Seven Deadly Writing Sins
Welcome back, loyal listener! This week, Heather Luby joined us to talk about the seven deadly writing sins. Show notes are below. I do want to apologize for the rough quality at the beginning of the cast. It eventually gets better. Thanks for sticking with us. As always, please don’t forget to hit the “thumbs up” on the video and subscribe to us on your favorite podcast app. Until next week, good writing!
According to James N. Frey of “How to Write a Damn Good Novel Part II” there are SEVEN DEADLY MISTAKES that a writer commonly makes when writing a novel.
- Trying to be literary
- Ego Writing
- Failure to learn to re-dream the dream
- Failure to keep faith in yourself
- Wrong lifestyle
- Failure to produce
- So, let’s start with the first one: What does he mean by timidity? In his book Frey talks a great deal about his first experiences in workshop and the level of criticism he received. How members admitted later to throwing up in the bathroom when it was over, people storming out, etc. He said the writer’s ego takes a hard, hard hit in the face of criticism and writing (and the work it takes to be a writer) it isn’t for the faint of heart. Timid writers don’t search out the harsh criticism that can truly mold and develop the craft, they want “puff” groups and profuse praise. This will doom them.
- It takes GUTS to be a writer. To face criticism and learn from it.
- A writer can’t back away from strong, dramatic material just because it might offend someone. A timid writer won’t put their characters to the test.
- You have to take risks in your writing. If you want emotional impact you must produce tragic situations and a writer CAN’T PULL BACK.
- You can’t be timid in promoting your own work.
We can all be timid as writers – the key is realizing when we are guilty of it and taking corrective measures.
- Then there are those writers trying to be too literary – fledgling writers coming out of grad school workshops and the like who spend too much time trying to either emulate some literary giant or trying desperately to be cutting edge and avant garde that they skip learning how to be a great storyteller first.
- Too literary means trying to break all the rules before you have even learned them.
- Focusing on style at the expense of the story and the reader.
- Being an imitator of other writers, instead of creating fresh works on the principle of good
- Next, we look at Ego-Writing, or those writers who can’t be open to criticism. The writer really only writes for themselves and the reader is inconsequential to them. This doesn’t mean that writers should write solely to please what is popular to the reading audience at some time, but it means that as a writer you understand you have a responsibility to your readers and write accordingly. It is about pleasing the reader, not your ego.
- Failure to lean to re-dream the dream was the 4th mistake presented in Frey’s book. This is about willingness to craft a work, let it be criticized, and then do what is necessary to make it work. That often requires “re-dreaming” it – letting it change shape, letting new objectives form, etc.
- Instead of only seeing a work as having only its original framework, characters, story, etc. you have to sometimes replace your original ideas with the BETTER ideas that come along in the writing and revision process.
- Be willing to give characters new or different objectives
- Never write work as if you are transcribing a memory, something that has been fixed in time, but rather write work as if it has endless possibilities.
- Failure to keep faith in yourself has to be one that all writers recognize to a degree. This happens because life gets in the way, discouragement comes in the form of rejection or envy, and we get distracted by stuff and the want of stuff. We lose our way and our faith in our abilities.
Once faith is broken – many writers never go back to writing.
We begin to say things to ourselves like, “This summer I’ll have more time to write,” or “someday when I retire, then I will write.” The danger is that you begin to think yourself as someone who will SOMEDAY be a writer.
The other kind that fits this category is the writer that has found some success, but doesn’t feel that he/she has “made it.” They feel that if they haven’t “gotten rich” writing that haven’t really become a real writer – they get lost pursuing position/money/stuff AND forget that the pursuit isn’t monetary.
- This leads us to the all too common mistake of living the wrong lifestyle, which is #6 on this list. This is my (Heather Luby) biggest hurdle. The wrong lifestyle can come in many forms:
- Marrying someone who isn’t supportive of our work
- Being unwilling to give up/sacrifice certain aspects of life to write
- R. Bausch has a great quote: “Writing is not an indulgence. The indulgences are what you give up in order to write.”
- You must be willing to give writing REAL TIME – not just the margins. If you were a surgeon no one would question giving time to the profession, musicians practice 10+ hr. per day, writing is no different.”
- Making your job the center of your life, instead of writing. Your job pays the bills so you can write, but it can’t be what rules you.
- Being unwilling or unable to organize your life around your writing.
- That means less time for jobs, friends, family and cleaning toilets. Work with it!
- Forgetting that writing is also about “studying” and read and learn.
- The final is failure to produce. I feel like many of these really go together or could be all part of one big heading. But he gives a great example for this one. He says: “Here’s how a day’s writing might go: You plan to write at 10 a.m., you make yourself some coffee, you read the newspaper, then a friend calls and they really need to chat. You realize it is 10:45 when you finally hang up and go to get writing. But first, pour a 2nd cup of coffee and finish the article in the paper you were reading when the phone rang. Now it’s 11 a.m. and you sit down. Nothing seems right, you adjust the blinds, put on some music, stare at the screen. Go the bathroom and sit down the stare at the screen. You get up for a 3rd cup of coffee and do the dishes and let the cat out. Now it’s 11:45 a.m. and almost lunch. If you start now, you’ll just have to break for lunch. So you each lunch and watch a show on TV. Then you check the mail, let the cat in, handle an issue with a bill that came in, and next thing you know it is 4:00 and your day is wasted. At some point you have to decide what you want out of life – clean floors and a balanced checkbook or a novel.
The lawn can wait, the car won’t get washed, the groceries won’t get bought, you won’t play golf or watch TV or anything UNTIL the writing for the day has been finished. The Writing comes FIRST. This kind of failure is called time slipping away.”
The second kind of failure is called writer’s block – writer’s block is something writer’s claim as a means to get them sympathy as if it is an affliction, while simultaneously passing themselves off as someone who could be a genius if not for the dreaded “disease” of being blocked. Blocked writers aren’t afraid of success or failure – they are most afraid that the writing will not stand up to the writer’s own standard.
Never be caught in the trap of non-production. Move between projects, write and write and write and quiet the inner editor while you are producing work. (Al: Isaac Asimov’s three typewriters.)