Toby Litt on bad writing:
Bad writing is mainly boring writing. It can be boring because it is too confused or too logical, or boring because it is hysterical or lethargic, or boring because nothing really happens. If I give you a 400 page manuscript of an unpublished novel – something that I consider to be badly written – you may read it to the end, but you will suffer as you do.
Often, the bad writer will feel that they have a particular story they want to tell. It may be a story passed on to them by their grandmother or it may be something that happened to them when they were younger. Until they’ve told this particular story, they feel they can’t move on. But because the material is so close to them they can’t mess around with it enough to learn how writing works. And, ultimately, they lack the will to betray the material sufficiently to make it true.
It’s worth reading that last — well written — sentence again …
- I still think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games, with our imaginary friends.
- I don’t have many friends. It’s not because I’m a misanthrope. It’s because I’m reserved. I’m self-contained. I get all my adventures in my head when I’m writing my books.
- I used to think that whenever I heard that someone had taken ten years to write a novel, I’d think it must be a big, serious book. Now I think, ‘No — it took you one year to write, and nine years to sit around eating Kit Kats.’
- I am, of course, a frustrated rock star – I’d much rather be a rock star than a writer. Or own a record shop. Still, it’s not a bad life, is it? You just sit at a computer and make stuff up.
- My first novel was turned down by half a dozen publishers. And even after having published five or six books, I wasn’t making enough money to live on, and was beginning to think I’d have to give up the dream of being a full-time writer.
Ian Rankin, author of 20 Inspector Rebus novels and around 20 others.
Photo by Tim Duncan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3588034
WritersDiet is a readability tool with a difference. Enter a text sample — from 100 to 1,000 words — and it will tell you whether your writing is flabby or fit. It bases this assessment on the number of verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs and “is”, “this”, “that” and “there” words used, then graphs your result, rating it from Lean, Fit & Trim, through to Heart Attack.
Let’s try it out. Here’s the opening six paragraphs of one of my favourite books, Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, courtesy of the awesome Project Gutenberg:
From Neil Cross’s excellent essay on the subject:
First drafts, man. They’re just shit.
You’ve got to trust your own judgement – and during the first draft, all that judgement can really say is: okay, keep going. Right now, it’s not great. But it’ll turn out okay.
Which means the first job of the morning, almost every morning, is to drag your carcass to your desk and overcome a paralysing crisis of nerve.
Obviously that doesn’t include the days you take off because you’re having a paralysing crisis of nerve. But the trouble with those days is, they’ve got a tendency to fuse and merge into each other until months or years have passed and you wake up one morning wondering whatever happened to that novel you intended to write.
A book doesn’t pour out in an uncorrected gush of inspiration; it’s got to be sweated over, built up brick by brick – and sometimes what you’ve built up has to be knocked down with a sledgehammer.
The first draft is crap. You revise it and make the second draft a bit better. You make the third draft a bit better still. You keep going until you’ve done the best you can do. You hope to make it better next time.
Read the full piece here:
On the Nature of First Drafts