I’m doing manuscript critiques for the Backspace Writer’s Conference, which I’ll be at tomorrow and Friday. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I love going to writing conferences. I love having the opportunity to interact with writers, giving them feedback that I just don’t have time to give when answering queries. I also get very inspired to write. I am, after all, first and formost (at least in my own mind, if not in actuality) a writer. I had lunch the other day with my client Joe McGee, who is not only a very fine writer himself but also teaches writing to others. Joe and I were discussing writing, inspiration, and how difficult it is can be to get out of our own way.
As an agent I’m constantly reading other people’s work and assessing their writing and ideas to see if they have legs for publication. I see many of the same mistakes or weaknesses in writing over and over and over and over again. Information dumping. Descriptions of things/events/thoughts/etc… that do nothing to move the plot forward or illuminate a character. Lots of throat clearing. Lots and lots and lots of telling (versus showing) of a story. Tons of wiggling eyebrows, noticing of something suddenly, and thoughts conveniently crossing a main character’s mind. And let’s not forget dream sequences, staring into mirrors, and remembering one’s childhood or dead mother/father/grandparent/sibling/best friend/boy or girlfriend.
So as I critique these pages for the conference, I’m mostly saying the same things to these authors. Does this make them bad writers? No, not really. Actually, some of them are darn good writers. But the repetitiveness of my critiques points to how difficult it is to overcome these pitfalls, regardless of one’s skill level or innate talent.
So how does doing this affect me as a writer? Well, it actually stymies me. I find it excruciatingly difficult to get out of my own way. Joe’s (excellent) advice, and the advice of so many who have commented on the blog, is to just write the goddam first draft. Write it without revising. Write it because it wants to be written. Write it without thinking too much. Write it for yourself, not for anyone else’s eyes. Just write it.
Although I know many of you are eager to give me your advice, honestly I don’t really need more advice. As my kids say to me, “I’m good.” I mean, we all know what to do about it: Just write anyway. What I’d love to know though is what stops you. What stymies you when you’re writing and why do you think it does that?