We’ve all been there. That short story just won’t gel, or your blog posts are met with crickets, or you’ve been over that blasted manuscript four times and you’re sure no one will ever want to read it.
Not that I’m speaking from experience 😉
I’m wondering what you do when the who-do-you-think-you-are critic rears his head and you just. want. to. stop. And some of us will stop, but we never stop forever; we always circle back, whether it takes weeks or years.
Let’s help each other out and answer: How do you keep from giving in to that inner voice telling you you’re just not getting it? Do you go for a walk? Switch gears and paint something? Journal?
Drop a line in the comments, because the chances are good that someone reading this is ready to throw in the proverbial towel, and could really use some advice.
When I discovered beats, I fell in love and promptly went a little overboard. What’s a beat, you ask? Allow me to show you:
Jane rubbed her temples. “When are you going to start listening to me?”
“Are you kidding? All I ever do is listen to you! You never shut up!” Mike slammed down his briefcase.
Jane stared out the window for a time. He would never understand. “I guess… I guess it’s over.”
See the lines in bold? Those are beats. Used properly, they can at once replace dialogue tags (said, whispered, etc.), help keep the reader oriented and convey emotion.
Beats can be pretty powerful.
You can overuse the heck out of them like I did. I recently started editing my first novel, which I had stashed in the basement years ago. The first thing I noticed was the excessive use, like I had a huge salt shaker full of beats and just stood over the manuscript and shook. It scatters the dialogue and can begin to follow the character’s every step (which then creates a proportion issue – more on that later) all of which will annoy the reader.
Another issue with beats is that it’s easy for them to be redundant. For example:
Mike clenched his fists. “Don’t you ever come near me again!”
We already know from his word choice that Mike is mighty ticked. Does Mike clenched his fists really add anything?
The moral of the story? When used with discernment, beats are a great complement to your dialogue.
Over to you: how do you use beats?
I’ve been following author Holly Lisle for years, both because she’s a great writer and because she’s incredibly generous when it comes to sharing her writing and industry knowledge. She’s also hilarious. If you haven’t already, you should check out her website. I’m one of her email subscribers, and this morning I received a great note about how our own unique, personal weaknesses can make for powerful writing:
Humor comes from pain. From being human. From knowing how wrong you sometimes get things, and then putting that knowledge, and that embarrassing truth, into your work right along with the moments when you give your characters your strengths that let them shine like stars and fly like a rocket.
Every once in a while, let ’em trip, too.
That’s a comforting thought; our weaknesses are also our strengths.
Have a great weekend.
They say that before we master the writing craft, we select one or two masters and mimic them. It’s part of the process, sort of like an informal apprenticeship. The idea is that we learn about grammar and structure and storytelling under the tutelage of our heroes, and when we finally master our craft (I hear it takes something like 10,000 hours) we let go of our mentors and our own voice will truly emerge.
For me, I love Margaret Atwood’s strong voice, though I’ll never master it. It’s just not me. I also love the way the late David Eddings’ tends to have his prominent characters deadpan their best lines. Cracks me up, and I find myself trying to copy the style almost without thinking.
Does this ring true for you? If so, who influences your writing – and why?
Yesterday, one of my Facebook writer-friends lamented that a member of her online writing community asserted that, unless one’s goal is to earn a full-time living from writing, you “may as well go home.”
I had a rather complex reaction to this assertion but, overall I thought, “that’s sort of harsh.”
We write for many reasons, and while I think the majority of us would like to earn some sort of income through our craft, I think it’s also about the art – especially for fiction writers. I’m sure there must be a statistic out there, and I’d wager that it’s mighty tough to earn a full-time living through writing fiction.
Now, I do think that when we reach a certain level of mastery it’s perfectly okay to be paid for our work/art – but that’s not every writer’s chosen path. Does that mean they should just pack up and go home? Should we forget about being taken seriously if we aren’t earning a full-time living, or even aspiring to earn a full-time living? One writer may derive great satisfaction and be forever happy selling short stories to small pubs. Another may be content blogging and may never earn a dime. Both may be darn good writers. What does that say about them?
I like to think there’s room for all of us, but what do you think? Is it okay to write for the love of writing, or are only income-earners considered serious writers? What, exactly, is “good enough?”