It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, mostly because I’ve covered so much in my previous installments. If this is your first time here and you’re interested in the craft of writing, then please check them out.
Don’t try to be perfect
Look, perfection is for mathematics, and even then…
Life is finite. Your time is finite. Your energy is finite. Most of the time you’re going to write average stuff then polish it up to make it good, but the last thing you want to do is spend 50% of your time getting that last 1% to perfection. Truth be told, most people are going to completely forget that sentence you spent an hour on as soon as they turn the page. The exact quote will be forgotten and it’s unlikely that anyone else is going to immortalize it.
Don’t try to make everything perfect. Instead, try to focus on the big picture by making your writing flow easily. Reading is a dream that takes the reader to thoughts and places. As long as that dream remains intact then it doesn’t matter if the words are perfect or typed in wingdings. Let go of the minor things and focus on the whole.
Concise is better than wordy
Look, I’m just going to spell it out for all the interested amateur writers out there: the average writer isn’t competing with other writers for customers. Every writer out there is competing against every TV producer, movie director, record mogul and video game developer for your reader’s time. Time is a finite resource and that time can be funneled into so many other sinks of entertainment. You have to make sure you entice your reader to spend their time with you and your story, and not waste it.
This means you delete unneeded scenes, remove unneeded characters, reduce wordy descriptions, use tighter prose, make every word work, and save backstory for the Wikipedia page unless it’s absolutely necessary and/or entertaining.
If you don’t feel like writing, edit
Damn if I don’t feel this almost every day. Writing and editing take two different parts of your brain. Sometimes the creative part of your brain just doesn’t feel like generating new sentences, or you couldn’t be bothered with dialogue, or maybe you can’t picture a scene. Lord knows I’ve wasted plenty of time trying to force out a few pages only to come back, days later, and see the lack of motivation between the lines, necessitating a rewrite.
And you know what? That’s cool. Writer’s block happens. But just because you have writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Editing is the answer for when you can’t write new stuff. Even after a long day of work, you can sit down and edit for a few minutes.
To put this in perspective, it takes me about 6-8 hours to edit one of my novels once. Just 30 minutes will take a respectable chunk out of it. Spend at least an hour editing or simply reading through your writing and you’ll have a novel done in about a week.
Empathy is the key to good writing
I have a pet hypothesis that people who are more narcissistic and sociopathic are generally worse writers, for two reasons:
1: Writers need to be able to understand the emotions, thoughts, and motivations of others in order to create believable characters.
2: Writers need to understand the perspective of the reader as they’re reading to create an effective dream.
If a writer keeps repeating information then it shows me that the writer doesn’t trust the reader’s ability to follow along. The reverse happens when the writer leaves out important information that the reader desperately needs because the writer just assumed it’s known. Both are instances of the writer being unable to get into the mind of the reader, and both of these happen more often with younger, more ego-centric and narcissistic writers.
Keep in mind that you’re not writing for yourself. These sweet battle scenes I have in my head look spectacular to me, but if I’m going to put them in someone else’s mind then I need to hold their mental state as a primary consideration.
I’ve found that writing is far more about feeling than knowing. While grammar may be hard and strict, the imagination of the reader and writer is a fluid, emotional thing. People who cannot grasp that emotional aspect would be better off putting their time in elsewhere.