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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good Habits, Bad Habits, In-Between Habits

To kick things off for the OFFICIAL BLOG (yay), I might as well engage in some self-awareness and self-critique. I firmly believe that being able to laugh at oneself is a great trait to have, and I do like to laugh. Besides, if we weren't laughing, we'd be crying, right? Right.

As every writer develops his or her distinctive voice, certain patterns are bound to come out. If we're lucky, those patterns will add a memorable quality to our writing and bolster the value of our work. Sometimes, that's easier said than done. (And by "sometimes", I mean "approximately 95-99% of the time".)

Let's get the bad habits out of the way first. I always say that having the opportunity to work with a professional editor was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Not only did I learn a lot, I was forced to clean up a lot of naughty things that had crept into my prose. (Not the good kind of "naughty".) I knew that some things I'd been doing were bad, and to be honest, I was just being really freakin' lazy. For example, my work was riddled with comma splices, and I couldn't care less.

Guess what? That shit doesn't fly in the real world. (Yes, I know, we could argue for days about what the "rules" are, and why some are good, and why some suck, and when/how/why to break them. Let's leave that alone for now.) Seeing the red pen around every single one of them was enough to get me to shake that habit. I also learned more about commas in the editing process than I ever cared to know (I thought I did pretty well in the punctuation department; I was WRONG), and all sorts of other educational information. The next time I sat down to write, my mind was filled with all sorts of newly-acquired data about the millions of mistakes I could possibly make, and it was definitely slow-going at first. It did get easier, though, and while I am always striving to get better, I like to think my "voice" is stronger because of it.

Now onto more fun occurrences. Over on the Absolute Write forums the other day, someone asked a question about repeated traits, habits, etc. (I'm too lazy to look up the exact wording.) I'd actually been thinking about this for a while - it had been pointed out to me a while ago that a lot of my female characters, at one point or another, bite their lower lips. At first, I freaked out and tried to eliminate it from all future writing, but then I decided that it wasn't the end of the world (obviously). As long as I vary the characters and situations enough, I don't think it's a mortal sin, and I'd rather be getting all worked up over comma splices.

I also noticed that a fair number of my characters wind up in a tree in some way or another. Whatever. Trees are nice. I'll let it go. Others like to eat sandwiches. Why not? A sandwich makes an excellent, convenient meal!

There's always worry about falling into the dreaded trap of the cliche or overused trope. I have mixed feelings about how much time should be devoted to said worrying. Of course we all want to be original and have the world marvel at our astounding creativity, but if you think about it, how many different basic plot lines are there, really? If the writing is good enough, any plot can shine, even if it's a plot that's been done a million and one times before. (If it's a well-known plot, and the writing isn't that great? Sorry, I may not finish reading.)

So what should our focus be when it comes to the little things that keep creeping up in our writing? Beats the hell out of me. (I sometimes like to navel-gaze, I don't claim to have all the answers!) I'm glad that people won't pick up my books and think, "Geez, another comma splice? What the hell is wrong with her?" If I wind up being known as "that woman who writes about sandwich-loving tree dwellers"...well, I think I can live with that.

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