I figured out what I'm doing wrong! Now I can stop doing that, and do better--
Oh, if only it were that easy.
Okay, so, for a while, I've felt as if I'm not improving as a writer. Which is to say, these damned books have gotten too easy to write. I know I'm not working at the limits of my ability, and while I don't think what I'm turning out is any worse, book by book, I no longer feel as if each book is breaking new ground. In other words, while I think Undertow and Dust are pretty good books, I don't think they're better than Carnival and Whiskey & Water
I mean, I don't think I'm coasting, exactly? But I am not pushing myself to do things that scare me anymore, and that can't be good. Because that leads to coasting. And while I suspect I can coast at a professional level these days, that doesn't get you any closer to the Nobel Prize. Or Carnegie Hall, neither.
And I have been at a loss as to what to do about it.
But a complex of things (Sycamore Hill, conversations with arcaedia, coffeeem, mcurry, and other people, swapping emails with truepenny and so forth,) just piled up into the epiphany. And it was, of course, an epiphany that I don't really want, because it concerns the part of writing I like least.
I think I've gotten to the part where I'm pretty good at story structure, at just telling a story and making it an actual story. I'm pretty good at characterization, and I'm pretty good at sentence level writing. My rhetoric's not bad, and I can handle a theme in a hopefully emotionally satisfying manner. I'm clever enough to get a laugh once in a while, and turn out a sharp line of prose, and keep up the narrative tension and the rising line.
But you know what? I'm not as good at this as I want to be. And I've been at a loss for what to work on now.
swan_tower just posted something about the million words of crap (or shit, as some of us say), and that struck a chord with me too. I mean, it might be arrogance to say it, but my million words of shit are in the rear view mirror now (and for me, it was more like three million words of shit, but who's counting?)
And yet, I think I am at heart a lazy writer.
I really don't want to do the really hard parts, because they are boring and they suck. I've realized just now that what I need to do is get fussy and meticulous about things. Which is, quite frankly, something I suck at.
I hate repetitive work. I hate the nitpicky, absolute-concentration part of writing, the thing where you go through word by word and think about your rhetoric on a sentence level, and then on a paragraph level, and then as a gestalt. I tend to do that stuff instinctively, and I have a good enough ear for prose that I can pull it off. But the rhetoric could use refining, and I could stand to pay more attention to it when I'm not working really hard at stunt-writing a section, using some clever narrative trick to serve a storytelling purpose. I need to look at things like where my beats fall, and giving the reader time and white space in which to react without slowing the story down.
I mean, I know I do stuff in drafts that's lazy: sometimes I will skip over the plot complications and have to go back and put them in later, I tend to skip over the beats when I'm writing fast, and hit other ones too hard. And I've been working on making my character's motivations and actions more transparent, and now I suspect I've swung too far over into telling things, and I'm not demonstrating enough. I write sloppy sentences at first, and (hopefully) revise them out. (I've done some things here to demonstrate how that works.)
Those are the kind of things that drafts are for, and I do revisions to fix all of them.
Sadly, I think this new thing is going to add another layer of revision, and one that is going to be slower and more painstaking. And honestly, I suck at slow and painstaking. It's not what I do. It's not what I'm interested in. My middle name is "Paint to match."
I like finishing things. I am not a big proponent of endless comma-twiddling; I think it's a great way to destroy a perfectly promising writing career. And yet, here I am realizing that what I need to do, on the last draft, at least, is focus down and think very hard and work very consciously on a bunch of things I tend to now do in tandem with all the other things I do. And there's some character detail stuff that I know I need to start working harder at too, as well, and I don't feel like doing that either.
You know, the thing about this writing thing is that it never actually gets easier.