Is “Good Writing” Worth the Effort?

Have you ever been surprised to see many 5-star ratings and enthusiastically positive reviews for a book that’s poorly written? Meaning typos, clunky sentences, and weak or repeated words? I’ve seen this often enough to conclude that it’s not explained by authors’ friends doing them favours.

Then I read a post via a link from the blog of the estimable blogger who calls himself Chris the Story Reading Ape. He searches the blogosphere for posts of interest to writers. The one that caught my interest is titled What is “Bad Writing?” (And How Can We Avoid It?)

For a direct link to the post, click HERE.

Janice Hardy’s post prompted the following unvarnished thoughts which I decided to share here. Remember that word as you read: unvarnished. (And maybe a bit snarky.)

The post questions the idea that fiction writers absolutely must produce polished prose if they want their novels to be read and appreciated.

For readers seeking undemanding entertainment, “good writing” (whatever that is) takes a back seat to the combination of good enough writing and a great story that piques curiosity. Quite simply, readers keep reading if a compelling question is posed at the beginning of a story or novel. They really don’t care if there are a few typos, along with “filter” words, words ending in “-ly,” or too many instances of “was.” They may not even care if there’s telling instead of showing, as long as the story being told moves along briskly toward an answer to the burning question. Who is the stalker? What’s in the box? What will X do when Y’s secret is revealed?

Some readers do care about the prose, though. Editors, for example, or readers who are also writers. These people read a lot and pay close attention to what they are reading. They notice sloppy sentences, bad habits, and careless use of language.

Some writers may wish to be strategic with their writing efforts, tailoring them for their intended readers and not bothering with effects those readers don’t appreciate. For self-published authors, that means potential book buyers; for writers seeking traditional publication, it’s agents and editors.

A successful self-published author of genre fiction knows that the most important element to attract readers is the urgent question, irresistible puzzle, or imminent threat. Plot is king. Next in importance is an amiable main character or engaging narrative voice. Less important are detailed descriptions, and possibly unimportant is artful prose, otherwise known as “beautiful writing.”

This author would direct their primary effort to devising irresistible situations and setting them up in the first few pages. After that, it’s a matter of structuring the plot in such a way that the reader is always thinking “What next?” And an ending that elicits a gasp or a sigh pretty much guarantees a five star rating.

The writer who intends to engage in querying traditional publishers must think in terms of creating a saleable written product. That means being aware of both current and recent trends. What might be about to peak, or what’s ready to make a comeback? Or what story elements push the envelope just enough that the gatekeepers will see it as potentially the next big thing?

In theory, the author aspiring to be trad-pubbed doesn’t need to worry much about honing and burnishing their prose, because if a publisher takes on their work, it will be put through the editing mill. What the writer absolutely does need to demonstrate is a willingness to be edited. That’s why a track record of publication in magazines, anthologies, and similar vehicles is advised.

At the same time, the writer’s submission must not irritate the people who read submissions for a living. Consider how many typos these folks see every day, not to mention eye rolls, shrugs, and raven-haired heroines. Clichés, excessive modifiers, typos, and tired tropes are not the best accessories in which to dress one’s original and edgy creation for its trip to the publishers’ gates. Spare and underdone might have a better chance than florid and breathless.

Except in the case of literary fiction, where some form of beautiful writing is definitely required. What that is depends on the tastes of the reader, which is why getting published is a crap shoot. Luck is definitely an element. To help tip the scales, the ambitious writer may find it worthwhile to direct their efforts as much to making personal connections with published authors as to polishing their prose. This is where pursuing an MFA in creative writing may pay off, or at least superior schmoozing skills deployed in carefully chosen workshops, courses, or retreats.

Setting aside all those tedious considerations, what about the personal standards of the indie author? Should we not aspire to produce gripping plots, relatable characters, intriguing settings, and artful prose? Aren’t these all necessary elements of good writing?

Yes, they are. And most authors at least intend to incorporate them all in their works. Exceptions may include successful authors who crank out several books a year to satisfy the many readers for whom they are an auto-buy. Their brand sells enough books that they don’t need to twiddle with every sentence.

To sum up, good writing isn’t always worth the effort, but often enough, it is. The wise writer will recognize those situations and act accordingly.

Fellow writers and authors, do you ever decide that “good enough” is good enough, or do you always strive for perfection in your published works?

Blog Repair

by Audrey Driscoll

Ever since we set up the Writers Supporting Writers Blog, there have been a few problems with it. Despite the settings, there was no Reblog button. No one but blog authors could Like posts. Follows didn’t work.

I’ve been fiddling around with the settings, and have finally managed to add the Reblog button. I’ve also seen a few additional Likes on the previous post, so I hope that’s working as well.

As for Follows, does anyone see a Follow button in the lower right corner? Most blogs seem to have these. Has anyone tried to follow this blog without success?

Please test the Like, Follow, or Reblog functions, and let us know what happens via a comment. No, this isn’t a sneaky scheme to attract follows!

My Writing Dream

Audrey Driscoll

First, my thanks to Mark for starting this topic. All writers start with a vision or intention that could be called a dream. Those of us who actually complete a book and get it published one way or another get to live that dream. And naturally it changes as we pursue the journey.

In one or more of our WSW video chats, I admitted that until I was in my forties, I assumed being a writer was something you started when you were young or not at all. But then I had an idea for a novel that I could not let go of. “Why not?” I thought. In November 2000, I started writing, and spent the next decade in the grip of a happy obsession.

Did I get published? Yes, but not the way I originally thought I would. During the dizzy first year of writing, I thought of course my book was supremely publish-worthy. Agents would be falling over themselves to snap it up. I even wondered if my holiday time from work would be enough for a book tour. (Remembering this, I blush and giggle.)

The pinnacle of Dream 1.0 was where I would be interviewed on one or another radio (yes, radio!) program on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). That’s still my outlet of choice for information and music. I’ve heard many author interviews. The well-read, well-spoken host asks the author what inspired their book, and the two go on to have a civilized and witty chat. To me, that would have been the ultimate in validation.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. In 2010, I published my first novel myself, as an ebook via Smashwords. Over the next decade, I went on to publish six more books, on Amazon as well as Smashwords, and in print as well as ebook.

By now, I’m onto Dream 3.7, at least. I no longer intend to submit or query. I’m content with the way I publish. I’m lucky that I don’t need to depend on any income at all from my writing. I call all the shots.

But what is my long-term dream?

Like Mark, I hope my books will be read and even reread. Like Berthold, I hope my characters and their experiences will linger in the minds and imaginations of readers. That readers will close my books with a sigh of contentment and a wave of biblio-bereavement. My first novel was inspired by another writer’s story. I would be delighted if a future writer found enough substance in one of my works to be similarly inspired.

Ask Us Anything!

Well, almost anything.

The folks behind the Writers Supporting Writers blog (Berthold, Chuck, Lucinda, Mark, Richard, and Audrey) want your questions. About writing, publishing, inspiration, being indie, querying, rejections, sales, marketing, writing rules, etc. etc. The whole gamut of topics related to the world of writing.

We are eager to offer our personal views on any writing-related subject you may be wondering about. Why did we start writing? What did we do to get our works published? How do we promote our writing? I’m sure you can think of many other questions.

We will answer your questions over the next few months, in the form of blog posts and/or video chats.

Ask away! Comments are open!

Featured image from Pexels

Another Response to Berthold

–Audrey Driscoll

Having read Berthold’s post and Mark’s response, I thought I’d better offer my view. I’ve been writing a first draft for the past six months, so I’m in a great position to ponder the question. Why is writing so hard?

First, do I think it’s hard? Answer: yes. It’s certainly not like when I wrote my first novel in 2000-2001. As Mark said of his early writing experience, back then I couldn’t not write. Part of me was always in the world of my novel, throwing out ideas, Even at work I’d stop and scribble them down, or sketch entire scenes. I could hardly wait to get back to the manuscript. I wrote for at least 2 or 3 hours every night, after a full day at work.

Now? I’ve been retired for five years, and all the stuff I jammed into weekends and days off has expanded to fill most of my free time. (Weird how that happens.) And writing? Well, that’s different too.

I’ve written six books since that first one, and each one has been harder than the last. I work on my present WIP for an hour a day if I’m lucky, often way less than that. I have to get in my page a day first thing in the morning, and if I don’t manage that, I fall behind my self-declared schedule. Still, I am more or less where I hoped to be by this time, but the first draft is a mass of scribble that may deliver some unpleasant surprises when I return to the beginning and turn it into an editable document.

As to why it’s so hard to produce that first draft, well, here’s my list:

  • It’s unreasonable to expect every writing project to be as exciting, fun, and easy as the first one. The next novel or story will be freighted with expectations and experiences created by the first, so it can’t possibly be the same, Goodbye, innocence.
  • The writer probably “incubated” a first novel or story for a long time before sitting down to write it. That’s why it poured out with little effort. Sequels or later stories don’t get the long development period in the writer’s brain; hence the hard labour of creation in front of the blank page, Having become an actual writer rather than an aspiring one, the person has to write every day, to create a body of work or crank out a series. Because that’s what real writers do.
  • I wrote my first few books with minimal exposure to the internet. I had access to it at work but not at home. I became connected at home in 2010 so I could publish. Along with that came blogging, which exposed me to a deluge of advice to writers. A good deal of it is useful, but it certainly empowers the inner critic. I’ll be scribbling away, laying down the story, when that little voice whispers things like “Uh-oh–filter words!” or “That’s a cliche,” or “Don’t you know ‘was’ is bad?” The critic’s finger wags and the writer’s pen stops moving.
  • Nascent stories are fragile. An idea, a fleeting glimpse of a character, a ghost of a plot. Sometimes it feels like turning these figments into prose is like sculpting an ice cube–it melts and disappears, despite the writer’s efforts. Fear of this happening may be enough to keep one from writing.
  • There is also fear of brevity. For all the praise of spare, tight writing, it’s disconcerting if something intended to be a substantial novel (80-100K words) ends up as a 40K novelette with a flimsy little plot. A desperate effort to remedy this may be pages of padding. Padding is no fun to write. It takes the form of unnecessary scenes, unnecessary detail, or unnecessary dialogue. Watching cat videos is more fun than writing that stuff.
  • Fear of making wrong choices. There’s the opening scene and an intended ending. Or maybe just the opening scene. (Pantsers, I’m looking at you!) In between is an infinity of choices, an infinity of decisions to be made. Each decision eliminates a world of possibilities and may lead to places the writer doesn’t want to go. Just thinking about this has a paralyzing effect.

I think the love/hate thing is part of being a writer. When the hate (or weariness) overcomes the need to turn idea sparks into stories, we just stop writing. But as long as we have the desire to embody ideas and imaginings in words, we’ll force ourselves to sit down in that chair and beat out the story. Grumbling and grousing, but pushing on. And appreciating the moments of true inspiration.

Writers Talking: a Lost Podcast

Back in 2019, writer Kevin Brennan and two other writers sat down together to talk about writing novels and getting them published. He recorded the conversation, intending to turn it into a podcast. Unfortunately, a power outage destroyed the recording.

Brennan says: “It sounded so good too. You’d have loved it. I had some classic jazz to open the show with. I even put a little reverb on the recording so it sounded like we were in a small concert venue or a high-ceilinged coffeehouse. I could have thrown in ambient coffeehouse sounds to enhance the mood, but the thing was gone before I got the chance.”

But he had made a transcript, so the text of the conversation was preserved. Brennan published it under the title Close to Perfect: three writers talk about the craft and business of fiction in the 21st century.

And now, the book is available as a free download on Kevin’s blog. I recommend this book to any fiction writer, or to readers who wonder how it’s done.

Pep Talk #3: Have Faith in Your Writing

Remember the first time you read something you had written and thought, “This is a great piece of writing! And I wrote it!” I hope you savoured that moment and still think of it fondly. Because it didn’t last, did it?

Part of becoming a writer is experiencing doubt in your abilities. There are multiple opportunities for this. The critique partner who shreds your offering for that meeting. The agent or publisher who responds with “Sorry, not for us.” The readers of your published book who post one-star condemnations or two-star lukewarm dismissals. And perhaps worst of all, your own reactions the day after what you thought was a productive writing session–“Did I write this crap?”

If you want to get your writing into the public arena, to be read by people who don’t know you except as the writer of your words, you must have faith in it. Not blind faith, but faith that comes from knowing you’ve done the work to the best of your abilities.

That faith will be tested. You work through your list of agents and publishers, and send out queries that precisely match each one’s requirements, and receive only rejections, or no response at all, So you work over those first ten pages again, trying to figure out how to fix them.

You submit the improved query to a different set of agents/publishers, with the same result. Then you wonder if you might have had better luck with the first set of queries if you had sent the improved version. But you’ll never know, because you can’t submit a work more than once to the same agent/publisher. Each attempt is a fresh crapshoot.

At this point, you conclude you’re a lousy writer who has no business troubling busy agents and overworked acquisitions editors. After all, their inboxes are overflowing with the offerings of better writers than you. Because all writers are better than you.

This is where you need faith in your writing.

After wallowing in self-pity for days or weeks, you read over your manuscript again, and despite everything, you conclude it’s not worthless. Maybe a critique partner or beta reader agrees. So you decide to publish it yourself.

This process can raise another set of doubts. Is that (much-rejected) work really worthy of publication? Now you read it with the eye of an editor, remembering stuff from books on How to Write and blog posts on How Not to Write. Does your plot follow the three-act structure? Are your characters realistic? Is there enough tension and conflict? Is the narrative voice engaging? Have you used the correct point of view? How about those dialogue tags? Are the stakes high enough to keep readers interested? What about all those filter words and that mushy middle? There are a thousand things that can be wrong with your novel, and probably are.

It’s time for another meeting with yourself and your manuscript. Remind yourself of these facts:

  • Many of those “rules” are just guidelines
  • There is no way everyone will like your book
  • There is no way no one will like your book
  • Your book will never be perfect

Nothing worthwhile can be done without some element of risk. If you have done your due diligence as a writer, you arrive at a point where you take the next step or quit, whether it’s sending our more queries, entering that contest, or publishing. Or writing the next book.

Becoming a Writer

By Audrey Driscoll

It can feel like stepping off a cliff and realizing you can fly. Or crashing to earth with a thud.

Based on my experience, these are the steps.

  • You get the urge to write. You start writing and keep writing, and eventually you have a complete, book-length manuscript.
    Tip: Don’t go telling everyone about your writing at this point. In On Writing, Stephen King advises to write the first draft with the door closed. And, I might add, the mouth. You don’t want the magic to leak out.
  • Find other writers (critique partners or beta readers) who are willing to read your work and give you an honest opinion and helpful suggestions. Be prepared to do the same for them, and to invest some time in this process.
  • Observe how you react to feedback on your writing. Be honest with yourself about how you take criticism and unfavourable reactions. These insights will be useful as you proceed with writing and publishing.
  • Rewrite and edit. Several times.
  • Decide if you want to share your writing with the world. Ask yourself why, and figure out what success will look like for you.
  • If you intend to go the traditional publishing route, start early and be prepared to persist. There is a ton of advice out there about querying, writing a synopsis, researching agents and publishers, and dealing with rejection. Be prepared to work at this and take the necessary time. And prepare to deal with rejection.
  • If you plan, or eventually decide, to self-publish, figure out what parts of the process (editing, formatting, and cover design) you are capable of doing yourself. Your critique partners and other writers may give you valuable feedback. Use Canva or a similar tool to test your design skills by creating images that represent your novel or story. At the least, you might produce something to show your ideas to the cover designer you hire to do the job for you.
  • Decide how much money you can afford to invest in your publishing project. Do not use borrowed money with the expectation of paying it back from the proceeds of book sales. If your budget is small, apply it to things you are least capable of doing yourself. Consider skill swapping with people you know. Be prepared to take time finding the most affordable options.
    Tip: Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two!
  • The internet is your friend, as well as your greatest distraction. From writing and publishing advice, to encouragement when things get tough, to doing research, to the act of publishing, to promotion, it can all be found or done online. So if you don’t already have them, get yourself a reliable computer and a solid internet connection.

Writing seriously, and especially bringing your writing to the world, is a complex and demanding process. It is also tremendously satisfying and rewarding (although most likely not in the financial sense).

Reading this post may be one of your first steps!

Image from Pixabay

Seven Blogs for Writers

By Audrey Driscoll

Here are seven WordPress blogs that can serve as avenues to enter the worldwide online community of writers. Read, comment, and connect with others who do the same.

Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog
Curated resources, writer profiles, writer talent showcase, and more. Chris supplies links to blogs beyond WordPress, opening up a world of resources in one place.

Story Empire: Exploring the World of Fiction
The home of seven bestselling authors who share a passion for all things related to writing, publishing, and promoting fiction.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine
Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general.
Sally Cronin and colleagues deliver a bounty of entertaining and informative posts, including book reviews and promotions.

Life in the Realm of Fantasy
The writerly musings of Connie J. Jasperson, author, blogger and medieval renaissance woman.
Thoroughly researched posts on the nitty-gritty of writing and publishing.

K.M. Allan
Writing Advice From A YA Author Powered By Chocolate And Green Tea
Practical writing tips based on experience.

WHAT THE HELL: Kevin Brennan Writes About What It’s Like
Author Kevin Brennan shares his thoughts on writing and publishing, including his series “Gatecrash: liberating creativity in the age of boilerplate fiction.”

The Disappointed Housewife
A literary journal for writers, and readers seeking the idiosyncratic, the iconoclastic, the offbeat, the hard-to-categorize. Writers whose short fiction, essays, and poetry fit these requirements may seek publication here.

Featured image from Pixabay