Revisiting Lists (6 Things I Got Wrong)

Hey everyone. It’s been a while since my last post, and I’m sorry about that. Sometimes it feels like there are a million different demands on my time, and unfortunately one of the easiest ways to remove some of the burden is to neglect my blog.

For today’s post, I had the idea of doing a sort of ‘un-list.’ Pieces of advice that I’ve since realized aren’t as helpful as I thought at first. When I began this blog last August, I’d written four manuscripts and released one. Since then, I’ve added a few more, and I like to think my understanding of the written word has grown as a result. So here are a few pieces of advice I’d like to change:

  1. Your first draft is never good (from ’10 Tips on Writing Fiction’).

While I stand by the idea that first drafts almost always need revision, I think I’ve encountered enough good first drafts to rephrase this rule. New rule: Your first draft is not a finished draft. It will need love and work to grow into its full potential.

  1. Figure out the bubblegum. This is the part that when I figure out, feels like a sudden moment of clarity in my mind (seems to ‘pop’), and will almost always come at the end of a chapter (from ‘My Writing Process’).

I’d most like to take back that part about putting the bubblegum at the end. Too often, that seems to result in skipping past the parts of a story that readers want to see. I’d come to think of it as fading to black after a major twist in a TV show or movie, and it is… Except that chapters tend to skip past that twist, and rob the reader of their chance to explore what might be an interesting development. New rule: Figure out the bubblegum, and explore it faithfully. If the story is well-written, there’s no need for gimmicks to hold a reader’s attention.

  1. The conflict must get worse with time (from ‘My Writing Process’).

Oof, absolute rules like this make me cringe when I look back on them. While a headlong plunge toward the climax and constantly-ratcheting tension might be good for novellas and short stories, I think novels work better with a variable pace. As long as the tension increases in general, I think it strengthens a story to have a few breaks. New rule: The conflict should approach the climax at a logical pace.

  1. Squeeze every ounce of value you can out of critiques (from ‘My 5 Rules for Critiques’).

I’m not opposed to the rule itself here, so much as to the tone. I think it’s important to note that attempting to overuse a critique can cause as many problems as underutilizing it, and I’ve also learned that there is such a thing as too much feedback. New rule: Apply as much as you can from critiques.

  1. Good novels advertise themselves (from ‘The 5 Misconceptions we All Start Off With’).
  2. If we like it, other people will too (from ‘The 5 Misconceptions we All Start Off With’).

I’m lumping these two together because I think my new perspective on them comes from the same source. Maybe I’m becoming more hopeful—or perhaps more jaded against my own work—but I no longer like every single thing I write, and I can admit that The Clique might not have been good (at least, not JK Rowling or Ernest Hemingway good). Since this was a list of misconceptions, I suppose my New rules would be: Good novels might advertise themselves, and novels we like might be liked by others as well. It’s honestly hard to know without trying.

I guess I’ve gone back to lists… I think part of that is because I think the format is easier to digest, and also that non-list posts (for me) have a tendency to get off-topic. One weird effect that creative writing has had on my essays is that they’ve become less focused than before. Whereas I used to have problems coming up with enough ideas to fill a three-point format, I’m kind of in the opposite situation now, and the result is a meandering narrative like this. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the post (and perhaps even gain something from it). Please like or leave a comment below if you do!

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