Hard Writing Lessons 3

good editorI’m moving some older posts over from my original LiveJournal blog to this one, and ran across a long list of Hard Writing Lessons from 2007! Apparently I’d just turned over a manuscript to some beta readers and came back from the experience slapping my forehead. They found all kinds of problems. I don’t remember what they were, but I remember my profound sense of shame.

I THINK it was probably a novel that’s no longer in circulation, because 2007 pre-dates The Desert of Souls. Anyway, here’s a long note from younger Howard that still reads like good advice. I was pretty disappointed in myself when I wrote it! Clearly I hadn’t learned that other lesson yet, which is to be kind to yourself.

I’ve included a little bit of the preamble:

… I realize that all writers have different strengths and weaknesses, so a lot of this may not apply to you. It’s a list I wrote for me, and the issues I’m dealing with in my novel-in-progress at this time. I’ll post it here in the hope someone else can find my hard lessons instructive. I hope that I have the wisdom to do so myself! 

  1. tribbles

    Get lemons, make lemonade. Get tribble, make…?

    Know what every character in the scene wants before you start writing.

  1. Your longer works need DETAILED outlining. Always. You can work out plot problems, motivation, etc. in a rich outline so you don’t waste time writing, and rewriting, and rewriting just to get the structure right. As you’ve been doing… Have you noticed how painful that is yet?
  1. If you have to start inventing scenes for a POV character you probably don’t NEED that POV character… refer to point 2, because if you’d outlined properly before writing you’d probably have noticed you had nothing for that POV character to do later on.
  1. Remember how you’re supposed to give your story a clear through line? Really? Then write that way. The character HAS to have a driving goal that both she and the reader know. And it should be one that can be easily summarized: Indy’s looking for the headpiece to the staff of Ra so he can find the Ark of the Covenant.
  1. Don’t coast. When revising, what was once the best scene in the earlier draft may not hold up any more. Look at it critically.
  1. Puny Banner poses beside Hulk's Car.

    Puny Banner poses beside Hulk’s Car.

    If you find a flaw and try to excuse it through character dialogue just so you can leave some scenes the way they are… you’re going to regret it. You need to look at that flaw from another angle. It will probably entail changing some scenes, threads, character arcs, or other painful things. Suck it up and make the changes.

  1. Sometimes it is more important to spend all of a day’s writing time contemplating the story than worrying about how many words you get down – remembering this will help you overcome point 6. Quality, not quantity. You do NOT work best to set word counts. Remember that.
  1. Remember those episodes of The Next Generationyou hated because it felt like they would have a moment of character interaction that had NOTHING to do with the rest of the story? It drove you nuts that it wasn’t interwoven with the plot. NEVER do that. If you feel like the reader needs to know something about the character, don’t jam it in, just keep it in mind and it should come out, eventually, if your characters are well-envisioned. Refer again to point 2.
  1. It’s great that you know what happened during the entire boring scene, but you can summarize it. More likely you’re doing number 8, though, which seems to be your new secret weakness, and means that the scene doesn’t need to be summarized so much as completely freakin’ REMOVED.
  1. You tend to think that once you understand something that you’ve learned it. By this time you should know better. Continue to refer to this list, because if you’d really learned all this stuff you wouldn’t have had to write this list in the first place.