Warning: This is not an instructive post. If you’ve come to read about writing, getting better at it, and enjoying from a “how-to” standpoint, keep looking. This ain’t it.
I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last 48 hours or so. I’ve been trying to edit a manuscript so that it’s workable, readable, publishable maybe. It’s not an easy thing to do, at least not for me, and it’s left me in a lot of pain. I’ve gotten some incredible input from a couple of different sources, and they’re basically in line with one another. They’re also completely independent of one another, so I trust them to be accurate assessments.
Stephen King, I am told, says not to use adjectives when writing. This is, in my mind, a method that will weed out weak and strong writers. If King can write something without using adjectives, he’s even more a god than I imagined. I haven’t read one of his books for 20 years or more, so I wouldn’t know, but if that’s how he writes, I’m overwhelmed with admiration. So much so that I’m ready to give up trying to pursue the craft at all. I, for myself, cannot do that. I can’t tell someone about a majestic oak by saying “tree”. Doesn’t work. I can’t do it. Some of you writers might be able to, but that’s beyond my ability, period.
Trying to edit the document taught me a lot of things. I don’t know what words are excessive and unnecessary. If I did, I wouldn’t have used them in the first place. When I re-read part of the document in question, though, I found that there were a lot of unnecessary words. When I removed them, I was told the “mood” was taken out. They were important to the “setting”. And I was lost, confused. I don’t know how to identify “useless” or “unnecessary” words. I found one place where I used both the words “ancient” and “old” back-to-back to describe something. I missed it in my initial read-through after I wrote it. My proofreader (wife) missed it. A few folks online that read it missed it. But I found it when I re-read the document. I took the narrative section and pared down any words which seemed out of place or “excessive” and when I was finished, my wife said the “mood” was gone. I’d gone “too far.”
I can’t find a happy medium with this stupid thing. It’s pissing me off. If I take out the excess, the excess is being taken out, period. If that “goes too far” then I’m screwed, because I don’t know what constitutes “too much” and what’s “just enough” and what’s “not enough”. I can’t find it, and it’s making me yell and grit my teeth. Pounding my leg happens a lot too. But they don’t assist with getting the words out of my document.
Writing, someone told me, should be fun. The writer should like the “improvements” made during editing more than the original. If it’s not fun and the process is work, then it’s a chore. Well, I reached that stage the instant I put the final period in the document. It’s work now. It’s not fun. I don’t enjoy it. And I’m don’t know whether I’ve made any “improvements” or whether I like them more or less than the original. Probably less. I edit on the fly, during the writing itself as much as I can, so I tend to like what I’ve put out. If I don’t, I change it before another set of eyes ever see it.
Ghost Hunters started as an exercise in dialog. Practice. Yes, it’s not that anymore, but maybe it should be. Maybe it’s not worth trying to get it ready for publication. Maybe I’m not able to produce a document of publishable quality, because I don’t understand the nuances of writing well enough. I can’t find the balance between describing a setting to achieve “mood” and not using adjectives to do it. Stephen King is Stephen King for a reason. There is only one Stephen King, and I am not him.
I feel, at this point, the document probably isn’t worth trying to salvage. I don’t know if I’m willing to invest the effort necessary to get it there. I may as well just re-write it, without adjectives. It would probably end up like the Dick and Jane reading primers, but at least no one could say I used too many adjectives.
On another interesting point, I’m being praised for my dialog. Well, the reason I even started the dialog exercise was because I stink at it. I’m lousy at it. But no one wants me to change it. Not the few people I’ve gotten feedback from, at least. It’s the strength of the document, apparently, and is not subject to the same editing process as the rest of it.
This confounds me further. I am the same person who wrote both dialog and narrative. It’s my work. They’re my words. You can bullshit yourself all you want about how characters take on a life and personality all their own, how they come alive and speak for themselves, or whatever other load of crap you use to help you be creative. That’s fine, especially if it works for you. But the characters in a fictional manuscript are fictional, and are not real people that can “speak” or “act” in any way other than what is in your imagination as the author. Period. PERIOD. They’re imaginary. You make them up. You put words in their “mouths”, so to speak. Your imagination and nothing else. Deny this at your own peril — don’t lose touch with reality. If I’m the same author who can’t write his way out of a wet paper bag with narration, then I’m an author who has problems in writing dialog. The same parts of speech, tenses, cases, and structures are used whether we enclose those sentences in quotes to indicate speech or not. If I flop in my narrative, how can the dialog be “fine”?? That’s inconceivable. I’ve got weaknesses. They manifest in narrative. They will also manifest in dialog. Period. I don’t suddenly become another person with stronger abilities the instant a quotation mark is inserted. But I’m being told the dialog is good, don’t touch it. The narrative is weak. The dialog is good. The writer of both is the same person.
For one thing, I know that’s a load of crap because dialog is a weakness of mine. That’s why I wrote the stupid thing in the first place — to practice. If 1+1=2 in the narrative, then 1+1=2 in the dialog. If I use too many adjectives and descriptive terms, whatever they’re called grammatically, in narrative, then I do that in dialog too. “Oh, but that’s okay in dialog!” ARRRRGGHHHH!!! BULLSHIT!!! When did the rules of the English language change to be subjective based on what portion of a document we’re writing???
Deep breath … deep breath … calm down. Sorry, too many adjectives.
I don’t mind writing. I kind of like it. I’m just not very good at it. I know that now, so this was a valuable process. I don’t know if I’m actually going to edit the thing or not. In the end, it’s just a document. I think it would be easier to just start over than to try and “fix” 94,000+ words. By the time I remove the unnecessary ones — from both DIALOG AND NARRATIVE EQUALLY, because the rules of textual criticism apply equally to ALL PARTS OF A DOCUMENT — it’s only going to be about 70,000 or less anyway. And that’s not publishable.
For those that love the editing process, what do you do to make it more enjoyable? Does some of it come from knowing the first effort wasn’t the best one? Am I odd for trying to make it as well-crafted as I can from the outset? Or is it just that all of this is part of writing, and you love writing? I’m sure not every writer loves every aspect of the process, but what do you do to get through those initial editing stages? Do you have a trick or a technique to help you? Or maybe you just … like it?
I don’t think I do, and that’s pointing me toward the conclusion that I’m not a writer. I probably won’t be, because I can’t get my mental arms around this process. Thoughts? Opinions? What do you think, blogosphere?