Monday, December 13, 2010

Those pesky weaknesses

In my mid-20s, I worked at the TV station in Baton Rouge (WAFB, the CBS affiliate). I started as an intern, working for credit toward my master's, but within two months I was "promoted" to production assistant.

I put that in quotes because I went from not getting paid to doing the same job for minimum wage--a paid intern with a title.

I learned a lot about television news there--things that never would've occurred to me as a passive viewer. One of my duties was to roll tape. (A position I'm sure is obsolete now.)

Here's how it worked: during the news program, the anchors talked about different stories, and after a brief intro, the director said in the headset, "Roll Tape B." Or A, depending on which deck the huge VHS-sized tape was in. That was my cue to press the red button, which started the news story.

It was a simple job that only required following directions and being able to press the correct button on time. Occasionally a tape would mess up, or there'd be some snafu, and I had to think on my feet. (Or panic.) But in the end, it wasn't really that big of a deal.

And production work was fun. There was always chatter in the headsets, and I was constantly giggling. It was also super-fast-paced, so it fit well with my undiagnosed adult-ADD brain.

I was there less than two years, but I got very good at writing copy for the anchors to read over B-roll. (That's when you're watching footage and the anchor's telling you about what happened.) I was never good at being an actual reporter--I've blogged about how painful the tags to my news reports were.

So what does this have to do with writing?

As writers, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they're the same thing. For me, my work experience has taught me to write very fast and get to the point quickly. That doesn't translate so well to novel writing.

I'll get a great idea for a storyline or a scene, and I'll charge right in there and get it down before it's gone. But the problem is while writing that scene, my undiagnosed adult-ADD brain often gets another idea for another great scene, and I'm quickly off to write that one down.

My first beta reader always complains.

JRM: This was a really cool scene, but you rushed off to the next thing.
LTM: I did?
JRM: Yes, I want to know more about what happened here.
LTM: Wait, tell me again how I wrote something really cool...

Is there a way to fix this weakness?

I don't know. I do know I'm usually able to beef things up in revisions, but gah! That's such a painful process, and I'm always convinced it would be so much easier to cut text than have to come up with new content.

Any of you guys struggle with this? Anybody got a trick or tip for me?

Alternatively, do you have a writing weakness you managed to conquer? I'd love to hear some success stories. Or solidarity! What's a writing weakness you're working on and want a tip to fix?

Til Thursday~ <3

39 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

I do the opposite. I blather on about things that don't matter. Plus I have Chronological Sickness in which I feel compelled to write scenes - however small and unimportant - that happen in between the big ones. I know these scenes are going to get cut as I'm writing them, but I need some thread between the other scenes or I feel an astronaut whose tether to the space shuttle has just been cut.

salarsenッ said...

I've definitely improved in the purple prose department. Since I started freelancing, writing more concisely is coming naturally to me. I use to feel like I left out something without all the description, but now I can see past that. Less is truly more.

Working on now?? Honestly, I have five different stories rattling in my head. I've started each but can't seem to focus on organizing one--meaning OUTLINING!! I've written a post about that in a few weeks. I think you'll feel my pain. lol

Candyland said...

Ha...I do that sometimes. Talk too much about something not so important and not enough about the most critical! No tips here, lol. Let me know when you find one.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm in the same boat as Candyland.

I've had to delete scenes that weren't going anywhere. Okay, they were originally, but after I rewrote a scene, it changed the dynamics of the book, and those scenes were now pointless. And all because I tweaked one little paragraph in a scene. ;)

C. N. Nevets said...

Not to let you off the hook necessarily, but do you have a pretty strong consensus about that? Different readers and writers like different paces. I, for one, am a, "Okay, move on, I've got it already," kind of reader. If you have a lot of people with a variety of tastes all telling you the same thing, you might have something to address. If you have one reader or a group of readers with similar tastes telling you that you need to change something that could be stylistic, I would encourage you to get another opinion.

No matter how great the crit partner or beta reader, there can be times when it just doesn't fit on one particularly point.

If you do need to fix it, I think it's really just repetition and practice unfortunately.

Tracy said...

I can't help you there. My ADD brain adds everything it can think of into my story. My MS now stands at a pretty 83K...but the first draft clocked it at 153K.

I think there's no way of getting around the fact that revisions are always going to be tough as hell.

Anne said...

I'm the same way. As soon as I get an idea I write it down before it vanishes. It's so hard to focus on the biggies. So yeah, I definitely get the same comments from my readers.

Old Kitty said...

What a great work experience!!! I think thinking on one's feet quickly and writing things down just as quick are fab skills to have!!! I do see about translating this into novel writing as I guess each word is thought about with such care!

My weakness? Procrastination!! Oh dear! Take care
x

DL Hammons said...

I have the word vommit disease. You know, the one where you'll use 10 words to say what should have taken 5. I conquer this through heavy CP use and revision after revision! :)

Jessica Bell said...

haha! I get like that too. I'd prefer to delete than rewrite. LOL. Unfortunately that's not an option anymore ...

Matthew Rush said...

I generally struggle in the opposite direction - taking way too long to get to the point.

Patti Struble said...

I love dialogue - it's one of my strengths. But, I hate description & it's one of my weaknesses. As to balance, I am always dialogue heavy, but I am getting better at the descriptive elements. So, the teeter-totter continues to swing. What can I say? Awareness is the first step after all....
Patti

Colene Murphy said...

Sorry, no tips here on that. But how cool that you worked in television!

Talli Roland said...

I HEAR YOU!

I worked as a journalist, as a TV reporter and for a magazine, and I have the same issues novel writing. My editor kept telling me: flesh it out. FLESH IT OUTTTT!

Pk Hrezo said...

I usually don't realize I'm telling too much when I write in first person. I want the reader to know things thru my MC's POV but I forget to show it and let them figure it out.
It's a weak spot I have to look for when I revise. Usually it takes a beta or 2 before I spot them all.
I'm with you... I hate rewriting scenes. It plagues me, festering inside like a disease, just knowing I have to rewrite it... lol... maybe I need a break.

LTM said...

I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who suffers from this! :D
@CN--I tried to pretend JRM was wrong, and then the agent who asked for revisions basically cited all of JRM's flagged "problem areas." Naturally, that made his day~ LOL! But I agree 100% about considering the source and getting more than one opinion--good points! Thanks!
@Tracy--LOL! omg--that blows my mind a little bit. My MSs don't start hitting those numbers until revisions, which you're right about. ;p
@Patti--Yes, Denial is more than a river in Egypt~ But I like good dialogue... ;o) <3
@PK--The dreaded telling. It still sneaks in on me, but I'd like to think I'm getting better at catching it and running it right back out... My CPs might disagree w/me, though! :D Nice description there, and umm. Yes, short breaks are good~ ;o) <3

DEZMOND said...

I also like to complain as a beta reader :) But that's what beta readers should do - be painfully honest and objective.

Melissa said...

I have undiagnosed ADD too (though doctors DID try to put me on rydilin (or however you spell it when I was younger but my mom told them to shove it!)

I don't have any amazing piece of advice for you. I always used to overwrite. When I started my fourth attempt at a first draft.. I tried to *underwrite* so that there wasn't any nonsense and I only included scenes that had relevance to the plot and such... I struggle with it but I'm sure it makes the story better.

Hart Johnson said...

I think you probably end up with a cleaner story by writing it your way first, because then you only beef what needs beefing (I won't say pork what needs porking because that would be tasteless) *cough* Some scenes need that added draw out, others don't. I know I tend to write everything that happens and I KNOW it slows down the read--sometimes drawing it out is good, but not always.

Patti said...

For my first book I wrote over 100,000 words and I've now cut 30,000. For my second I did the bare minimum, but now I'm finding that it's like writing the first draft again, because now I have to add.

A weakness I had was description, but over time it's gotten better. Not perfect - but better.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Well, "meander" is a word I know one person likes to use when she crits my work. And yet, there are scenes where I skip through in a few short sentences. I think the problem was that I focused on the setting way too much. Now I'm more focused on active scenes, but I still (as you know) need to work on adding emotion...the scenes that dig deeper and test character. Does that make sense?

Stephen Tremp said...

I skip around a lot. Its hard for me to start and keep going in a straight line. Soemtimes I work on two MSs at the same time. Have them opened side by side. I need to focus and finish a particular sequence of events. That's what I need to work on.

Julie Musil said...

That sounds like it was such a cool job!

To me, I think your weakness is actually a strength. Yes, you might rush to get the scene down, but then you have something to work with in revision.

I really like fleshing out scenes and setting the mood. Maybe too much. And I'm a thinker who likes to think the whole thing through before I write. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not!

LTM said...

I'm able to email most of you back, but for those I can't,
@Mel--at least you're seeing your technique evolve, yes? And it sounds like for the better! great work~ :o)
@Stephen--I tend to jump around a lot, too. And last spring I had two MSs going at once. When it was time to hunker down, though, I ended up having to focus... On a third, completely different MS--! LOL~ :D

RaShelle said...

Leigh, I def think it's fixable. The more I read your blog, the more I realize what a cool chickie you are. =D Just sayin' =D

Lydia K said...

I've swung from writing too much in a scene, to being very succinct. I think I need to to a blend of the two somehow.

LTM said...

@Lydia-In my very first MS, I suffered from Vicki's play-by-play problem. I felt like I had to document every move my MC made...

SNOOZE! :D

Luckily, I figured it out--Thanks KM Weiland for another great post on cutting off scenes/leaving out things. ;p Now I'm just trying to work on not leaving until I'm *done.* That's my thing~ :o) <3

Ellen aka Ella said...

I tend to repeat and tell you the same thing over again. I like the cleaner method better! Like Hart said, it is easier to beef it up then it is to take it away~

I need to dig out the grammar books and refresh my memory, but only after the story is on paper.

Shannon said...

Cool job - thanks for sharing.

I don't know if I would look at this as a weakness. For me, it's easier to build upon a scene than to slice one down. By being more succinct, your betas are able to grasp where you're going and provide feedback on what they want to see more of, instead of getting lost in a pond of purple prose. =)

Jules Ausborn said...

What a super cool job!!! You lead such an interesting life!

I'm working on my weaknesses, when I've survived and conquered I'll be sure to share! For now I'm trying to stay away from run-on sentences but it's not working. My husband says it's because I talk that way.

Guess my life is one big run-on, lol.

Jen/Jules
Unedited & Jules and the Stars

Clarissa Draper said...

Do I have any weaknesses? Hmm. Don't get me started! I'm always trying to improve my craft but eager to try new ways to do so. Great tips and I love how you work through one of your weaknesses for us.
CD

KarenG said...

You sound like a butterfly flitting around, while I'm an old stodgy cow-- that's my weakness-- I write too slow, spend too much time on one thing, and moo a lot.

Scarlett said...

At leat your Adult ADD brain can put something on paper! My Adult Scatter-Brain can come up with gobs of stories, but my brain argues with my hands and nothing ever gets written down! I contribute this to "writer's fear". Is that even a condition?! Well, it is now!!

I can just see you pushing that red button! Haha! Too cool!

LTM said...

@Scarlett-ahh.. writer's fear. That is DEFINITELY a condition. I had it back when I was just starting college. It sent me into the editorial field for many, many years.

The Red Button.

you know there's that moment of panic right before you hit it--hold your breath! ;p <3U

Rayna M. Iyer said...

No surprises, but we are pretty similar. I go along pretty well till a point when I think I am set, and then I can't wait to finish so I can jump to the next thing.
How do I deal with it? I don't, yet.

LTM said...

my Indian twin! @Rayna, I think that element of excitement is a big part of it--for me at least. I'll get this great idea, and I can't wait to tell everyone about it, too! :D patience, I guess. I'm learning~ <3

Creepy Query Girl said...

what a cool experience! I would jot down all your scene ideas as they come, than rearange them into an outline. My outline consists of 'scene blurbs' that move the story along. Then I take one scene at a time and really elaborate, give detail, character, voice etc...

Jennie Bailey said...

Weakness? Not me! I skip ahead sometimes before I have finished a scene. I tell myself it's because I have this great idea for the next scene (or a scene farther in) that I want to get down on paper before I lose it. Then I will forget to go back and flush out that last bit. I have to force myself to stay in the moment. What I'm trying (the key word being trying) is to work with my laptop AND a note pad. I can leave the laptop to jot down things for the next scene, but then I have to set it aside and go back to the current scene. This helps me "let go" of that next scene (or future one) and keep focused on the current. In theory. Like I said, a work in progress. Although, it's working about 80% of the time so I'd say that's pretty darn good for me!

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