This week’s theme reminds me of those job self-assessment reviews and the dreaded questions: What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
Honestly, I’d rather walk through a bed of flaming hot lava than answer questions where I know I’ll be hanging myself out to dry with my answers. Not only do I not like admitting my weaknesses, I hate doing it in front of a stranger. Talk about the ultimate second guessing situation!
With writing, it’s a bit different. I think when we admit there are areas we need to work on, we get it as fellow writers. Writing is a process and the more we hone our craft, the better it becomes – but it doesn’t come without a learning curve. I’ve had my fair share of going through the different stages of learning: show vs. tell, character depth, world building, and voice. There’s so much to accomplish, yet we’re told not to do so many other different things: Don’t info dump! Don’t use passive voice! Don’t use too many exclamation marks! (LOL)
As a baby writer having these terms thrown at me without any context was overwhelming. What was show don’t tell? And what the hell was voice? (All good topics for another day!) As I learnt each of these terms for myself (and not just by reading about them from a blog, but actually knowing what they meant and how to achieve them myself) there were true light bulb moments of discovery.
I’d like to say I’ve come a long way since then, but I still struggle. World building and showing emotion versus telling are my new Achilles heel. One of the biggest problems for me is describing a physical emotional response. We’re told as writers to vary words and avoid repetition, but I realized fairly quickly when reflecting on my own personal experiences that I have a pretty boring repertoire of reaction. In tense situations I clench my jaw. When I’m anxious, I tense my jaw. When I relax . . . you guessed it: I un-tense my jaw. (Otherwise known as relaxing, but that would defeat the word usage ;)) The best resource I’ve found to help me in this particular area is Angela Ackerman’s “The Emotion Thesaurus”. It helps stimulate my imagination on alternative options than the clenched jaw and sweaty palms (repetitions of which I am still guilty!) while giving a deeper sense of point of view than when I would just describe a character as “mad” or “upset”.
For world building, I find that I have to go back and add details as I revise. In my head, I have a clear image of how the world should be, but I find it doesn’t always translate to the page until about the third revision and at least two beta/critique partner reads. I find the feedback from CPs invaluable, and better than any revision software or tool out there. Nothing beats a good intuitive reader who can tell you where you failed in your representation of your vision – so that you can build on what’s missing until that vision is complete.
As far as strengths – I don’t know if there really is one that stands out for me, but I do know what I enjoy writing the most and comes easiest: action scenes. In my first manuscript, I had a fairly detailed plot line which didn’t include many action scenes. After all, I thought that was more my husband’s jam than mine. It wasn’t until I started pantsing my second novel that I realized how easy action and fight scenes came to me. In fact, I think my second novel is made up of 90% action and fight scenes because I loved writing them a little too much. Maybe it was all the action and war movies I watched with my brothers when growing up — or perhaps I was a street-smart scrapper in another life — but the flow of movement and the rush of emotion and tension that action scenes allow is exhilarating.
So if you’re a writer and you’re going through a writing slump – you’re not alone. Without the slumps we would never learn and never improve. I think it’s what defines us as writers – that in spite of the hardship and the constant self-doubt we continue on until we find our groove — and then we repeat the process, over and over again.