) but because they are my friends. And I am way too stingy to pay for an assessment - the thought that I might spend more on preparing the novel then I might earn if its published is more than I can handle. It is ultimately about how I work. I do what feels right and comfortable to me. It may not be the right way for anyone else. It's an amalgam of all the bits and pieces of advice I've accumulated over the years intermingled with my own philosophies. Some of it might work for you too. It might not. My friends horror wasn't required. This is an acceptable way of doing things. She can disagree with my methods, but I am happy with them and until I feel a change is required I will keep doing it that way, with the occasional break as suggested by Ms Lanagan.


Old Kitty said...


I've just returned from reading Margo Lanagan's post and will print that off tomorrow when I find a printer!

They are sage and sound words! I always feel tremendous guilt at how infrequent and un-methodical my approach is to my own writing when everyone and her sister seems to be churning out stories and novels and x amount of words per minute.

I always feel this tremendous pressure that having declared my ambition and wish to write - that somehow I'm not living up to that declaration by not writing as frequent and as often.

I love how Margo Lanagan ends her piece - maybe the writer is just out of stories for now and needs to just fill her time with something or things that suits her and makes sense. Who knows about the future?!

Oh and I so agree about the overuse of adjectives and adverbs - first rule of writing!! LOL!

And glad you went with your gut instinct by subitting your novel as and when you saw fit! I think sometimes asking your MS to be read first only clouds things especially when you know in your heart that it's as good as it can ever be!

Good luck!

Take care

Fifi Colston said...

All 3 of my published junior Fiction novels were sent off to the publisher without anyone else reading them- except for the bits I read out loud to my family as I wrote for their general amusement after dinner. Probably the reason i'm so stuck on my current stuff is I keep sending bits off to competitions & funding applications and ask for the opinions of others on my writing samples before I do. I've never actually won the competitions or funding rounds...