I am friend to the undertow

Recently I got a copy of the second edition of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which is written by Renni Browne and Dave King.

It’s a terrific book that examines core issues such as characterisation, dialogue, point of view, voice, etc. from people who have spent their career editing novels. It’s stuffed full of great advice about how to spot fundamental errors in your writing, and better still, it offers solutions and advice. It’s given me a lot to think about, perhaps too much.

When I’m saturated with ideas on how to develop my writing I find it counter-productive for a period. It’s like sitting in a huge empty white room in front of an old-fashioned typewriter, and hearing hundreds of voices shouting at you about how to write every single sentence that forms in your mind. At some point you learn to pick out the ones that give you the best advice for the correct scene, mood, or pace. Other times it’s overwhelming. Eventually you assimilate the advice, and that happens–so it seems to me–only through practise.

It reminds me that if I want to write better I need to continue to analyse my work, and discover new methods to strengthen my writing. Sometimes it might require a course, a workshop, an online support group, a local writers critique group, or a book. It means taking risks, trying out new techniques, making mistakes, and learning from them. It’s hard work.

When I decided, seriously, that I wanted to write (after a long time playing at it), I was ignorant of the work and commitment involved. At this point I realise that was a lucky defense mechanism, because it allowed me to move out of the shallows and start swimming a little.

But now the undertow pulls at me, and I see the depths, the sharks, and the choppy waves I have yet to navigate.

There might be someone beside me in a boat, shouting advice through a megaphone, but only constant training and my sheer pig-headedness will get me to the next buoy.

Where I can rest for a bit, before I swim again.

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