When Your Writing Misses the Mark

This post is for the writers. The aspiring authors, the seasoned veterans.

Sometimes, you write a story and it just flows. It comes together like it has a life of its own, fully-formed and perfect. This isn’t about those times.

Because even when you have those stories, you’ll also have stories that are just… off. They’re missing something, the something that makes them a story worthy of telling.

Maybe it’s your structure or conflict. For me, it was an under-developed character.

I couldn’t figure out: how did this happen to me? Me, who spends a month or two pre-writing. Polishing characters’ histories, their GMC, plotting out a story based on those things before ever putting fingers to keyboard and executing. I spend as much time pre-writing as I do writing the first draft.

But, there was no denying that’s exactly where my story was at. The bad news came from my editor. (Mistake number one–I was in a hurry and didn’t have it beta read by my trusted critique partners before submission.) My heroine’s backstory and motivation were… weak.

I couldn’t believe it. In the weeks following my grandmother’s death, I’d written Exactly Like You, edited it, submitted it, and it was published in June. It was one of the aforementioned stories–it just flowed together perfectly, seamlessly.

How could I have done that so well and missed the mark so completely in the other story? For one, I didn’t dig for backstory and motivation. I latched onto the first idea that came to me. The first idea is never the best idea–don’t let anyone tell you any different. (This would be mistake number two, in case you’re counting.)

I revised and then sent it out for beta with two very smart CPs (all my critique partners are smart, but I digress). They came back with the same verdict–I’d missed that mark again. She was still underdeveloped. Her motivation wasn’t quite believable. That’s what happens when you try to make your character fit your story rather than the other way around. (That, friends, is mistake number three.)

I’m very happy to say that I conferred with one of my CPs, sending her five pages of notes to address the specific issues she called out, then had another CP take a look at my opening and made adjustments again. This had become the story that would not live.

But I wasn’t giving up. All is well now (I hope–it’s been resubbed to my editor, so we’ll see). I can tell you that I don’t think there’s much more of me left for that story. If it’s not enough? This may become one of those stories bound for the far reaches of my hard drive.

I wish I had a happy ending, but don’t all the true life-lesson stories end ambiguously? Take what you can from this, writers. Dig into that back story, then dig some more. Don’t skimp on character, ever.

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

The Writing Blahs

I had a rough January. My grandmother passed away after a long battle with dementia, my mother was in the hospital for the first 25 days (she’s doing much better now), and my daughter had her baby 8 weeks early due to pre-eclampsia (mama and baby are also doing very well). My brain, my energy, my heart–it was elsewhere.

And I had self-imposed deadlines to meet. Those may seem unimportant, but they’re just as important (to me) as “real” deadlines. I suspect many of you understand. Unfortunately, my writing output began to slow to a trickle. I was in that dreaded middle of a story, before you top the hill, when it seems like there are a million bad words behind you and a million new words to go. I had the writing blahs.

I asked the wonderful ladies here at HSG for advice and they, to a one, suggested reading a good book. I haven’t taken their advice yet, though I tried, because I just can’t seem to turn my brain off. When I do read, I have writer-brain. “Oh, nice hook,” or “I see what you did there.” I’m going to persevere, even as I try to reach my writing goals daily.

I did some research (because I certainly wasn’t writing) and came up with some great quotes and articles I thought I’d share with you.

From Lydia Sharp on Writer Unboxed:

There are times I must immerse myself in research, or pull out an old story and do line edits, in order to refresh. This is the result of a right brain/left brain imbalance. The scales are tipped, and equilibrium can only be achieved by adding to our noncreative side. Fact begets fiction.

From Carly Sandifer on One Wild Word:

If you’re tapping out your sentences on your computer, pick up a pen or pencil and write by hand in a notebook. For that matter, some people enjoy typing on an actual typewriter.

I’ve done this plenty of times in the past, but deemed it too slow for my higher output. I’d cut out the middle man (I thought), but maybe sometimes you need the middle man to negotiate a treaty between you and your brain.

This great post (which is more about writing blogs) from Henneke Duistermaat at Smart Blogger:

Feeling a little frustrated?

Well, let it out.

Before you start writing, curse like a sailor. Get angry. Be emotional.

Write something you’re passionate about. Have a good rant. Don’t worry about going too far.

There’s worse advice out there. After all, if you’re writing flat, your reader will be able to tell. Maybe move on to a particularly moving scene?

What’s you best writing advice for defeating the writing blahs and getting past a block?

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

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