Sunday, 3 August 2008

When to stop flogging...?

There comes a point when every writer wonders why they've done all they can to make something work and it just won't.

You write a scene or chapter, you know it lacks something but you're not sure what. You show it to a few people, or post it for review on one of the many peer review sites available. You get some lukewarm responses, usually contradictory on the finer points, but agreeing that IT LACKS SOMETHING. One reviewer says the pace is too slow, another there is too much description, another the characters are one dimensional, another the situation is unconvincing.

After a lot of soul searching and gnashing of teeth you get to work slashing and burning your beautiful prose and rewrite. You post it again, and guess what. The reviewers, though contradictory on the finer points, agree IT LACKS SOMETHING.

So now you have a choice. You can continue this process until:

a. You get so sick of it you give up writing and become a Trappist.
b. You get so sick of it you become beligerent and eventually get thrown out of the group.
c. You go mad.
d. All of the above.

But don't despair. There is another option. Sometimes a scene/chapter will not work. There are many possible reasons for this; you might be approaching it from the wrong angle, you might be too close to the subject matter, your story may not be worth telling after all. Whatever the reason, you have the choice to just walk away. Stop flogging this dead horse and get on with something else. It's a very important lesson to learn, and you'll never make it as a writer without digesting the important fact that not all the outpourings from your pen are worth giving the time of day.


Anonymous said...
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Fiona said...

Hi Sandra, well done on starting your blog. I wish you long life, finance and happiness! From my experience on I can see see that you already realise that to attract regular visitors you need to provide them with information and / or a unique perspective on your subject, otherwise it just becomes another blogger's ramblings. Some good advice in this post!

Clare said...

Hi Sandra, Happy New Blog to you - you've got off to a good start - well done.

Lexia said...

Good, worthwhile thoughts, Sandra. Good luck with your blog and I second what Fiona says about the "ramblings" thing. (which you have avoided) Then again - I don't see any harm in a little rambling now and then !
As far as the reviewing goes, I would be tempted to ask WHAT is lacking in their opinion. It's going to be different in each person's review, but it is going to be useful info I should think.

From my epxerience on *winks* I agree that you have to advertise it ifyou want it to be read !

Tracy said...

Hi Sandra
Interesting post - and a theme I've battled with in regards to my current rewrite.

One piece of advice I was given by an agent was - 'a writer's life is one of rewrites, rewrites and more rewrites.'

I think that sometimes it can feel as if you're a flogging a dead horse but if there's still part of you that is excited by the piece you must hold onto that thought. Sometimes, I think it is a case of putting your work to one side, as you say, allowing yourself to cogitate and let those creative muscles relax and find their own rhythm instead of forcing them. Then, hopefully, inspiration will strike.

With the book I'm writing at the moment, it was on a peer review site and was sent to an agent and one thing eventually hit me like a speeding train, they're not seeing the bigger picture. Why? Because I'd approached it all wrong - everything I knew it to be, wasn't seen by the readers, so I realised I had structured it all wrong. So major re-think, major rewrite albeit with the same story and lo and behold, the agent who originally turned it down wants to read the whole ms.

And regarding the fun of receiving a plentiful supply of peer reviews - you can't please all of the people all of the time. Ultimately, the writer should trust their own instincts too.