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5 writing strengths Meme

Jade Park has tagged me in her response to the 5 writing strengths Meme, where writers list five things that they know are their writing strengths.

A few years ago, this might have been much harder for me. Drafting was a lot like shooting a rifle off into the dark, trying to hit things. As one of my writer-heroes, Maureen McHugh, pointed out when I talked to her one-on-one in Seattle, I couldn’t see what I could do better and was just kind of stuck, with nothing actually improving in my writing and no sense of why, or how I could get past the plateau.

What helped me get to the point where I can see more clearly? Well, attending Clarion West was an important part of it. I learned some specific skills, and I also got a lot of practice generating material but also looking at others’ material critically. I seriously think that the most useful part of workshopping isn’t the feedback, useful as it can be — the thing that good workshops or crit groups do is hypersensitize you to the flaws and strengths of the various approaches your classmates or fellow critlings take. Once you look at others’ work with that critical eye long enough, it becomes more possible to look at your own that way.

The other thing that’s helped me is writing reams and reams of stuff. I have seriously produced a massive number of drafts in the 13 months since I was in Seattle — maybe not a story a week, like Jay Lake, but it’s harder to write a novella a week for a year, and I tend toward the novella length. Writing a lot helps you work on things, clarify strengths and isolate specific weaknesses. Weaknesses, I find, are the muscles that just need more exercise. Once you’re conscious of them, you can do all kinds of cool things with them, because you’re aware of them.

I still have lots of weaknesses, now, including probably a fair number I’m not wholly conscious of, and I’m going to mention them too, because it’s a good reminder to myself to focus on one or two in my next draft. But since I’m supposed to focus on strengths, I’ll get to those now.

Let’s see:

Now, for the things I’m still working on:

Right, I claimed I would select a couple of these and mention how I’m going to work on them. I think, for one thing, I’m going to work ong Plotting by actually, well, sitting down and writing outlines. Slaving over them. Showing them to my crit group — a suggestion my excellent classmate David made which I think is just a wonderful idea. “A Killing in Burma” is a story that needs an outline, so I think that’ll be one. My old novel draft, Dead Abroad, is also awaiting a rewrite, and I think I’ll outline it as well, especially since there are bits that need much tightening, and some serious changes I’m planning on making.

“A Killing in Burma” also is an odd piece because I’m trying to make it serious in ideas, and funny in plot and characters. This is nothing like “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang,” where I could just riff on familiar oddities of Korean extraction; I need to rely on stuff the characters themselves, the tangle their lives get into, for the comedy. It’s going to be necessary for something as long as this story, especially when I’ve never been to Burma myself and can’t riff on the funny aspects of the local culture anyway. So I think I need to read some funny writing — SFnal and otherwise. I’ve got a collection by Terry Bisson here, and some James Morrow (like this one) I can look at, too, and a collection of short stories by Rudy Rucker.

(Other recommendations, SFnal or otherwise, are welcome.)

I think the other thing I’ll be working on for the next few months is Science Chops. Got a book right here waiting for my attention: Warped Passages, by Lisa Randall. As the transdimensional zombies say: “Branes! Branes!”

As for tagging. Ah, hell, I’ll tag all the aspiring writers I know online. You know who you are. Consider yourself tagged… or not.

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