Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Insecure Writer and Remembering Everything I've Ever Learned About Writing



Today is March's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Today, I'm co-hosting the IWSG, along with Suzanne Sapseed and Shannon Lawrence. Be sure to drop by their blogs, too!



Why am I an Insecure Writer this month? 

Because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fit everything I’ve either learned, or have yet to learn, about writing inside my head without my brain exploding.

Seems as though every week I either learn a new writing technique or, more often, read about a technique I’ve seen before but have since forgotten. Usually, I’m so excited by this new trick, I’ll immediately apply it to whatever scene I happen to be working on. This is a good thing, of course, but I’ve noticed that by the time I get to the next scene, I’ll have come across another good writing technique and will concentrate on that one instead, allowing the previous technique to wither away, forgotten until I read about it again in six months. So I end up having one scene where I focused on changes in emotional levels, another scene where I nailed the descriptions, and a third where I’ve used setting to set the mood. It’s as if I can only handle one technique at a time.

I know many authors use multiple passes to hone their chapters, but I’d have to do fifty passes to apply all the bits and pieces I’ve learned so far. What I need is a scene worksheet. A checklist that forces me to incorporate everything I’ve ever learned into every scene, and not just the technique du jour.

 Do any of you use scene checklists?


70 comments:

  1. I use a checklist for beginnings and the whole manuscript when I revise.

    But that's a good checklist. I would need that, too.

    By the way, new follower here. :-) Great to meet you. And I love Hogwarts, too. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Me too. My shelf is at the halfway point of overflowing with books about writing tricks and techniques. And I try to apply them (the one's I like and work for me) as I write and during revisions. I keep the rest in mind as they had great information as well and they just might become the light in a writing fog.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My head feels that way sometimes too. I don't use checklists, but I do have some amazing critique partners both who work(ed) as editors. They keep me in line!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I made up and editing checklist of sorts that mentions things to look for. I refer to it sometimes when I'm doing my final passes. After a while, though, you'll get to where you incorporate good writing habits into your prose without thinking about it. Just keep writing and learning and editing and reading good fiction. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. Christine made a good point, too. CPs can help. Incorporating their feedback will mold your writing, too. If you're like me, You'll start hearing their comments in your head when you write and you'll catch yourself in the midst of a bad habit. LOL

      Thanks for co-hosting. :)
      IWSG #142 until Alex culls the list again.

      Delete
  5. I never get technical enough to use a scene checklist, but a few checklists about many things I do might not be a bad idea for me. Forgetting is easy, especially as the brain fills up.

    Thanks for co-hosting and I am now following your blog!

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    ReplyDelete
  6. A checklist! That's a good idea. Write down all the writing tricks. Maybe you can do several each pass.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love learning new things, but like you, that just gives me more to forget, too! I try to do my best, though.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I like your idea of creating a checklist. The more organized I am, the better writer I become but getting organized…well that's another problem in and of itself.

    thank you for co-hosting!

    Elsie

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't even know what a scene checklist is, although I'm sure I can figure it out. I'm a rough outlining (mental outlining) panster and do the same as you: I like a technique, I apply it, I find another one and do the same. But that's what first, second, third drafts are for. Working through everything so the further in you get, the more ironed out and even everything will be. In fact, I change names and character traits throughout my novels because the whole thing is a learning process about what I'm writing. But on my next rewrite, it smooths out. Love your website by the way. HPFL (Hufflepuff for Life)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello to a fellow (frozen) Michigander. Thanks for co-hosting today. I love Hogwarts so best wishes on your version. I hope you're not stopping after each scene to run through your checklist. That will surely slow down your writing. Now if you're in the editing/revision stage it's great to check. Perhaps you could combine similar things to check. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've never used a scene checklist but it sounds like a good idea. It's hard to remember everything that needs to go in each scene.
    Thanks for co-hosting! I just realized that I wasn't following your blog already *facepalm*

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Ken and yes, I too, suffer from over learning/reading-itis. I've never used a scene checklist, let alone much of an outline. But I think I'll be employing both after the first draft of my novel (s) are sorted out. Thanks for co-hosting this month.

    ReplyDelete
  13. HI, Ken,

    A list would work well, but I think you just to relax your brain a bit and let your "FAVORITE" techniques absorb... Seriously, step away, take a walk, do something else. Then go back to writing. The techniques will seamlessly flow through your writing once you are comfortable with them. Don't think about it ... just write...

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks for co-hosting! I keep a mental tally of stuff I learn, but I tend to forget about it until it comes back around again. Like others have said, CPs are great at keeping us in line. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I know I should study the craft of writing more than I do. I'm sure it would help me improve.
    Thank you.
    TY for co-hosting!
    Heather

    ReplyDelete
  16. Point of fact, I'm reading "Getting into Character" Seven Secrets a Novelist can learn from Actors." Most of us interview our characters before setting out on the novel journey. Brandilyn Collins incorporates a further reason for this. After asking each character 1st why they desire something, 2nd why that something, and 3rd why specifically, a personality trait is revealed as well as typical body language. Each scene requires: Desire, Distancing, Denial, and Devastation. Each dialogue subtext includes TIME, thought, intention, motion expression.

    I'm not using these ideas yet. I want to type every thought in my head into the novel before editing each scene, each word of dialogue.

    Great topic.

    ReplyDelete
  17. A scene checklist sounds brilliant. Also, you don't have to use EVERY technique in the book in every scene. Relax a little and just write. Yes, you'll have to go back and revise, then think about all the wonderful techniques. But, keep in mind, it's all about telling a good story.
    Thanks for co-hosting this month!
    Play off the Page

    ReplyDelete
  18. Sometimes I feel like Homer Simpson. As he learns something new in comes in his right ear, and something has to leave his brain through his left ear to make room.

    Oh yeah, I live off check lists. No way I could function without them. Muy importante!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm like you, I use every technique I find. Some work great, some not so much. But isn't it fun! I love editing, revising even more than writing. It's like applying a base coat to a beautiful wall, then letting my imagination run rampart. I'm glad you shared your insecurity, Ken. You've weakened its power. Thanks for co-hosting.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I feel like that too - wow, nailed the dialogue there, and then the next chapter - all description and the dialogue sucked (my writing), and then so on. I have a tiny checklist I use during revision time, but I think I need to expand it.
    Thanks for sharing this, Ken!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I totally understand what your poor brain is going through. I use a "Draft" check list to deal with this. In this "Last Draft Checklist" (developed by author Mary Burton), once I get to the draft I feel is the most complete (I don't know the number because there are always so many!) I start with her list, Draft One: Sloppy Copy, Draft Two: Structure, Order, and Flow, Draft Three: Backstory, Pacing, Draft Four: Dialogue.... you get the idea. I concentrate only on one thing at a time. By the time I get to the last "Big Read" I concentrate on word repetition, passive sentences, weeding out weak words, the list goes on, but I do them one at a time. It's labor intensive but really helps you catch those techniques you are talking about, where they are, where they are not. Then I read it all out loud, more than once! Yes, talk about brain exploding, but so very worth it to make the work the best it can be. My two cents!

    ReplyDelete
  22. For my first draft, I just write and get the story on paper and then on the second draft I do all those things you're talking about. Otherwise, I would never complete a book while I tried to perfect each scene.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I don't use a check list for technique, though I've considered it. I use a check list for plot points I need to resolve. Especially in a series. I think you can get so caught up in technique and rules that you'll either never get the book out there, or you'll edit the fun out of it - because fun isn't on any check list I've ever seen.

    Thanks for hosting!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I haven't but I'm with you on feeling overwhelmed by all you've learned. Sometimes I get so caught up in reading tips and how-to manuals that I feel like my head will simply explode if I don't take a break from all of it.

    ReplyDelete
  25. You can drive yourself crazy with all of this stuff!! My personal method is to practice, practice, practice, and practice the techniques until they come asily and naturally - and then you don't have to count or consciously incorporate them, unless you're trying to fix a tricky scene.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I was just about to say "scene checklist!" I have one to make sure my bases are touched, if only a little. Never expect the first pass to be spot on, though. Just write and let editing do it's thing. :)

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and sorry it was incomplete. I had reasons. It's updated now.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I don't have a scene checklist, but I do go over them a lot. I want them to build like a mini story and also move the whole book ahead.

    I know what you mean when you say you have so much to consider and so little time to do it in. We're up against a huge challenge, but then that's part of the fun, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  28. I could see using a checklist for editing, but I think it would cramp my brain trying to fulfill the checklist while writing. I do the same thing in randomly remembering this thing or that and trying to apply it. Irk. Hello to my fellow co-host!

    ReplyDelete
  29. I really need a scene checklist! I do have an editing checklist, but I find stopping while I'm drafting slows my momentum down, as much as I'd love to be able to remember everything in the first draft!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I know exactly what you mean about learning and trying out new things in your writing. I don't keep a checklist, I just go with my gut instinct and input from CP to see if it all falls together. And then there are all kinds of marketing ideas to learn too after you sign the contract (or even before.) Oh my. Keeps life interesting that way.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I have a random checklist that compiles on my desk in the form of stickies, scraps of paper, computer notes as I hear or read things. But I do think a formal list makes sense, so long as it doesn't slow the creative process. But I default to the experts above, who are published. Still working on my first. Thanks for co-hosting.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I think the worksheet idea is good. The trick is practicing each technique enough to internalize it. Then it'll be easier to do at the beginning. Also, CPs can help a lot. And yes, I definitely do different passes once I've finished to polish certain things like voice, atmosphere, and descriptions. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  33. I like my style just the way it is. Trying to learn a new trick after writing for so long would just stress me out - and I'd probably just edit it out on one of my many passes.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I don't have a checklist but I go over my ms lots of times! I like to think about my writing as layers. The initial draft being the first layer. The second I will focus on plot and continuity. Then characters and their relationships with each other. And several layers after that! Happy writing :)

    Thanks for being a co-host this month.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I don't know a thing about techniques and you're scaring me. I don't do check lists. I just sit down and try, try, and try to write a story. I have learned plenty in regards to POV, and my technical writing, which was suffering. I feel you need to go with your gut. Write what sounds excellent, makes sense, and is interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I know that syndrome! I just add the technique to my list or "things to do when I polish" and go on. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  37. I can't tell you how many revisions I made on my first book. The stuff you're learning does stick! With each book I get clean first drafts, and find I need less and less during the revision.

    I don't use a check list, but I tend to do the same things with each draft.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Yes, please, to anything that can make revising easier. I'm with you on there being so much to learn and to apply. It's not possible, really, to do it all at once. The only scene checklist I've referenced is Jami Gold's Elements of a Good Scene: http://jamigold.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Scene-Checkboxes.jpg
    I'm always looking for new tools, though.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I don't have a checklist. I wonder if that would help or slow me down, constantly checking if I covered everything might cause me to forget where the characters were headed. I make several passes through my manuscripts, each one finding something I missed in the previous revision. Somehow, it all comes together in the end. I'm sure your story will too.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Congrats on hosting IWSG this month. I am most proud of you! A scene checklist--no, I don't. I would love to see one, though. My biggest point is to be sure the scene moves the story forward. If I feel stalled as I'm reading, I rethink.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I don't use a scene checklist, but I've recently started thinking about using Scrivener. I think that might help me keep things more organized and any notes or thoughts I have about a scene more easily accessible. Have you thought about using Scrivener?

    ReplyDelete
  42. I don't use a scene checklist, but I've recently started thinking about using Scrivener. I think that might help me keep things more organized and any notes or thoughts I have about a scene more easily accessible. Have you thought about using Scrivener?

    ReplyDelete
  43. I'm amazed you can remember all of those rules. You could probably reduce your passes through the book by combining several similar things you're looking for.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I'm more of a pantser but I do make notes and a few character sketches. Best of luck.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I know exactly where you're coming from, but also think there's not such thing as too much knowledge.

    Hang in there and thanks for co-hosting!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Thanks for co-hosting IWSG this month. Absolutely adore your banner image! It may help to keep separate folders of everything you are learning so you can refer back to it, without exploding your brain!

    ReplyDelete
  47. brain explosions are a common occurrence for writers... mine went the other day.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I get very technical in later drafts, checking and rechecking scenes and novel-writing techniques, but early in I just have to get the writing down on paper. Thanks for visiting my blog today, Ken!

    ReplyDelete
  49. My problem is more about trying to fit all the cool things I come across in "research" (aka 4am interwebs mania) but the resulting head explosion is the same. Good luck with grey matter retention, and thanks for co-hosting!

    ReplyDelete
  50. Brain explosion...isn't that a writer's disease? Thanks for stopping by the blog, Ken.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I haven't used a scene checklist. Closest I have is a fluff word checklist. I have to ax those pesky useless words.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I struggle with the same thing sometimes. If you ever come up with a good solution, let me know. :) Thanks for co-hosting!

    ReplyDelete
  53. A scene checklist wouldn't be my style at all, since I write very organically, letting the story and characters naturally unfold. At best, I go by notes or long-memorized scenes in my head.

    Thanks for co-hosting!

    ReplyDelete
  54. Yep. I rate my description, atmosphere, conflict between 1 + 5 and track my time and place. Once I got used to it, writing was much easier.

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

    ReplyDelete
  55. Lol, I did that in the beginning too. Then I tossed all the craft books aside, wrote my story as it came to me, and used the craft books as a reference in editing to resolve only problem areas. I think we all get overwhelmed sometimes with the amount of learning we need or have assimilated, even at the professional level.

    Perhaps the real problem is you need to develop your own writing style. If checklists help, then maybe they will resolve your over editing issues. Hang in there Ken, it will all settle in someday.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Yep, I feel your pain. Always feeling that I should do more with a particular scene, and yet the creative forces and nagging muse pushes me forward. I have a bit of a mental checklist, a few things that I found essential to my writing style. Basically, I get it down fast, then rewrite until each scene until it feels three dimensional without slowing down the pace, if that makes any sense. Good luck. Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  57. If it will help you, then do it! It is overwhelming how much there is to learn about writing fiction.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Hi Ken,
    Scene checklists sounds good to me - if that's what works for you then do it. I do use scrivenor (which someone else mentioned) and that's very useful for collating all those notes on scraps of paper that litter up my desk and having them there next to the relevant scene when I need it.
    All the best and thanks for hosting,
    Angie

    ReplyDelete
  59. I do use checklists. I have a notebook for each story and I will break it down by chapters and make notes as I do a read through over what elements seem to be lacking in each chapter. Eventually all the tidbits begin to be incorporated into your own style and it doesn't feel as mechanical. Best writing advice ever was from my mother who told me to stop trying to impress her with all I knew about writing and just tell her the damn story.

    ReplyDelete
  60. I'm easily confused, so to keep not only the scenes straight I have to keep the characters straight too, or I repeat myself a lot. I keep index cards for my stories. Each chapter has a card, and I list the characters in that chapter, the setting of the chapter, and what happens. (The main points.) So if I forget whether someone has already said or done something, I look back to see. I also write more details in a spiral notebook. Character profiles or interviews. They help. Sometimes I'm lazy though and just write. I think check lists are good.

    ReplyDelete
  61. I don't use a scene checklist, but I do totally use the multi pass method. I'll go through and identify something that's weak and I'll spend the next pass working on that (as well as other little things). In reality, even when the writing is great and tight, you still go over every passage something like 10 times. That's a lot of opportunities for tweaking.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I didn't, but I'm going to make one NOW! I have lots of trouble remembering things so I have lots of lists. Thanks for the nifty idea. Good luck from a IWSG blog hopping friend.

    ReplyDelete
  63. I've never used a checklist before. I do think about scenes from different angles, reading and re-reading. And I do have the head-blowing-off feeling much more than I'd like. I'd need a brain the size of a house to store all the writing info there is out there. Thanks for co-hosting IWSG!

    ReplyDelete
  64. I like the idea of this specific kind of check list. Maybe there's a book about it, but you just haven't found it or written it yet. ;)
    Thanks for co-hosting this month.
    How's the latest manuscript going?

    ReplyDelete
  65. I don't have a checklist of techniques to use. I feel as if that would choke off all creativity. I use the multiple passes. First draft = find the damn story! Get to the end! Second draft = Now I know the real story. Get rid of what doesn't need to be there. Third draft = Eliminate plot holes. Improve pacing. Fourth draft = Focus on voice.

    ReplyDelete
  66. I don't have a scene checklist, per se. But after I finish the first draft, I make a list of things I want to change/add/etc. I go through that list as I edit/rewrite and then create a new list of things to change/add/etc., which also includes what my critique partners and such have suggested. I keep going until I'm just tweaking words/phrases here and there. Sometimes your own lists can be as important as one someone created of general things to check (I know there are some out there).

    ReplyDelete
  67. The learning never ends... there's always something new to discover...
    Thanks for hosting the IWSG this month, Ken.

    ReplyDelete
  68. I've just finished my first rough draft and an already wondering how folks keep things straight. Especially if you change something at the beginning and then have to change everything else in accordance with that first change.

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget