Writing Problems and Their Remedies

I think everyone can agree that writing problems can either be with the writer or with their writing, and that most people suffer from both. That agreed, can we also accept that a writer lucky enough to have someone who reads their scribblings would be foolish to out-of-hand ignore whatever response they receive, yes?

Well then, being one such lucky person. . . For my latest efforts at a short story my reader seemed to have some confusion over the ending. Or rather, several questions. So I re-read it, asked them some questions, and we came up with the solution: the ending didn’t work because I wasn’t sure about certain facts, and at the time of writing it I’d shrugged any issues off as being something that the reader could decide for themselves. (If I thought about it at all, which to be honest I’m not convinced I did) But this doesn’t really work, because an ending is supposed to tie up loose ends and provide answers, and if you don’t do that it leaves the reader feeling cheated or dissatisfied. Not the response you should be aiming for.

Worse, I realised that I’d done the same thing on several of other pieces, and it had come about because of someone’s feedback. It was suggested that I was revealing too much and that I should let the reader work things out more for themselves. Apparently I’d taken this on board, and a little over!

Solution? First, since I’m now aware I do it I can be on the lookout. Second, for those unsatisfactory endings, I need to work out the answers. Sounds simple right? Only I tried and I couldn’t decide on something I was 100% happy with. Or even more or less happy with. Then it happened: the Good Idea. If you can’t decide, my reader suggested, why not write a couple of different endings and pick the one you like best? Genius, I thought, and set to work.

A while later:

“You know that Good Idea you had?” I ask. “Well it was, but it wasn’t.”

“Oh?”

“I now have six different endings to choose from!” And I’d thought writing would be – relatively – straightforward!

Building on this, here’s a few problems I’ve come across and solutions that helped me:

Problem Solution/Helpful Tips
Confidence A lack of self-confidence won’t go away completely, and is a bigger problem at some times than others. Just accepting that fact was reassuring to me in a way. Also, I remind myself of positive comments and feedback, keep notices of shortlistings, and share even small positives with someone. When the doubts really crowd in? I remember why I’m writing, avoid editing where possible as it can make things worse, and keep writing.
Feedback On the whole a useful thing to have, it isn’t always easy to get. I tried looking for a writing group to join – the only one I could find would’ve required at least an hour’s drive each way at the end of the day. There are plenty online, but you have to find the right one for you, and be aware that what you put on there may (to some competitions) count as published. You can also put work up and receive no response at all. For submissions, check to see if they mention feedback and if they don’t, ask in a polite way if they might be able to provide some – don’t ask don’t get.
Planning Works for some people, doesn’t for others, and there’s tons of advice about how to. I hate planning on paper, but realised that either before I started writing or during the first paragraphs, I’d usually built up some idea of where a story was going in my head, so I do plan after all!
Endings You have to have a good ending, whatever that may be! At most basic it ties up loose ends and answers questions unless you’re writing a series, in which case it may not do that at all. If struggling with an ending, I try reading through from the beginning, reminding myself of how I’d thought the story might turn out, or more recently writing several endings and choosing the best one.
Inspiration I write ideas down when I can, even if it’s something small: a possible title, or a nudge like ‘mystery involving pandas.’ I’ve come to realise it’s good to have a few things you’re working on in case you get stuck or don’t feel like doing one, but it’s also good to finish something completely before you end up with too many projects. (See finishing)
Finishing Finishing projects is something surprisingly easy to avoid. You get to a point in the story that’s tricky and you ‘leave it a while to work on something else’. Only you never go back to it. Or you’ve written the first draft but never get around to editing. Or you’ve come up with a great idea that you just have to work on. . . I’ve written something, edited it a couple of times but not declared it ‘finished’ so it sits there waiting for me to decide what I’m doing with it. Not finishing is bad. Apart from being a waste of all the work you’ve put in to that point, it becomes something that can affect confidence.
Enthusiasm Too little and your writing will suffer, and so will you. Because if you’re writing for your own enjoyment and you’re not enjoying it. . . A lack of enthusiasm can also lead to difficulty writing anything, which can lead to a full stop. Before it gets to that point, (if you can) take a break and do something completely different for a while. Too much enthusiasm could lead to disorganisation, sloppy writing, and too many projects on the go. Here, I can only advise to exert some self-control. Also, this is what editing is for!
Full Stop

(Not also called writer’s block)

Learn to recognise when your enthusiasm is waning, as this can be an early sign. Before you reach a full stop, try to fend it off. I’ve tried taking a break and doing something completely different for a while, switching to a different project, plodding through, discussing the story with someone, reading through from the beginning, and possibly some other things that I can’t remember! Also, if I’m working on the computer, printing it out and working on the hardcopy for a while can help.
Editing Whether checking spelling and punctuation, plot, continuity or all of the above, editing is a tricky issue for a lot of people especially since your brain skims/corrects mistakes for you while you’re reading, so you can read a thing six times and not realise they’re there. (And yes, that is experience talking!)  Two things: 1-read steadily, don’t be tempted to skim or fast-read because you’ll miss things. 2-edit and re-edit, but keep in mind that at some point you won’t be making improvements but just moving stuff around and fiddling. Declare the story finished.
Dealing with Feedback Good feedback can boost your confidence, but it needs to be true or you’ll be setting yourself up for a fall later on. Criticism may knock your confidence, but it can also highlight areas you need to work on. Listen to feedback, consider it, then decide what you’re going to do about it; even if it’s useful comments you may decide to do nothing, for example if you aren’t comfortable with making the changes feedback suggests and can legitimately defend that choice. This is fine too.

 

Ok, there’s a bit more there than I was expecting and congratulations if read through it all! I’m sure I could come up with more too, but this’ll do for now.

Several of my previous posts touch on these issues, including: Tech DebateA Doubt-Full DownfallOnly the BeginningTrials of a Writer

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