Saturday, January 23

Posted by Laurel Garver on Saturday, January 23, 2010 18 comments
"Our strength grows out of our weaknesses"
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

During unplug week, I at last got back into digging deep into the revision process, armed with a new set of crits from a group of...I guess I'll call them delta readers (as in the fourth group to take on revisions with me).

FOUR sets of crits? Is that completely insane? Not to my mind. In fact, I'll be looking for team epsilon by midyear--a group to look at the manuscript in toto and give it a final dusting down. Later this week, I'll describe the many-layered critique process my WIP-1 has gone through.

I value many sets of crits because I am very much aware of my weaknesses. I get far too inside of my own work and have a lot of trouble stepping back and seeing big-picture issues. I'm also what Roni at Fiction Groupie calls a "character-driven pantser." I craft emotionally complex characters and turn them loose. I have to write a lot to get anything usable, because composing the first and second draft is a process of discovery. My plots don't initially hold together at all.

I tried early on to spend a few weeks planning and outlining. It was an abysmal failure. I have two boxes full of scribbled note cards tracking all sorts of really, really stupid plot ideas. I realized that this method would never enable me to create my best work. It felt too much like creativity under pressure, and frankly, I fall apart and become idiotic under pressure. I've always been good at compensating for this weakness by working hard and steady to finish projects well before they're due in case of unforeseen disasters.

I'm learning to accept the fact that I'm an inefficient writer, and a slow, deep thinker. I'll never be the gal who churns out two books a year. That's okay. My willingness to spend years flailing around in the psychological muck with my characters is going to result in gripping literature. I can feel it in my bones. And that's what keeps me going.

What are some weaknesses you struggle with? Do you accept them, rely on work-arounds to compensate for them, or strive hard to overcome them? How does the Emerson quote resonate with your experience?


  1. My weakness is I'm an under-writer. I write the bones only, no flesh, for the most part. Anemic prose. My wip1 are usually just an elongated outline. The real writing actually starts in 2 draft, where I put some meat on the bones, with draft 3, more meat, some organs and a bit of skin. Eventually, I'll dress the thing and a that point I'm ready to start querying. It's a long process.

  2. Laurel, what a super post. I missed you during unplug week. I'm glad you had a great one.

    I think my weakness is the fact that I constantly want to edit and revise as I'm writing draft #1. It infuriates me. And description. Always need more.

    And I love the Emerson quote. I just wish mine would start growing. :-)

  3. Ohh, I loved that quote. I know that my weakness is being afraid to move on until I have a scene written the way I want - so, I guess I edit as I go.

    I'm working on more free-writing to loosen up and trying to write without loading the doc so I won't be tempted to stall after looking at the previous paragraphs I've written.

    And I agree - you were missed!

  4. Wow, I hope once I've finished my first draft of my first novel that I'm able to see myself, my writing, strengths and weaknesses as objectively as you appear to be able to view yours!

    And I hope I'm open to hearing everything my uh...alpha critique group has to say.

  5. I think I create very emotionally complex characters, and I end up with too much bulk (perhaps this is the same as your weakness?) This is a difficult thing to pare down, I think, without feeling a loss in characterization.

  6. I have that same weakness. I hope it turns into an asset one day. :)

  7. My weaknesses. Huh. You mean in terms of my writing? Yeah. Let's stick with that, shall we? You know most of 'em: lack of emotional depth to some characters, lack of discipline to write productively every day, things like that. I'm easily distracted by shiny blogs and stuff. I'm working on it.

    But yes, your novel is shaping up wonderfully. Every revision makes it more believable and compelling. I'm awfully keen to see the whole thing soon.

  8. It's nice to know folks missed me while I was away. Thanks, friends!

    I missed the online camaderie with you all, but cherished the extra hours. A tough exchange!

  9. Elle, your drafting method sounds a lot more efficient than mine. Sounds like the layering method is a good one. For me, it's the internal monologue that I have to add later so it's not just stuff happening, but my character is engaging with the plot and reacting.

    Robyn: I'm also guilty of polishing when I'm not even sure a scene should stay. Maybe Elle's layering method would help your description issue--just leave yourself notes like [description here], then fill in later.

  10. Amber: "afraid to move on"--gosh, I think I do that too! We both need to put a sign to ourselves in a conspicuous place: "I can always fix it later!"

    Holly: I get in these jags where I don't produce because I'm busy beating myself up about what a crappy process I've had. Talk about self-sabotage. Seemed like it was time to use my online accountability to break the cycle. Good luck with your crit partners!

  11. Carol: Paring is soooo painful! But sometimes turning my characters loose means they wander off and do lots of boring stuff. My old chapters 6 and 7 are great examples. However, some of the funny observations they have in boring scenes ARE useable, so I keep a "clippings" file to save juicy bits from scenes I kill.

    Susan: I believe our dedication to character depth can pay off, if we can learn how to use it to full advantage (and being vigilant against plot-derailing side scenes and details).

  12. Simon: Your ability to go deep with characters is growing in leaps and bounds. It's exciting to watch up close.

    Thanks for your kind words about BTL. I'm hoping you'll be willing to be on team epsilon after being an amazing gamma reader.

  13. I'm a pantser too. I rely on many, many rounds of editing/rewriting to get it right. But I think there are definite benefits to non-outlined writing. I never have to force my characters to do what I've planned for them, they just go with the flow.

  14. My weakness is is that I'm not a good organizer. I don't outline well, as soon as I put something down I have to go write that scene anyway. It's a compulsion I have.

  15. I'm so impressed with your unplug week! I tend to write too much and then not sleep enough and then get sick!

  16. Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by to comment. I wonder if any of the software solutions out there would help you with the organization.

    Christina: I'm with you in not sleeping enough when I'm really grooving with the manuscript. I was sick as a dog the entire last month of finishing WIP-1. I sat up coughing my head off on New Year's Eve trying to wrap the the final chapter before midnight.

  17. Natalie: Whoops! Sorry to miss replying to you!

    I'm glad to hear there are other pantsers re-re-re-re-re-revising with me! I tried so hard to plan more, but my planning only gave me lame-o ideas. I can't seem to access my most creative parts on command. My best ideas come out AS I'm writing them.

  18. I have too many to list! :0) The delete button. And like you-constant revision/critiques...slow to get certain things that others ask about my story, I hit a lot of .. "Huh? Why didn't I think of that and now that I have...what am I going to do to fix it?" Which stumps me for a bit. LOL