About Me

Thursday, May 28, 2009

When In Doubt

I've found six things to be helpful to me in continuing my fiction writing:

(1) Writing.

(2) Reading quality books about both writing technique and revision.

(3) Joining a workshop or finding other writers willing to read your work and give you kind, but honest feedback, so you know what is working, what may need more work, and whether what you thought you were describing is coming across to the reader.

(4) Re-reading scenes or chapters of pieces you’re working on, over and over, and revising, expanding, and contracting, at will, until you feel you've got it right.

(5) Listening to feedback, but only using what is helpful to achieve your own vision.

(6) Reading a variety of authors to expose yourself to all the possibilities in story structure, characterization, description, dialogue, and point-of-view.

Workshops are optional, but often, what they achieve, if you’ve found the right group, is to learn that you are on track and your work is appreciated. Much of the critique addresses technical matters, and every writer works to improve their craft. Even iconic writers like Joyce Carol Oates talk about asking readers to review their work prior to publication.

I wrote a post called Recommended Books on the Craft of Writing a while back, where I list and discuss sources I've found helpful in my journey to become a better writer. For Fantasy, SciFi or Speculative writers, I also wrote Writing Fantasy Fiction: A Short Bibliography.


  1. Such wonderful advice, Annie! I especially like that you emphasize writing and reading a variety of authors. I've met so many people who say they want to be writers, but they refuse to read. Or they only read a style or a subject they like. Reading for pleasure is great, but it's not going to teach us everything we need to know.

    I can't wait to read your novels!!!

  2. Hi Julie,

    I can't wait to finish one! Seriously, this summer, it's my goal to choose one of the several, and work toward finishing a complete draft. I revise as I go, so a complete first draft may be relatively polished, requiring an assessment of the overall structure more than any other element. Or, maybe that's been my problem all along, and I need to just "plow" through, finish a truly rough draft, and then revise.

    The initial draft of a short story comes to me in one sitting, but I can't sit down and write an entire novel without interruptions, and if the interruptions become interminable, and I lose the thread, I have to get it back by re-reading everything that's come before, what I'll have to do at this point, with whichever novel I choose (and I won't be able to resist revising as I read- I enjoy revising, playing with the language, hearing the voices in my head). I wish I had all the time in the world, both to live a life, and to write about life. I'm still searching for the balance.

  3. That's a very interesting list of books you have there, Annie. Not the same ones I keep hearing about over and over again (Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Donald Maass and Natalie Goldberg). I will bookmark them for later. I kind of reached a point now where I am fed up with advice on writing. What I feel I need now is only to find that space of honesty and disinhibition inside of myself, from where I can pull out some real inspired stuff. I cannot concentrate on the technique at the moment. But I know that time will come again in the near future and that's when your list will come in handy.

    Your blog is a real gem. I have to go through the archives a bit.

  4. Hi Lori, Thanks. And I agree, sometimes we can get so involved in reading about technique, it can stymie us, rather than help.

    However, the best advice I've read from somewhere is: Read these books on technique, but when you sit down to write- put it all out of your head, and just let the words flow- the time to think about technique is after you have a completed draft and it's time to revise.

    I think the best help these books have helped me to do, is master the concept of point-of-view. I have a natural ability, I think, for characterization, description and dialogue (though the books have helped). My biggest weakness is still plot, keeping a central thread, and managing the subplots, to keep my novels from meandering.

    I'm sure your instincts are correct- write, write, write- from the heart.