Thursday, December 9, 2010

Writing Tip (2): Being Your Own Critic

Being your own Critic

Critically reading your own work is an important, difficult and risky task. Important because self-consciousness is a necessary part of creating a work of art: if we want to improve we need to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Difficult, because critical distance from our own writing can never be truly achieved. And risky because self-consciousness is the enemy of spontaneity.

Try the following exercises:

  1. Take a piece of your own writing -- perhaps a full chapter if you have one written -- and strike out every adjective, adverb and modifier with a pencil. Now, taking a rubber, allow yourself only those words whose presence you can justify.
  2. Read a piece of your own writing over and over -- both aloud and silently. Listen to the music of your sentences, ignoring the meaning. Notice any repetitiveness or cacophony. Mark sentences which appear clumsy, and then rewrite them, listening with your inner ear.
  3. Take a passage from a novel by a writer whose style you admire. Analyze each sentence, looking for the author's use of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and qualifiers. What is the effect of their technical choices? Now write one of the scenes from exercise 1 in the style of this author. Compare the effect of the original version with the second version.
~ Writing a Novel, by Nigel Watts


Quinn said...

It seems like I haven't been here in a while. Love your Christmas header. Very festive.

Anyway, I agree with your tip. Critiquing ourselves is important. With the exercises, I like the second and third one. The first one, I don't know, but I'm a little tired of hearing that every adjective, adverb and modifier needs to go. I mean, seriously, we're not allowed to use adjectives?! Critique is an important step, but I think that over-revision is not.

Joanna St. James said...

The only problem I will mildly have with #1 is that when humans talk they use a ton of adverbs and adjectives - why can't we in books?
P.S I know u did not make up this rule, I'm trying to start a new trend, u can thank me in a hundred years :-)

Summer Ross said...

Great tips, but also people should keep in mind that's what it is a tip. Just because it is stated does not mean we as writers have to follow every rule. as with Quinn and Joanna, I disagree with number one, not all together though.

Rules to writing are not set in stone, just because they are suggested. Its because a writer needs a base line to start with. Just like in drawing, you have to start somewhere and for early writers it's good to have a starting point when doing corrections. Bad part is that people can take it too literal. It is ultimately up to the writer what stays and goes, but it does not mean they follow every rule that exists in their writing, only that they know how to manipulate the rule to suite their writing better.
Thanks for posting, this could be a great discussion!

Mary Mary said...

Thanks for the tips. I'll join what everyone else has said. Adjectives and adverbs lend beauty to the writing. Just take a look at some of the classics. Take away every ounce of beauty, and what have you got left?

Colene Murphy said...

Great tips! Thank you! (I'm going to assume "rubber" is an eraser? Cause...I can't see using what I know "rubber" to be in writing anywhere.
I will definitely have to write these down so I have them for later when I start on my own writing again! Thank you!

gideon 86 said...

Thanks Rachel,
I agree with the others!

I have an award for you at me blog....


Jodi Henry said...

Tips are tips, I agree. Self editing is good and bad in excess, I agree.


Adverbs are my frenemy. I love them and hate them. I love them cuz they're easy filler when I can't think of a stronger descriptor. I hate them cuz they really do weaken our writing.

They fatten our word count, and lets face it as new writers in the publishing world of today, we can't be lax on 'word economy.'

1-The acceptable length for first novels is much shorter than for susequent novels.
2-Showing restraint in writing, shows professionalism.
3-Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly and they will help, not hinder your writing.

This is why I don't use them in excess.

Good post.


The Golden Eagle said...

No.2 would probably the most help for me--but the other two are good tips as well! As for adverbs/adjectives/modifiers, they sound different when they're on the page as opposed to when someone's talking--another one of the little things that change when written down.

Thanks for the post. :)

Kittie Howard said...

I also love your Christmas header...very festive! When I need sentence solace, I turn to Alexander McCall Smith. His work inspires me to work harder.

Great post, Rachel!

Abby Minard said...

Great tips- I also try to draw inspiration from writers I feel my work is most similar. I love Graceling and love Kristin Cashore's dialogue. That's where I need the most work, and she doe a wonderful job with dialogue in a "traditional" type fantasy.

Ellie said...

Great tip! I haven't tried the third one but I think I'll give it a shot.

Hart Johnson said...

Good advice! You know what I think though, are the BIGGEST helps? TIME--set it aside for about 60 days (at least) and contrast--critique a couple works from OTHER PEOPLE. Flaws are easier to notice in other people's stuff, so when you come back to your own, you then notice that same kind.

that reading out loud thing though, is ALSO fabulous.

Madeleine said...

Great advice, Rachel. I'd love to see an example of how you've done that with a passage of your own writing. I like the idea of checking over someone else's passage. It does seem odd that at school you are encouraged to fill yur writing with adjectives and adverbs etc. and then when you write seriously you have to take them all out again. LOL! ;O)

erica and christy said...

Love your new design...sorry if it's been up for a while! And that I haven't been here for a bit. Funny, I just found a strike "key" for my main word document and went through my newest chapters striking all repetetive info and overly detailed actions/descriptions. I'm working on identifying my own overwriting....Great post! Next step to try #3. christy

Rachael Harrie said...

Great tips, I haven't heard those particular ones before. I love the suggestion to read aloud for musicality etc - if only I didn't have such bad asthma!!!

While I do love adverbs etc, I think Tip #1 is a good tip in that it teaches you to be aware of your adverb use - I don't think it's saying to delete every single one, only to use the ones you do use consciously and intentionally (tee hee, like my two "ly"s there at the end?) (*chortles*).