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July 21, 2010 / Chersti Nieveen

don’t force your writing

As a following-up on my earlier post on revising your beginning, let’s talk about forcing a book.


Forced: when a book no longer feels organic to the author’s voice or original intent.

Forcing a book happens when either:

(1.) You make any and all changes suggested by any person who comments

or

(2.) You are unsure of what story you are trying to tell

I have seen this happen a few times over the years with aspiring authors. The result is that the manuscript becomes stilted and hard to read, and the author’s own beautiful voice is stifled. This usually comes with the side-effect of said author becoming depressed or discouraged over their writing (and who could blame you?).

So what do you do?

If you have the First issue: grow a spine!

  • Weigh each critique based on the merit of the critiquer (based on experience, market knowledge, understanding of your book, etc.)
  • Look at how many people make that specific comment. If only one person comments they didn’t understand the first line of your book, but you’ve had 50 people read it, that might not be a concern. (Then again, if they are an expert swordsman and say that your sword fight on page 40 doesn’t work, you might want to take their advice.)
  • Use your best judgment, because you know your story better than anyone. I’m not giving you clearance to be stubborn about something, because listening to your readers will help your book become better and help you grow as a writer. Also, remember that sometimes, people will want you to make changes in chapter 7, when really, you have to change chapter 5 so they understand what is happening in chapter 7.

If you suffer from the Second issue: take a breather.

  • Have you gotten so confused or forgotten what your story is about? Then you may need a timeout. Sometimes this means not letting anyone look at your writing for a little bit while you regroup. Look over your original outline. If you are writing a YA version of The Sound of Music with magic, then it  shouldn’t turn out as a contemporary middle-grade thriller because people are nudging you that way.
  • Sometimes it helps to do more research into sections of your book or brainstorm with someone else. Just remember, you are the ultimate decision maker. Hone your writing skills and seek writing knowledge, and then trust your gut. (but please make sure you note the writer’s instinct must be developed)
  • I’ve watched writers lose their writing voice until their story loses its original shine. And when I say writing voice, I mean the tone went from graceful and lyrical, to stagnant and stale.  Each sentence becomes stilted and rough, and their overall polish was suddenly missing. That is the moment you stop rehashing the chapter or scene and move on. Go back in a few weeks and you’ll be surprised at how natural the writing has become now that all those critics in your mind have calmed down. Learn to develop your writing voice and then USE it!
  • Most important: Make sure YOU are the one who makes the final decision. After all, it’s your name that will go on the book.

When you’re done with your story, it should feel like a puzzle that is finally coming together. And once all the pieces are in place, your story reveals this imaginative landscape for the reader to relax in.

Make that your goal. And whatever you do, don’t let your writing get too forced.

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8 Comments

  1. Jenilyn Tolley / Jul 21 2010 8:42 am

    Good post. I especially like you pointing out that sometimes the issues people have are a result of earlier problems and to make sure we’re actually fixing the right problem instead of fixing a symptom of the problem.

  2. S. Elle Page / Jul 21 2010 8:52 am

    Thanks for the excellent advice, especially the “time out.”

  3. Karen Krueger / Jul 21 2010 10:07 am

    Wonderful post. Thanks, Chersti! 🙂

  4. Kelly Bryson / Jul 21 2010 11:57 am

    Great article. To thine own self be true! Thanks for the reminder. I’m swamped by comments and crits rigth now- in a good way- but it can be a little disorienting.

  5. Nikki Mantyla / Jul 21 2010 12:15 pm

    Nice post! I agree with Jeni about how you have to be smart when you interpret your critiques and know what to change, like you said about the problem with Chapter 7 really being in Chapter 5. So true!

  6. gabi / Aug 7 2010 7:00 am

    I enjoyed this post!

    I was thinking about the two categories you mentioned and I think there might be one more… When the writer is trying to write one book but the book wants to be another. Sometimes the writer might be totally sure of the story, but it’s not the right story for that book. I guess it’s sort of like the second scenario, but a little different. 🙂

    Liked the advice you gave, especially about taking a break. Sometimes stepping away is the best cure for confusion.

    • Chersti Nieveen / Aug 7 2010 7:03 am

      Ooooh, that is good — and oh so true! I think that happened on one of my earlier WIPs. I wanted it to be something it wasn’t, which is why it is still on the shelf. Maybe someday I’ll understand what it truly is better, and I’ll go back to it. Or not. But great insight!

  7. Jessica Simms / Dec 3 2010 8:15 am

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