Runnin’ with Rattlers
I had remarked to neighbors over the past few weeks how unusual it was that by mid-September, I still had not encountered a rattlesnake.
I knew all that talk of “not seeing any snakes” was probably going to bite me in the butt — or the ankle (though hopefully neither)! Sure enough, three days later, as I was jogging, I ran into – quite literally – my first rattler of the season.
Because I still had forward momentum when I saw him – literally one stride away from landing right on him – I nearly fell trying to turn around on my planted left ankle.
Lesson learned? Do not grow complacent! I am, once again, hypersensitive while jogging, my eyes scanning for diamonds and stripes every step I take.
For Writers: This same complacency can be just as dangerous in your writing life. You feel you’ve written a spectacular scene, dialogue, or even first novel, second novel, third. You “know this stuff” and understand the mechanics of storytelling like the back of your hand. You don’t need to practice. You’re that good. Really?
Even Stephen King emphasizes a need for continual learning. That’s why part of his writing life involves reading the work of others – learning from them. According to debut author Jody Hedlund (The Preacher’s Bride), authors need to push themselves to grow. “I’m always surprised when I run across other writers who turn up their noses at the idea of learning more about the basics of fiction-writing,” she says in her blog.
How can you avoid that complacency in your writing?
- Don’t be a lazy reader: Reading for pleasure is fun, but learn to deconstruct/analyze books for what is working, what isn’t, and why.
- Consider the advice of experts: I’m not a huge fan of how-to-write books, feeling that reading “the real thing” is the best way to learn. But some craft books really do lend insight to your writing. Stephen King’s On Writing is one. The collegiate text Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is another.
- Edit, edit, edit: Even if you think your work is sparkly and dazzling, seek out the areas where more description could bring your novel to life; pare down boring exposition; ensure your dialogue is really authentic.
- Take advantage of critique/criticism: Another set of eyes is paramount to good writing. I believe writing in a vacuum can be the kiss of death. Helpful partners will point out what’s working, but also gaps, areas of confusion, the need for tension or more character development, etc.
- Step back from your work: Your bleary eyes need a break from your work – work that has consumed you, become a part of you, frustrated you, excited you. Sometimes, letting your manuscript simmer and coming back three weeks or so later can reveal so much about your writing.
My advice: avoid the complacency. Now!