I saw a Facebook status the other day from a writer friend, lamenting her bad writing, and asking what to do when your writing is stinking up the page.
I had to smile. Because what writer hasn’t had a moment like that in the middle of a manuscript or article or essay? When you look at the reeking words before you, and then glance around in search of a blowtorch to put the putrid sentences out of their misery?
The truth is, my writing often starts out badly. My first drafts are rarely exactly what I want to say, and how I want to say it. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I only need to tweak to get the stench off. But other times, especially in fiction writing, I’m overwhelmed at the foulness of what my brain hath wrought.
And sometimes, I don’t even have to be writing to be overwhelmed by the stink.
If I’m reading a great book—one of those novels where the words flow like manna from heaven and the plot rolls along seamlessly and the characters…oh, the richness of the characters! —I’ll put the book down and want to cry. Probably because I’ve just banged my head on the desk while muttering, “I’ll never write this well! Never. Never. Never.”
But then I take a walk. Or work in the yard, or (and this is drastic) clean under a bed. I need time off, time to remember that most writers, even the author of the book that just gave me quite a headache, thought at one time or other that his or her work was…well, crap. Then I feel a little bit better. Like we’re all in this writing mess together.
Other times, when I’m in the middle of writing (and holding my nose), I have to step away from the work, too. I’ve gotten way too close to the words to see anything objectively, so I need a perspective break. I’m always amazed when I come back to a manuscript after a self-imposed exile. I can see much more clearly where I stunk it up.
And sometimes, when the stink gets very, very bad, I need to have lunch with another writer friend who’ll laugh at my jokes. And I’ll laugh at hers. Then we’ll tell each other we’re swell—and maybe where our plots took a left turn.
Those are my strategies, but how about you? What do you do when the writing stinks? (Because honestly, who can afford a blowtorch these days?)
~from Cathy C. Hall