I used to be arrogant about my writing. I knew I could write a good line. I knew I could write believable dialogue. I knew I could create a solid plot out of thin air.
But I was writing into the void. I’m not sure who called it this; who used the word void to describe it. I read it somewhere but I am not sure who wrote it. Sorry about that, but the word resonated not the name attached to it. I used to call it writing into the vacuum, but void is better, void is more precise: it describes the process exactly as it happens.
Writing with nobody to read your work, nobody to see the flaws, nobody to show you the little things you have to know. Friends? Family? They are good for “Can I write?” Not because of what they say, after all they are unlikely to tell you you’re crap, but for the look in their eye as they say it. You can see the surprise, the respect; they know that the story works and they show that to you in their reaction. What they can’t do, however, is read your work as a writer would.
So you teach yourself, on your own, bit by bit, sphere by sphere, move by move. Sitting there writing away, learning how things work on the page the hard way, self-educating yourself to write.
I used to call close-third-multiple: viewpoint writing, because I had never heard of close third and needed something to describe what I was trying to do. Struggling with keeping the viewpoint firmly fixed in a single head in a single scene. Why? Because it felt right. It felt like that is the way it should be. Writing, reading, revising, rereading, revising, rereading…. every time spotting another instance where I let a line slip, when I had fallen out of the character’s head. Learning that the best way to learn how to write close third is to write first person.
Not knowing why this worked, just groping towards a style. I already had a voice. I’ve never had a problem with voice (I started writing at 11 obsessive teenager scribbling is very good for letting your voice through) but style, now that was a fish of a different genus.
And so it went with passive sentences too. Using the grammar checker — remember when grammar checkers talked about clause splicing and so forth, no readability stats, no way of knowing which sentences was passive and which were not (computers still aren’t to be trusted on that score, not completely; they’re machines: they don’t know the meanings of the words you’re using. So always be careful, but they are useful — just don’t have the green lines on. Because those things are irritating, distracting and utterly worthless).
So I’d do a grammar check. 3% passive sentences. Then I would go page by page. If it flagged up a passive sentence on that page then I’d go paragraph by paragraph. Zeroing in on the sentence. Finding the right paragraph and going sentence by sentence through that paragraph until I found it. Then altering it. Switching it around. Until it was not flagged as passive any more. Learning how to write sentences first time out of the box so my grammar check always says 1% (0% happens very occasionally. Some sentences have to be passive — it’s not a mortal sin, only a clumsy one).
And so on, with story structure, with character scenes vs plot scenes, with action vs reflection, with pacing. All the time on my own, writing into the void arrogantly sure that I could write.
And then I found writing sites.
I’d done nanowrimo and been on those forums and I think I managed to help some people and upset a whole lot more. Not much changes there. What can you do? You are who you are.
But on other writing sites I started seeing the wood for the trees. I started seeing the little things that make all the difference. I started learning the lingo. And I started to talk to other writers for the very first time. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, all the time, everyday, bit by bit, and I posted to threads, and I asked the questions, and my confidence grew.
Especially once I started giving and receiving critiques, that is where I started making the hard choices, the writer’s choices. Working for the story not my ego.
Arrogance is based on your own fear that maybe you can’t do this. Arrogance will make you give fixed answers to questions of style and pace and voice. Arrogance will blind you to the way forward.
Confidence is based on knowledge. Confidence allows you to see that there are many answers to any question about the craft, the art, the truth, and they are all correct. Confidence will show you the way forward.
Arrogance is false and confidence is real.
PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.