Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paralysis by Analysis

Someone coined this term on another blog, referring to the effect on creativity that comes from too much information about writing and publishing.

I've spent an hour this morning surfing various websites to gain information about editorial services and pricing. For a book I'm terrified to try to finish, for fear it will be horrible. It's all quite depressing.

The conundrum is this:  I probably won't get published until I have shelled out at least a thousand dollars for writing conferences and editorial services to improve my manuscript.  But I won't have the money to spend on those things until I get published. And don't feed me that crap about every business requiring investment.  If I don't have it, I don't have it.

So why do I think I need an editor?  Because I have taken the advice of some of my readers and tried to infuse my story with more emotion.  The problem is that sentences like, "Her heart lurched wistfully"  and "His heart was so heavy that he thought it would pull him tumbling down the path," (both actual examples from the current draft) make me gag.

If I put in too many more of them, I might vomit on my keyboard.  But then, I haven't read any of Stephanie Meyers' books (at least not past the first agonizing, first-person, teenage angst-ridden paragraph of 'Twilight') and perhaps this is what readers want.

Do they? Or is it just romantic female readers - my most likely audience, unfortunately - who want this stuff spelled out for them?

My concept is large and glorious, and my ability to convey it woefully inadequate. I am constantly torn between trying to find the absolutely, perfectly right words, and wanting to just finish it so it can be done.

Can one write a masterpiece the first time out? Obviously, yes. It's been done before.

Can I be happy if I don't?  Even if it's not published, I would be happy if I could satisfy my own internal critic.  But I fear that she will never be satisfied, at least not at my current level of proficiency.

My heart is lurching wistfully in a manner that suggests I might vomit it onto the keyboard, if it doesn't pull me tumbling down the basement stairs when I go to check on the laundry.


  1. It's your book, Christine!

    Darned if I'd want an editor telling me what expressions I should use. If you don't like anything, ditch it. You have to please yourself before you can please anyone else.

    Be honest: aren't there some passages in your novel you read and think to yourself, That's really rather good...?

  2. Honestly, Lexi, I don't know what's good or bad anymore.

  3. Most advice I've read is to not spend money on professional editing. If anything, I suspect you're over-thinking things. You're a solid writer and quite capable of putting out a publishable book without an editor. Besides, you'll get free editing if your book gets picked up.

    I don't care for the two examples you cited as ways of adding emotion to your story, and it sounds like you don't either. They seem rather purple to me, more appropriate to a romance novel. If that's the audience you want, go for it, but emotion can be conveyed just fine through action, blocking, and dialogue.

  4. I know how you feel about describing emotion. I have the same problem, but if you don't let the reader into the inner person, you are assuming the reader understands your character as well as you do.

    As you can tell, I am stuggling at the exact same point. I have gone through my manuscript paragraph by paragraph trying to reveal the souls of my characters whom I now know much better myself for having taken the time to get to know them better.

    My next step will probably be to go through it again and take 90% of what I just wrote out.

    I will never, ever get to 80,000 words!

    Why did we ever get into this????

  5. Ann, I *thought* I had done a fairly good job of showing emotion through action and dialogue (what's blocking?) but some of the feedback from female readers was unsatisfactory.

    The male readers, on the other hand, liked it the way it was, and even thought that there was too much emotion in it already.

  6. Mom, I remember reading a novel one time in which one of the characters was writing a novel. She called her agent in despair, saying "This isn't working. It's horrible. No one is going to want to read it."

    The agent replied, "You're halfway through your revisions, aren't you?"

    The writer said, "How did you know?"

    The agent said, "You always feel that way halfway through. Keep writing and call me when you're done."

  7. P.S. Thank you for the encouraging words, Ann. :o)

  8. Hey Christine, sounds to me like you're trying to find the balance between purple prose and overt description of the emotions you want your readers to experience. The two examples you provided do seem to be more purple with a streak of melodrama. I think it's a trap most writers trip into when they're trying to convey emotion.

    I think you can do a lot with restraint and by showing actions. Sometimes that is the most evocative. Maybe it would help to find one of the books where you had a strong emotional connection and see how that writer--and others--handled similar problems.

    The other thing to remember is that we're often harder on ourselves than is necessary. When we're in the midst of revisions, we lose sight of reality where our manuscript is concerned, we lack the distance and the coolness to totally gauge what we have actually put on the page. Don't be so hard on yourself. I think you're probably better off than you think.

  9. BTW, what genre are you working in?

    And remember, whatever you write it's important you remain true to yourself.

  10. First off it sounds like you need to get one of those plastic keyboard covers.

    But seriously, from what I've read of you WIP, I like it and I'm intrigued by the possibilities. I started to read the second chapter, but was interrupted by life. I'm planning on going back and read it. I'll let you know what I think after reading the beginning of her story.

  11. OMG, Doug, you made me laugh! I almost spit coffee all over my keyboard. I guess I DO need one of those covers.

    Vikk, I'm writing a traditional fantasy. Not paranormal, not urban. Just Tolkein-like fantasy with my own race of people who are smaller than humans, less magical than elves and not at all like dwarves. But it is serious in the sense that there is a lot of inner conflict driving the plot.

  12. I should add that it is told from both the hero and heroine's POV, so there is a distinct difference in the tone of the two narratives. The female sections do sound a bit romance-y, but that is because she is a young woman suffering from unrequited love. One of the goals of the story is to show how she matures as a result of her experiences. Experiences that would normally be denied her in her society. You can't blame women for being a little vacuous if you keep them in ivory towers.

  13. Your dilemma is common, Christine. We all read stuff and wonder how in the world did THAT get published? Am I a better writer than that? Does my writing suck?

    It's funny when you hate what you've written. Those are the parts that need rewriting, of course. We know when something just isn't working. But we also know when we go back and read something we wrote a while ago and think, wow, did I really write that? It's pretty good. :)

    Stephanie Meyer is a slow starter. I can't figure how the teens hang in there with her. Word of mouth, I think, because when she gets going, she's really good. And she doesn't worry about how she words things. Her plots and characters are interesting enough to keep you interested even though the writing is weak.

    And there you go. Joe Reader doesn't care how your word things or the expressions you use. Non-writers only care if it's a good story with characters they like. It's the ediors we have to get past, and that all depends on if you're writing for CBA or the general market. It also depends on what the editor enjoys.

    All that to say, you write what you like and search for an agent or editor who will "get" you and champion your book. Not an easy task, but that's what we have to do.

  14. I hear you about the "investment" angle. And I started down that path myself.

    But I found the assistance I needed in the blogworld of writers. Because you can really only read so many "writers guides" before you drive yourself insane.

    I think you're at a good spot right now - crazy as that sounds. You know you can't follow all "the rules" and you're questioning what people are telling you.

    I'm with Doug here. Don't take on the editing process in its entirety. Take it one chapter at a time, with a few crit buddies out here in the blogosphere, and see what actually works and what doesn't. From the little bit I've read on your postings, it's not as bad as you think.

    As you say, you're overwhelmed with information. The internet can do that to you. Blogging can do that to you.

    I've done my best writing by visiting other writers blogs and seeing that they're going through the same frustrations and emotions that I do.

    Remember, there's no such thing as the perfect phrase, or word. I think you're doing awesome.

    thanks for sharing your frustration. We all feel that way sometimes.


  15. Ouch.

    I hate revisions. I'm avoiding the editing process on one of my novels already. lol.

    I have to agree with the comments above me. I would not pay for these editing services, and instead just keep writing and reading and learning. (I mean...where did they get the know-how? By reading and writing and etc themselves...)

    I will say that I've definitely learned the hard way that some how-to writing guides are good, but if you try to read them all...doesn't usually work. Because each person has their own style and way of writing, what works for them, and often these "guides" contradict each other. Which is even more confusing.

    I would suggest--IMHO--that you pick one or two, maybe three, that particularly "resonated" with you, when you read them. And keep those as your main guides, and leave the rest away.

    Reading other writer's frustrations helps too. And...I have found...reading a really crappy book too. ^_^ You just KNOW you can do better then. :)


  16. Thanks, Liz! I find crappy books highly encouraging as well. :D

    I changed the two examples I cited, so that in the first one, the heroine braces herself before speaking to the hero, and in the second, the hero is running the scene he just witnessed over and over in his mind.

  17. I've found that many times I have to find a metaphor for describing the characters' emotions and actions, as well as the environment. I try to take the cliched ideas that spring to mind and flip them into something unusual.

    Crappy books are both encouraging and highly irritating to me! C'mon, we're told all the time to write quality work, and yet "bad" books are written and published a lot. But if they can do it, maybe I can, too...

    Sounds like your revisions are good, Christine. Keep going!


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