Writers – do we worry too much about the writing?

I’ve been writing now for about nine years.  I must enjoy it because, if I considered it work making the minimum wage is still an aspiration.  But it’s not about the money is it?  Not that I’m saying making a bit wouldn’t be nice and there’s always hope.  When I began writing I paid for some editorial advice.  For the first book it was great, pointing out some of the traps I guess many new writers fall into.  It also educated me in the basics around construction, writing dialogue and more.  For the second book it was less helpful, however what it did teach was to value my own opinion.

Over the years I’ve taken a couple of on-line courses, read books and blogs on writing, all the time trying to improve my craft and make myself a better writer.  However, what does that mean?  Recently, I’ve been revising several new books, going back over my work numerous times.  It has even had me looking back at my published books with an effort to improve the writing.

It was pointed out to me that sometimes my writing becomes passive i.e.  ‘Who’s that?’ Inspector Kirby asked as he looked across the road.  Why not, ‘Who’s that inspector Kirby said, looking across the road.  Also, that you can more often than not remove the word “that”.  If you read the last sentence again you’ll see what I mean.  This epic revision session has had me looking again for one of my all time pet hates, those pesky adverbs that creep in and are often not needed.  There’s that sense that I’m sure all writers must have when reading their own work some time later i.e. “I’m sure could have said it better”  or “Is that a bit clunky?”.

I’m not saying being your own worse critic isn’t a bad thing.  And I’ve read books where the author appears not to care about the writing, where they’ve accepted whatever popped into their head at the first iteration.  However, I have stopped and asked myself “am I overdoing it?”.  Am I getting so wrapped up in the technicalities that I’m losing sight of the main objective, to write a good story.  How much does the reader care about those things?

As a reader if the book is good I end up half skimming anyway.  I don’t read every word, it’s the story I’m interested in.  I’ve just finished the third book in a series.  The ending was intense and it had me gripped until the last page.  Then I looked back over some it and yes there were adverbs, and those needless “that”, and those more passive verbs.  Did it spoil my enjoyment, no.  Did they stick out to me, no.  And I’m a writer that has been looking for them in my own work.

I’m not saying we should settle for sloppy writing.  I have stopped reading a book where I felt the writing was bad (the stories usually weren’t great either).  To me when it gets to that point I feel if the author doesn’t care about the writing, why should I?

Anyway, going back to the title of this blog “am I worrying too much about the writing?”  The answer, yes.  Or at least I conclude I’m overdoing it.  I’m not saying it’s not good to be aware of all these little bits of advice.  And yes improving the writing will have a positive impact on the story and peoples perception it.  However, it’s the story readers will remember.  If it’s a good one they’ll come back for more.  Maybe it’s about balance.  Striving to improve my writing is good, while remembering it’s the story that matters.

My advice, be your own worst critic, just don’t overdo it.

As always comments are welcome

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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3 thoughts on “Writers – do we worry too much about the writing?”

  1. Good post, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head (I’m striving to remove cliches from my writing, but it’s hard) – the story is the most important thing, though there’s no question better writing makes for a more streamlined read. I noticed the often passive sentence construction in Harold Longcoat, but I enjoyed the story too much to let it bother me. Undoubtedly more active construction would have drawn me in more tightly, but hey, it was still a good read.
    As authors we can, and should, continue improving our craft, but at the end of the day (cliche, ouch!) a great story is most important.

    1. Thank for the comment. When I re-read Harold Longcoat I agreed with you and have since gone back and updated it. I’m also much more aware of it now which is great, thanks. I guess I found myself getting hung up on changing it all the time which became a distraction.

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