Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I'm Adverb Happy

I'm a writer. So of course I think about language. I think about it a lot. I have my little quirks and idiosyncrasies, little stylistic flourishes that I like to (over)use. I think about how to say it, not just what to say. Or, at least I do that sometimes.

With all this daily blogging, I also get a little lazy. And not just in my blogging. I get focused on story, on what I want to say, and don't always pay quite enough attention to exactly how I'm saying it. I might agonize over a word or a phrase here and there, but probably not every word, every phrase, or even every sentence.

I met with a new critique group for the first time, today, and it was a humbling experience. I am most definitely the junior member of the group, in terms of age, experience, and publication history.

They liked my story, which is a good thing, and had some very nice things to say about my dialogue, descriptions, and ending. But they really smacked me on my weak spots: adverbs, unnecessary words, passive constructions, overlong sentences, "was," "that," and so on. The sorts of things that get manuscripts rejected for being, "not quite polished enough." (See above. And below.)

I know better, I really do. And not all of my sentences are bad. But the really bad part is that even knowing what needs to be fixed, I have a hard time seeing incidences of the mistakes I know I'm prone to making until someone points them out to me. This makes revision a challenge. I write very much by ear, by what "sounds right" to me.

I hope that someday I manage to break my bad writing habits. I hope that I can develop a style that "sounds right" to my ear without losing what makes my voice . . . my voice.

It's not all bad news for me. At least this story wasn't cluttered with cliches. I can learn! And I was pleased that I was able to listen to all the criticism and take a lot of it to heart without feeling hurt or defensive, or letting the "constructive comments" completely bury the praise.

I didn't accept all of the suggestions - like the ones that involved ditching my main characters and making a minor character into a pedophile; that's just not the story I'm writing - but I saw the wisdom in all of them, I saw the reason why the reviewers were making the suggestions they made, even if I didn't agree with the way they suggested I solve the underlying problems.

(Now isn't that a fabulous sentence.)

I have a lot to improve. But I feel motivated, not defeated. I know that I will get to a place where I'm more practiced at storytelling, so that parts of this work come more easily and naturally, allowing me to focus more closely on finesse. (easily, naturally, closely)

On that note, I'll head off to bed. But not hurriedly.

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