For many people, poetry hits the page in a rush of emotion and/or inspiration. Developing it beyond that point can feel a tad sacrilegious, and I remember it took me quite some time both to learn how to do it, and to be willing to do it. I’ve tried writing the kind of poetry that is tinkered out in a calmer and more intellectual way and I can’t honestly say I like the results. As writing poetry is something I do for myself, I don’t have to be workish about it, I can wait for the lightning bolt to strike.
My usual method (other methods no doubt exist and are just as valid) is to write in the heat of the moment, and then put the piece aside for a day or two. When I come back, I’ll read through and see how I feel about it. I then get…
(This post was written and scheduled in advance, as today I get to have a super fun endoscopy and expect to be pretty loopy from the sedation. Bleh.)
AUGUST QUESTION: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?
These are all pet peeves that I attend to while writing, as well as editing and, to a lesser extent because it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it, reading.
They won’t suit everyone. I know that the first one probably lead to a lot of my peers in writing classes throughout the years lose patience with reading all the comments I left in the margins on their work when critiquing… For my part, I frequently felt like my stories weren’t getting enough scrutiny when it was time for my work to be critiqued.
Consecutive sentences and/or paragraph that all start or end with the same word or series of words. Exception: when it is done intentionally (and effectively) for emphasis.
Lack of Oxford comma. I like it, I use it, and I want to see it.
Dialogue where two speakers’ words are lumped in the same paragraph, making it harder to tell who’s talking if your brain skips the one or two cue words. Incorrect punctuation going in or out of the quotation marks — because if what follows the dialogue is a vocal action in any tense (said, says, etc.) it should always be punctuated with a comma, not a period, which then continues the sentence. If what follows is a physical action, then it should be a period.
Substitutions for said that don’t really describe a physically possible way of talking, like “smirked” instead of “said with a smirk” — because a smirk is a facial expression not a description of speech. Or “quaked” or “trembled” — also not speaking verbs. I got all of these examples from one of those Said is Dead posters, which tend to have mostly good suggestions with some real stinkers mixed in.
I have always struggled with voice. In high school, the struggle went like this:
Reading Grapes of Wrath? Everything I write that week sounds like Grapes of Wrath.
Reading The Great Gatsby? Everything I write that week sounds like The Great Gatsby. And includes a mint julep.
Reading Crime & Punishment? I don’t write at all those two weeks because Russian Lit just kills me.
Reading Stephen King in my free time? I learned how to spell harbinger real well. Real well indeed.
Then, in college, the struggle became:
I am pretty good at writing fanfiction in the Douglas Adams voice.
That’s pretty much it.
Everything I write contains the phrases “almost, but not quite ___” or “almost, but not entirely unlike ___.”
My problem is that I’ve learned how to write by sponging up whatever I happen to be reading at the time, and the result is I am still a bit uncertain of my own voice. What I do know is that it tends to be very direct, often rather snarky, and consecutive sentences never start or end with the same word because that drives me up the wall.
Some of this I’ve learned from how I edit other people’s work. I am the nitpicker who will go through the page and circle every instance of a repeated word in a paragraph or page, and note the total count in the margin just in case I hadn’t already made my point. I am the nitpicker who will not only notice that every sentence has the same length and structure, but (a) point it out, (b) state whether or not it seems like you did it on purpose, and (c) start scribbling in examples of how you might rearrange them.
I’ve never been quite sure how anyone feels about my writing critiques, but personally I can’t stand getting critiques back with no notes throughout and a bunch of vague comments at the end. If you didn’t think something worked I want you to show me where during the text you had that thought, and I try to do that when I edit.
My voice as an editor has helped inform me a bit more about my voice as a writer, although I have to take this with a grain of salt. If I listen to my editor-voice too much I get distracted by rewriting things I haven’t even finished writing in the first place. Similarly, I can queue up audiobooks to listen to in the car but have to keep a wary eye out for signs that the book of the week is taking over.
It helps when I pick the audiobooks to suit what I’m writing, rather than the other way around.
And heaven help me if I’m typing up something I’ve written longhand, because unlike the self-restraint described in this post over at The Caffeinated Writer I can’t help trying to fix it as I go! Approximately halfway through whatever I still have written down has somehow become completely irrelevant and I no longer have a complete draft.