Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learning from Mistakes

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell..."

- Richard Wright

Today, I wrote three chapters of Naked Eye. I think there are only four more to go, and one will be short. But who knows? I’m a panster. The nice thing about being a panster is that your manuscript is forever surprising you. I find myself thinking:

Oh that’s why she was so secretive.

If I add this scene, it will tie into that one from the earlier chapter.

I had no idea he felt that way.

Hopefully if the writer is surprised, my someday readers will REALLY be surprised.

As I mentioned the other day, this is my sixth manuscript. Each manuscript has had its own set of problems:

1) Tell instead of show.

2) Age of protagonist. Tell instead of show.

3) Slow plot. Tell instead of show.

4) Too many dialogue tags and adverbs. Vampire story.

5) The word “that” cropped up EVERYWHERE. Preachy.

6) Overuse of “really”. (She is a teen.)

One weakness I possess is sentences. I’ve been told to vary lengths, watch dashes, and so on. With each book, I get better. Last winter and spring, I spent many hours pouring through books on grammar.

Manuscript #6 has taken me the longest to write. I got the idea for it last spring break. Next week it’s spring break again. For EVERY other manuscript before this one, I churned out a rough draft in SIX WEEKS. Last spring break, I wrote the first five pages. Then nothing else for months because I was in the middle of revising manuscript #5 and revisiting manuscript #1.

This fall, I returned to Naked Eye. I got about 18k done. Then I got a full-time job. I wrote in stops and starts, (more stops than starts). Last year, I projected it would be 50k. Today, I dusted off the manuscript and wrote three chapters, and am up to 52,410. Now I believe it will be closer to 60k.

I can’t wait to see how this thing ends.

And I wonder if writing slowly will make it less rough of a rough draft. Since this is the first manuscript I’ve written from scratch since reading all those books on writing and grammar, I also wonder if my writing is more polished in general. Having two short stories accepted has given me more confidence. Have I finally figured it all out for manuscript #6?

Future critique buddies will let me know soon enough. (English majors a plus.)

How about you?

What mistakes have you made?

What have you learned from them?


  1. I can relate to this post so much (except for whipping out rough drafts in 6 weeks!!)--I can point to things in each of my manuscripts that were off and I feel like I'm getting stronger with each project. Now, whether or not I'm slipping back into old, old mistakes, I'm not sure--like you said, that's why critique partners are AWESOME.

  2. I made the mistake in my own manuscript #2 of having a scene sort of similar to my climax at the beginning of the story. Luckily, Madeline pointed it out to me and I now have a solution to fix it (though I've put off editing until July to work on other things).

  3. my entry for tomorrow is about mistakes, too.

  4. Well, with six manuscripts already done, you sure would have improved!!

    and congrats for achievement!! Hope you complete the Naked Eye quickly and it gets publisheD!!

    with warm regards
    <a href=" > CatchyTips for writers </a>

  5. You are doing really well! :)

    My favourite words are: just, really & that.

  6. My critique group has nailed me a couple of times for revealing things too quickly, not giving the characters enough time to realistically grapple with certain situations.

  7. That all sounds positive Theresa, I would instintively feel that giving it more time would improve the quality of your manuscript.
    Good for you, if it is for the 13 year old market, my daughter, I'm sure would read it with a critical eye, she is 100% honest and a voracious reader. Also she just won a writing prize in school and got PAID for it so she is a professional writer now, LOL.

  8. Practice makes perfect!! Yay for you!!! I also believe in taking one's time and not rushing things (although that's my general philosophy in life so I may be completely wrong about this! LOL!).

    But above all give yourself a big big hug!! You are doing great!! Take care

  9. @ Jess, I can't whip out drafts in 6 weeks anymore, if this manuscript is any indication. But I think it's because I had to think about the next section before I wrote it. That's why I hope it's tighter.

    Critique partners ARE awesome!

    @ Brooke, manuscript readers are a huge help!

    @ Michelle, I'll be sure to check it out!

    @ AllMyPosts, I try to focus on the better writer part of 6 manuscripts instead of why am I still not published after 5 manuscripts?

    Thanks for the well wishes!

    @ Niki, I Just Really can relate to That!

    @ Missed Periods, that's good feedback. For my last manuscript, I had to make my MC go through more early on and I had to make certain scenes more poetically descriptive since they were supposed to be beautiful places the MC was writing about in her diary. My response, "She's the good writer, not me." Didn't get me off the hook.

    @ Brigid, the MC has the accident at 13, but most of it takes place when she's 16. It may wind up with a mild sex scene, so I don't know how you'd feel about that.

    Your daughter sounds like she's well on her way to a writing career. I know she's good from reading a piece on your blog.

    My daughter's piece about dogs got published in the school paper last month, so she's actually been published before me!

    @ Old Kitty, I agree with you this time. I've really thought about each scene and how it fits with the bigger picture before I've written it. I hope that means it's better in every way from any other rough draft.

    Happy weekend!

  10. Oh I feel like I'm learning and hopefully getting better all the time.

    I see things in stories from just six months ago that I wouldn't do now. It's a continuous process.

  11. I've learned a lot from my wonderful partners, learning about the craft through other writers and books, and plenty of reading. So thankful I didn't try to sell my first novel. I knew it wasn't ready.

  12. Grammar is my downfall. I write too many fragmented sentences. I use too many to be verbs and commas give me constant grief.

    You are only getting better Theresa. Congratulations.

  13. @ LR, good to know that all writers must continue to work on their craft.

    @ J.L. Jackson, I didn't know my first one wasn't ready. Now I cringe. Yes, reading, being critiqued, and writing make us better.

    @ Ann, me too! I'm in love with commas.

  14. You are so far ahead of me! I don't really know my manuscript's flaws yet (I have three, or 2.80, technically). Okay yeah the first one I do know it's flaws - they are legion - won't bore you :)

    But I think your process shows what we all should be striving for: constantly improving our craft.

  15. I think the biggest thing I learned over the course of my novel-writing was plotting. That, and actually being inside the characters' heads. I can see a massive difference from when I first started to now (thank goodness!).

  16. I've learned a lot about dialogue over the years. I used to avoid it altogether because I thought I couldn't write it - can you imagine how many internals my stories were full of?
    One thing I still do too often is have piles of questions in my characters' thoughts: "what if he wasn't waiting for her? what if her family didn't approve of him? could she handle it if everyone turned against her?"

  17. I've recently noticed my overuse of dialogue tags. Trying to keep them to a minimum now!

  18. I've gotten back to working on my WIP and I was wondering the same thing -- will this first draft come out more polished than my others since I've learned so much since writing those?

    I've also wondered if my progress on this one has been stymied by what I've learned---am I trying to apply too much up front when I should simply let the words flow and save the rest for the second draft?

    Good luck w/ all you've got going on! Look forward to keeping up w/ your progress.

  19. I love the word was. It must please me to use it since I use it ALL THE TIME. At one count (done by awesome crit partner Beth) I had used the word was 476 times. *cringe*

    This is a great post Theresa. (I see you too are telly.) GAH! That makes me so mad when I do that.

    I've learned that I love, love, love to repeat my past writing mistakes. :-)

  20. Congratulations for finishing all your drafts, hope your Naked Eye gets published fast!

  21. You're right, every manuscript I learn from. I really do think pansters are magic. I'm more of a plotter, but then don't follow my own advice.
    One thing I learned from my first book working with an editor - overuse of "was". Now I see it everywhere.
    Congrats on your characters surprising you. sounds like you're in the zone!

  22. @ Margo, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. And our mistakes. I bored everyone with a whole post about mine!

    @ Talli, my plotting has improved too. Do your rough drafts seem less rough now?

    @ Deniz, did you read On Writing by Stephen King? He mentions a published author who is so bad at dialogue he almost never has any. I don't think his books would be an easy read.

    I bet those piles of questions are good in the long run. It means you're thinking about the character a lot. Just have to take some of 'em out!

    @ Rachel, I've had that problem too!

    @ Nicki, I guess we'll find out when we hand our manuscripts to our critique buddies. Good luck to you too!

    @ Robyn, I'm too fond of "was" too. But I notice plenty of published books with the word. I think it shows someone in the middle of something. To say "was washing" means she's washing laundry. To say "washed" means it's done. Right? Maybe?

    @ Nas, thanks!

    @ TerryLynnJohnson, I think I'm turning into a quasi-panster. I would think about chapters before I wrote most of them. But I never could see too far ahead.

    Yeah, I had a problem with "was" too.

  23. That you've managed to write so much at all with working full time, two children, a husband, a house, etc., is miraculous!

    I've learned, in wip #2, that I have to be careful about time/years. My mc and her step-daughter...their ages don't sync with the rest of the story in places. What can I say? The thing kept changing on me, LOL.

    Have you posted an excerpt of Naked Eye? Have I read it....? It's been so crazy lately I barely remember my name :P

    And I'd say your kitty qualifies for super-ninja, wow!

  24. I can't think of any major "mistakes." But my main "weakness" is with descriptive passages. I really have to work on them. And like you, there are some kinds of phrases and punctuation that I discovered I tend to over-use. You just have to read the manuscript over and over and over again!

    Like another blogger commented, it's amazing all you do: full-time teacher, mother of two, and a wife who also finds time to write. Don't know if I congratulated you on your story in Stories for Queensland. If I didn't, I'm doing so now!

    And you find time to comment on blogs, including mine. Always nice to see you!
    Ann Carbine Best, Long Journey Home

  25. I've seen growth in your writing in the short time I've been reading your exerpts of it. Hopefully, we all are growing as we continue to create new stories. :)

  26. I've made tons of mistakes in my quest to become a better writer. But fortunately I realized they are mistake and have worked hard to learn from them. Okay, a library full of writing books sure helped too. :D

    The biggest mistake I made over a year ago was to tell instead of show emotions. Fortunately I won a five page crit, and someone finally pointed out the mistake.

  27. I've learned something new and grown as a writer with each manuscript I've written. With each manuscript, though, I try to do something different--e.g. write in a new genre, change POV, etc.

  28. Hope you get it all together. Those grammar books can help complicate all you know especially when you try to remember all you've learned.

    Over the years the hardest lesson for me to learn was how to simplify my writing.

  29. My first manuscript, which I started in July 2009, I wrote in a couple of months, but I had no conception of style or rising tension. I hated to go back and reread it so much that I've started over from scratch, and I've started plotting (I KNOW! Horrible, isn't it?). But between that experience and that from my writing class, and feedback from my critique partners, I've learned a ton, and feel more confident about it.

    Good luck finishing!

  30. @ The Words Crafter, I used to do much better when the job was part-time. But thank you for the compliment. Often, I feel like each person and item on my list doesn't get my full attention.

    Good luck with your ever time-changing WIP!

    As for mine, I think I put up the initial beginning maybe a year ago. And for a Magic Blogfest on 03/26, I posted an excerpt. Soon I'll post the query and beginning on my other blog, Earnest Writer's Excerpts.

    @ Ann, when I first wrote, I'd edit but I didn't recognize many of my mistakes. Now I know better.

    Thanks for the compliment. I normally think I'm not getting enough done, but you guys are making me step back and think about it.

    And thank you for the short story congrats.

    @ Sharon, how nice to hear you've seen a growth in my writing. I guess if we don't grow, we stagnate or regress. Not good!

    @ Stina, reading, writing, and reading how-to-write books is what helped me. Only when I made a commitment to be immersed in it all did I begin to really get it.

    Why do so many of use do tell instead of show?

    @ Liz, it's great that you've grown as a writer and that you try new things with each manuscript. I guess most of my manuscripts have been experiments with something different as well.

    @ J.L. Campbell, you are so right about the grammar books! I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. While it was funny and informative, her emphasis on British rules screwed me up for some of the things I used to know!

    @ RosieC, I used to write whole scenes I didn't need and sit in the MCs head nearly the whole time. And I didn't get voice any more than I got show not tell.

    Critique partners and long rejections finally helped me get it.

    Good luck to you too!

  31. I'd forgotten about that King reference! Thankfully, my dialogue seems to improve as I go. I hope...

  32. @ Deniz, I'm sure it does. If I can show instead of tell, you can do dialogue!