Friday, July 2, 2010

Doing it All Wrong

blog77 I was back again at the YMCA, exercising with my children last week. This time I’d finished walking on the treadmill and decided to try out a weight machine I’d never used before.

I read the little sign on the side of the machine and hesitantly started out.

After a minute or two, I relaxed. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, it seemed almost easy!

I was confidently lifting the weights when a big guy, with a YMCA badge on, walked up to me, frowning. “You’re doing it wrong, ma’am,” he said. “You should be sitting all the way up here. And your elbows should be here. And you need to pull the bar this way.”

Suddenly, the weight lifting got much harder. And more unpleasant. In fact, I stopped doing it completely and retreated to the safety of the treadmill.

This, I think, is what writing is like at first. I’ve gone back and looked at stuff I wrote fifteen years ago and winced. The WIPs usually had good bones to them, but they were a cosmetic disaster area. Lots of telling instead of showing, too many dialogue tags, gobs of adverbs.

I can tell by reading it that the words were coming to me really quickly—but I was, technically, doing it all wrong.

I think we all need someone to (more gently than the guy at the gym did) tell us when we need to go back to the drawing board—or do some major revision. Sometimes the story does come out really easily, but usually we have to do a lot of grunt work in the editing process…and we could use some direction.

New writers should probably try to pass their manuscript around in front of a beta reader or two. There are writing critique groups online where you can find critique partners who write the same genre. They’ll read your manuscript critically and you’ll read theirs in return.

What’s important, I think, is not to retreat when the going gets hard or when we hear constructive criticism, or when we realize the process is a lot more time-consuming and scary than we thought. For most of us, writing is just too important to us to give up because we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

I ended up going back to that weight machine…not that day (because I was too flustered), but the next one. And my muscles really did end up being sore afterwards…but the sense of accomplishment was worth it.

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