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Do We Over-Analyze Our Writing?

Monday, October 8, 2007

As I posted Saturday, I printed the entire 450+ pages of my first draft of Ransome’s Honor to start getting down and dirty with the revisions. I’ve been trying to do the second draft all on the computer, but it just isn’t working as well as I’d hoped. So, with critiques and hard-copy in hand, I hope to be able to really get some progress done toward a more finalized draft.

In the read-through, I’m looking especially for areas that can be cut: descriptions that aren’t woven into the action of the scene, scenes that start too early/end too late, and scenes that—while I love them—aren’t really important to the forward progress of the story.

My crit partners were trying to explain to me this weekend a color-coding technique they learned in the early-bird session at the ACFW conference a few weeks ago. Y’all know me—Visually Oriented Gal #1—I thought maybe this would be a great idea.

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: do we over-analyze our writing?

One of the main complaints heard around the publishing industry about MFA/MA Creative Writing programs as well as writers’ conferences is that they have a tendency to homogonize attendees’ writing. By attending so many conferences or by adjusting our writing to ensure our theses pass committee, we start losing our voice, the unique way we structure language and tell a story just to “fit in.”

Take this argument with a grain of salt: I am still an unpublished author, who is relatively new to the submission game. And yes, I have an MA in Writing Popular Fiction from one of those afore mentioned programs. But in recent years, I have gotten to the point where it’s hard for me to pick up a CBA-published novel and read it for pleasure. Why? Because it’s just like the last CBA novel I picked up and read—at least within a genre. I have grown to prefer reading older books (before about 1970 back through classics) because they weren’t as concerned with craft as they were with just telling a good story. The author’s unique voice, unique turn of phrase, unique way of telling the story is at the forefront—not some preconceived notion of what “good” writing is.

Yes, I do believe that we need to analyze our writing to make it as strong as possible. We need to show, not tell. We need to use active language instead of passive. We need to make sure our dialogue zings and narrative zips. We need to make sure that each scene serves to move the story forward . . . WITHOUT sacrificing the unique way in which we write.

If we start worrying too much about craft, it can create major issues for us as we’re in the process of writing. I ran into this problem my first year of graduate school: I was so worried about everthing my mentor had told me I needed to change in the chapters I’d submitted to her, I got horrible writer’s block because that was all I could think about whenever I sat down to compose. I couldn’t think about just writing the story—I was too worried about craft. But when crunch time came and I had to have a complete manuscript, I finally shoved all that aside and just wrote. Sure, it needed major editing and revisions afterward, but it was written.

There is no magic bullet, no miraculous tonic that can ensure our books are going to be publishable. There is no mathematical formula that can be used to determine the correct ratio of narrative to dialogue to introspection to action that will guarantee a writing contract.

I’m willing to try this color-coding way of looking at writing . . . and I’ll probably learn quite a bit about how I write. Will it change how I write? Probably not. Will it help me make my story tighter and stronger? Probably. Is it going to guarantee that I get published? No.

You know, sometimes I really miss the way I was able to write before attending my very first writing conference—writing just for the joy of writing, for the sheer pleasure of spending time with my characters in a setting of my own making. Was it publishable writing? Not by a longshot. But it sure was fun.

  1. Monday, October 8, 2007 9:14 am

    I believe in barreling through the first draft just to get the story down. The second draft is where I tighten, and the third is for playing with the language and making it the book the best it can be. That’s where Margie Lawson’s deep editing is helping me get control of my trouble spots. I seriously think you’d love it!!! Of course, it kicked my butt when I edited chapter 1, but let’s not go there =)


  2. Monday, October 8, 2007 3:05 pm

    The part of Margie’s notes that interests me the most, even more than the EDITS system, is the 25+ literary devices she lists and gives examples for. And how to power up your writing. I am notorious for pulling my own punches when I write for fear of sounding ‘sappy’ or ‘over the top.’ If I want to give my reader a Powerful Emotional Experience (can you mix writing instructors like mixing metaphors? I’ve got Margie Lawson with a dash of Randy Ingermansion.) then I have to learn how to use words, cadence, and literary devices to empower my scenes.

    And I analyze things to death, until I get tired of them and move on to something new. 🙂


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