Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I'm Adverb Happy

I'm a writer. So of course I think about language. I think about it a lot. I have my little quirks and idiosyncrasies, little stylistic flourishes that I like to (over)use. I think about how to say it, not just what to say. Or, at least I do that sometimes.

With all this daily blogging, I also get a little lazy. And not just in my blogging. I get focused on story, on what I want to say, and don't always pay quite enough attention to exactly how I'm saying it. I might agonize over a word or a phrase here and there, but probably not every word, every phrase, or even every sentence.

I met with a new critique group for the first time, today, and it was a humbling experience. I am most definitely the junior member of the group, in terms of age, experience, and publication history.

They liked my story, which is a good thing, and had some very nice things to say about my dialogue, descriptions, and ending. But they really smacked me on my weak spots: adverbs, unnecessary words, passive constructions, overlong sentences, "was," "that," and so on. The sorts of things that get manuscripts rejected for being, "not quite polished enough." (See above. And below.)

I know better, I really do. And not all of my sentences are bad. But the really bad part is that even knowing what needs to be fixed, I have a hard time seeing incidences of the mistakes I know I'm prone to making until someone points them out to me. This makes revision a challenge. I write very much by ear, by what "sounds right" to me.

I hope that someday I manage to break my bad writing habits. I hope that I can develop a style that "sounds right" to my ear without losing what makes my voice . . . my voice.

It's not all bad news for me. At least this story wasn't cluttered with cliches. I can learn! And I was pleased that I was able to listen to all the criticism and take a lot of it to heart without feeling hurt or defensive, or letting the "constructive comments" completely bury the praise.

I didn't accept all of the suggestions - like the ones that involved ditching my main characters and making a minor character into a pedophile; that's just not the story I'm writing - but I saw the wisdom in all of them, I saw the reason why the reviewers were making the suggestions they made, even if I didn't agree with the way they suggested I solve the underlying problems.

(Now isn't that a fabulous sentence.)

I have a lot to improve. But I feel motivated, not defeated. I know that I will get to a place where I'm more practiced at storytelling, so that parts of this work come more easily and naturally, allowing me to focus more closely on finesse. (easily, naturally, closely)

On that note, I'll head off to bed. But not hurriedly.


Stacy Nyikos said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my website on The Book Review Club Wednesday. I wanted to ask what part of my description of "Summerland" was confusing? It's a very full work with lots of characters and plots, and I may not have done the best job of summarizing the work. It really is worth a read, a relaxing, by the pool, summer read.

Good luck with those adverbs. I like them too, like the way I like chocolate. Hard to control indulging :-)

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Yeah, yeah. Charles Dickens used overlong sentences too. (I'm a fan of overlong sentences. I know it's not popular, but I said it!)

Andrea said...

Blogging does make for lazy writing. We have the space, so we use it.

In good news, when you tackle the adverbs, unnecessary words, passive constructions and overuse of "to be," the overlong sentences will take care of themselves.

Think of it this way: adverbs, unnecessary words, passive constructions and overuse of "to be" are such common errors and misusages that they are *hiding* your voice. When you cut away the dead stuff, the living stuff underneath will really shine. kwim?

It is hard work, though. Good luck and congrats on finding a supportive and constructive writing group. :)

Tracey said...

You are a brave soul indeed. The idea of opening up my writing to critique, WELCOMING it, is a terrifying prospect to me. I write by 'ear' as well, so maybe I can learn vicariously through you. :)

Sarahlynn said...

Tracey, I want to get better, to be better, and I don't think I can do it on my own. Besides, if I want to succeed in this business I'll need to develop a thicker skin, right? So here's hoping I can take it! (I don't love being criticized, but I actually love being critiqued. So as long as the criticism is out-weighed by praise, I'm OK. So far.)

Stacy, I'll come back and reread. I think I was just rushing a bit too much to try to get through all the reviews. (And I'm still not done!)

Thanks, MPJ. I appreciate the encouragement! But I know that - at least - I could do with a few fewer adverbs!

Andrea, that's exactly right. I spend more time thinking about recording what I want to remember, sharing what I want to share, and communicating my intent then I spend paring down my language to the leanest, meanest prose I can create.

And I appreciate the advice and encouragement!

Janine said...

Oh, I love it when I can help!!

Check out the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It does exactly what you need. It finds all those excess LY-adverbs, that/was/... you name it.

When you have too many, it highlights them for you. If you don't have too many, it ignores them.

The AutoCrit Wizard is the eyes you wish you had (is that even grammatical???)

Good luck,
..another writing mom of a fabulous special needs child

Barrie said...

How wonderful that you've found a great critique group. Isn't writing just one big ongoing learning experience?!! :)

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you, Janine!!!!

Barrie, it really is. I hope I never stop learning, never stop improving.