1. Stammis

    Stammis Senior Member

    Jul 5, 2015
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    Are we ever good enough?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Stammis, Aug 2, 2017.

    Do you find yourself in cycles where you love what you write until you hate it?

    I've realised this is a necessity as you become complacent if you don't look at your work critically and is just a sign that you are, at the very least, becoming better at spotting flaws.

    But more often than not, I find my entire style is utter garbage because I don't have the vocabulary to express what is happening.

    Just look at this, I used Prowritingaid.com and it said that I had vocabulary that was more dynamic (unique words/total) than 1% of ProWritingAid users.

    I use these words a lot:

    (It's a 25 000 word text)

    could - 78
    feel/feels/feeling/felt - 50
    hear/heard - 25
    initial -ing - 105
    knew/know - 103

    This is what Hemingway had to say, if you are familiar with the site:

    187 of 2060 sentences are hard to read and 58 of 2060 are very hard to read.

    So I guess it's easy to read, at least.

    I know I just need to read and write more but it feels like I will never finish anything that I'm proud of... I guess I'm way too early in my career to even consider it.

    Ps: Thanks for reading my rant. I just needed to get it out there.
    sprirj likes this.
  2. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

    Nov 30, 2006
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    Ohio, USA
    You'll improve. Writers to write and practice and study tend to improve with each book.

    If you're finding problems with wording or word choice or vocabulary, like you indicated, reading and writing more will help. Pick out novels/books that you can study. See how those authors created description and dialogue. Note the words and phrases and sentence and paragraph structures. Then, from what you've observed, apply it to your own stories and writing style.

    Yes, it takes time, but very, very few writers are overnight successes.
    PsychicWitness and Stammis like this.
  3. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    I was listening to an ABBA song the other day and was struck by one particular rhyme from Lay All Your Love on Me

    I used to think that was sensible
    It makes the truth even more incomprehensible

    which was far more exotic a word than most English First Language speakers would have thought of using.

    Keep plugging away, keep learning, and don't lose heart!

    matwoolf, Megs33 and Stammis like this.
  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Senior Member

    Jan 8, 2017
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    The People's Republic of New Hampshire
    I wouldn't sweat the vocabulary too much. I mean, how many times can you use proscenium, narthex, caliginous, prestidigitation, or nictitate in manuscript without sounding pretentious? 105 uses of "initial" is interesting, though. You might want to scrub that one out as best you can.
  5. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

    Dec 31, 2015
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    You think you got problems; there's over 2000 uses of 'just' and over 8000 sets of ellipsis in my present manuscript. Admittedly that's 130k words but, well, we all have little foibles.

    Yes, we all have problems with being self-critical. It doesn't matter how many times you read back what you wrote, you'll always find something to change to make it 'better'. That's just the nature of it because there isn't really 'perfect' in this world, there's just what seems to be better to us at the time. It's easy to come back to your work and say "What was I thinking?" literally every single time you ever read it even though every single time you thought you had it perfect last time. That's just the nature of the beast.

    It's also very easy to play tricks on yourself. You can start writing, then move where you are going because at that moment you think maybe your audience would probably connect better with this type of character and then when you come back you think actually no maybe that way would be better, then a different one, then another, and on and on because you are you and you don't know what your audience would actually really like the best and there's no way to really know that short of showing them the completed book. But that can lead you into another spiral of self criticism because you audience isn't homogeneous, it's made of lots of people with weird views on things. You can easily ping-pong between thinking your audience wants a more complex, engaging, boundary pushing book and thinking they want a more simple, basic, entertaining story. But you can't make a book be both of those at the same time and your audience in fact probably wants both; that is to say some of them would prefer the more challenging read and some of them want something easy and comforting to read before bed.

    Suffice to say that truth is that the chase towards 'good enough' is the rabbit hole with no ending. You can chase it forever. You need to know when to stop and move on, you need to have faith that people will like your ideas as you conceive them and you need to be careful not to confuse other missteps for mistakes. You shouldn't feel bad because your earlier ideas weren't the greatest. You shouldn't feel bad that you didn't know things. You shouldn't feel bad that your earlier writing doesn't meet your present tastes. And you shouldn't judge your abilities based on work that you didn't finish.

    As you write more you learn. When you first wrote something you'd never run into this specific challenge before, or any others, so you took a stab and maybe you didn't quite hit it but when you run into another challenge like that you know a bit more and you can do it better. Almost everyone starts out with bad ideas, or more accurately, with ideas that appeal to them and no-one else. And that's ok. Because most of us start writing because we say "Man, I wish someone would write this book I want to read." without thinking if that's something that can really sell or even really appeal to anyone.

    And of course that book that you wanted to write initially probably isn't what you eventually find you want to write or even to read. Because writing isn't like reading. The things that you like to write are weird and different because it's a different process. I like sci fi books, as well as historical adventure (Sharpe, Hornblower, Templar knights) stuff. But I write teen romance, a genre I've never read anything in. It's complicated why I ended up there but I feel really great about what I write even if I'd never have thought that's what I was interested in. But it's a process to find the things that engage you. Maybe, like me, you might find that within your first book you really enjoyed writing the romantic sub-plot and the interpersonal drama much more than the main plot. Your tastes will change in both types of books and kinds of writing, and your earlier work being in a different genre or different style doesn't mean it's bad, it just means it was something that doesn't work for you right now.

    Equally you shouldn't feel bad that work you left in the middle or never edited or so forth was bad work because writing must be judged on where it ends up, not where it starts out. We might wish that we could just sit and type perfect, elegant, engaging, meaningful prose all day long but we can't and it takes a lot of editing and honing and improvement to make your writing good. Just because you wrote something a while ago doesn't mean it was finished, even if you don't have an intention to improve it now. You shouldn't feel bad about your 50% finished thing isn't 100% finished.

    In a more general sense; I actually think that in writing it's right to forget the old maxim that a wise man only knows how ignorant he is; you badly need to avoid the situation where as you improve as a write you become more and more critical of your own writing to the point that you simply cannot write. That's a real problem too; that as you become a better writer you might become snobbish and judgmental and start to judge yourself for writing things that are simply functional and important. You could easily start to think that every sentence needs to be like the best sentence you've ever written even though there's absolutely no way that can happen. Some parts of books just need to communicate the plot and trying to jazz it up makes it pretentious and focus pulling and that's the exact wrong thing. It's trapping you into the abstract idea of writing instead of trying to write a good book. And good books sometimes say "He walked over to the counter and poured himself a glass of milk".

    It's a trap to think that because now you can recognize good writing everything you write must be that and only that. A book is a really big project and you need to look at it holistically, not on a word by word basis. On a book-scale 'good writing' is more about what the writing is doing than the vocabulary or the structure or really anything else. If the writing is creating the right effect and communicating what you want then it's good writing, even if on a word by word basis it doesn't strike you as being amazing. Sometimes the right effect really is 'not being noticed'; writing so that the reader can stay in the moment and doesn't even really think about the words on the page. That's one major mistake that people who strive to make every single sentence amazing fall into. They end up writing prose that pulls the reader away from the scene and the moment and leaves the reader not engaging or feeling anything. Now maybe they are amazing sentences. But that is bad writing.

    I've banged on far too much here, as I am wont to do, but I think the bottom line really should be that we shouldn't be asking the question of if we are or even if we can be good enough. We just need to try and do better. But there is no good enough. Just better. A little bit, a tiny bit better every time. And that is all. Because there is no good enough.

    Just do better. And good enough will take care of itself.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
  6. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Active Member

    Sep 13, 2015
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    It's a blessing in disguise to be dissatisfied with your work @Stammis. Onward.
  7. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

    Jan 7, 2015
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    The middle of the UK
    Two things:
    1. If you're using these tools as some kind of way of figuring out if you're writing well, then you're always going to be dissatisfied. Not only is it raw data, which people can make mean anything they want to mean, but I'd argue the data it gives you is meaningless. Who wants a novel with 100% simple sentences or 99% exotic words? No one. Plus, those goals are mutually exclusive, so no matter what you do, you'll always give ground to one or the other. I've said it before, and I'll say it every time the subject comes up: Hemmingway, the tool, is fundamentally useless. Even if you idolise the guy's writing, simply stripping complexity from your writing isn't the way to emulate it. His was more about encapsulating complex ideas and emotions in a few words, not just simplifying individual sentences until they read like a five year old wrote them.
    2. Look at and internalise this graph, until you understand that this process is why you fluctuate between "this is great!" and "this is shite!" The important thing is that, all the time, your skills are getting better.
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

    Dec 31, 2015
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    I somewhat, although not completely, agree with this. It's certainly very true for lots of art forms but I wouldn't quite go as far as to say that it holds true entirely for writers. Now, I do agree that it can happen like this, especially for writers who are just starting out where they go from being a random person who doesn't know anything about good writing and so there's big leaps in their ability to recognize good writing when they see it. It's much easier to see good writing that it is to write good writing and it can be frustrating that you can never write well no matter how much better you get.

    But once you're past that I think that it stops being as true. Writing is more like music than painting. It doesn't matter how good a musician you are if you can't write a good song. And the things that make a good song are actually really divorced from being a good musician. Things like drive and groove and emotional resonance don't come from technical ability. When you are a great musician you can maybe better appreciate what parts come together to make something a great song but just looking at the sheet music will never tell you if a song is any good or not. There's lots of great musicians who simply cannot write a good tune even if they can tell you in very complex terms exactly what makes a great song great. In both writing and music technical ability is just one part of the equation for making good stories or good music.

    In the end, good writing and good music are measured not by technical ability but by the reaction they get from the reader. And on that axis there isn't really an 'ability to execute'. Whether something works or not is a really complex thing that resists being quantified. You can put two great writers into a room and one will say yes this is amazingly well executed and the other will say this is garbage. How can you execute your plot twist better? Well, mostly by not doing anything at all to the twist itself, you have to change the rest of the book lead into that. The writing of that twist can be perfect, and indeed in the rest of the book, but the two have to dovetail together to effectively execute.

    It's really holistic and the problem for authors is seldom that they can't execute, at least not after they've written for a while and know about foreshadowing and set up and pacing. The problem is that the author and the reader relate to the text in different ways. Writing takes a really long time, reading not so much. And what works to me as a writer who's really labored over the text and what works to the reader coming to it fresh is very different. It's not that you aren't skilled enough to do it right, or indeed to think that you did it badly, it's that you aren't the one who gets to judge that. You can never know for sure until lots of people are reading it and seeing if it connects with them the way that you want it to.

    So yes, there are times when you need to be careful about how your perceptions of your writing change. Definitely you can get over confident in your abilities and even arrogant about how good you are. Equally you need to be careful to avoid being hypercritical of your work because it doesn't make you react the way things you read do. But I think a much bigger problem is that no matter how well you write it's the audiences reaction that matters, not yours.

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