Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I’ve learned a lot of new skills and some of them felt like scaling a frozen waterfall using ice axes and crampons. I mean stuff like formatting a manuscript, which made my brain melt as I attempted to understand the instructions in Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s free Style Guide.
It turned out to be easier to learn by actually doing it, submitting faulty versions of a short story to Smashwords’ Autovetter which told me what I’d done wrong.
Aspects of writing that I thought I’d be capable of doing, turned out to be complicated with subtleties…mainly linked to marketing myself and my books. Learning how to write plot synopses, queries to literary agents and which tags or keywords to choose to attract readers of ebooks all had me feeling like I was a trainee psychiatrist, not an author.
Selling anything requires trickery. I don’t mean dishonesty, just something that lures a customer into taking a bite at your hook. It could be termed Clickbait in that however you describe your book, including the tags, cover blurb and cover design, needs to make a potential reader curious in some way.
In learning how to do this, I’ve become very aware of what attracts me to a product, be it a book, DVD or CD. The title of this thread is provocative, for we all know that ‘gooder’ isn’t a proper word, but using a slang word might create more interest than my being correct with ‘How I’ve Improved My Writing’…which sounds pompous. It’s important to choose a story title that intrigues as well as informs.
When I read through short stories and poetry I wrote five years ago, the main thing that I correct is wordiness. Usually, less is more, as keeping things simple lets the reader use their imagination. I’m currently re-editing the first novel I wrote, having not looked at it for eighteen months. Leaving stuff in the bottom drawer always improves my eyes’ focus.
I recall wanting to write a crime novel that had literary elements. This ambition led me into using posh words and ten words where one word would have been better.. It’s stuff like having written: “The knife had left a scar on the fatty part above his left jaw” —the fatty part above his left jaw, what are you one about, Paul? I rewrote this as “He had a knife scar on his cheek” Simpler and conveying the same message.
Overall, I think that I’ve learned how to make my writing more forceful with fewer words…punchier. One of the masters of laconic yet dynamic writing was Raymond Chandler, who apparently laboured for hours to cut back what he’d written, and who said:
It takes time to distil a story into the written equivalent of whisky. Far easier to dash off what amounts to palatable but weak beer. As Mark Twain is deemed to have said: I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
Writing a story shouldn’t force your readers into consulting a dictionary. Using pretentious and unusual words can certainly be used to show the nature of a character, maybe a snob who’s trying to intimidate someone. I did this in my latest Cornish Detective novel, where a murder suspect, a snooty art dealer, talks down to the detectives by referring to painting terms such an en plein air and wet-on-wet.
What I need to get betterer (!) at is how to schmooze. Ingratiating myself with literary agents, publishers and readers doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s onwards and upwards, as these days there’s no choice but to be your own cheerleader. The biggest fallacy about publishing remains true—that a well-written and well-polished manuscript will automatically rise to the top of the slush pile. Your story may shine, but luminosity alone won’t sell it.
How has your writing improved?
Do you look back at early efforts and groan?
What aspects of writing and publishing intimidate you?