Turning Weakness Into Strength

I’d never used a professional editor before this past month. I’ve always wanted one but hadn’t really taken the time or expense to give it a shot. Now that I have I could kick myself for waiting.

It’s important to have an outside view of your work, one that is completely third party and has no skin in the game. I recruited my sister into being a chapter by chapter editor as I wrote. Some authors/writers prefer to wait until the first draft is finished but that’s not a method I prefer.

She was very good at pointing out plot flaws or timeline issues or things that confused her in general. That helped me spot similar errors in other manuscripts and that kind of advice is invaluable. The less one has to go back and alter then the happier one will be.

Except that a first draft is never ever the exact same as the final version.

If I take several months away from a manuscript I have an easier time looking at it objectively. I once compared my manuscripts to children (https://wordpress.com/post/53327208/1546/) and, when the children have gone off to college or moved out or whatever and you don’t see them for a time it is far easier to recognize if they’ve lost weight or grown a couple of inches.

The same is true for a manuscript but no one wants to wait 3 years to get one book out if they can help it. All that down time can inhibit potential. And so a third party editor should come in to play.

My new favorite person in the world, we’ll call her C for identification purposes, read the original manuscript and 2 days later sent me an overview and then the next day a chapter by chapter analysis. Nearly everything in the broad view matched what I thought it would.

She enjoyed the book and that’s good. She recognized much of the potential for originality that I had intended. Then it got interesting.

One of my worst complaints has always been dialogue. It drives me bonkers to write it and, if I could, I would consider skipping it altogether. I won’t even lie, at one point I tried to come up with a way to do that but even stories that have only one person have dialogue. Think Castaway with Tom Hanks and the Oscar worthy performance of Wilson the volleyball.

I spend what feels like an inordinate amount of time thinking about how people talk to each other. I eavesdrop on conversations everywhere I go and I’ve even wandered around the grocery store to follow the cadence of someone’s speech as they rode a rainbow of emotion while chatting with a friend, loved one or boss.

I’ve written out scenes and made people read them with me to see if they sound natural. I don’t give the friends any context because I like being a pain in the ass, eccentric friend. It’s easier to judge if things flow smoothly.

One of the things I absolutely hate to read are characters that all talk the exact same way. Male, female, they all babble and use the same word choices and sentence structures and life simply is not like that. Not everyone speaks in complete sentences -The Good Lord knows that I do not – yet authors fix sentences like the grammar police are leaning over their shoulder. This seems especially prevalent in Romance and it’s assorted sub-genres.

I always thought dialogue was my largest weakness and that’s probably because, I’m repeating myself here, I still dislike writing it. Which is funny as I do “hear” my characters talking and arguing with each other all the time. It’s my job to transcribe it.

C, my new favorite person in the world, amended that misconception for me. She listed it as one of my strengths, a knack for natural flow of speech. So, how to come to terms with that? It turns out that something I believed I was awful at sharing with the world is one of the things I’m better at. What else can I throw at her to see if it’s actually a strength or weakness?

The other day I read an article in The Guardian about contemporary books and their inability to showcase friendships that aren’t essentially turned into familial relationships. Women write about female friendships often using “like sisters” and sometimes they describe male/female friendships quite well though there’s generally a cheater in there (the male friend is gay or has the eternal crush on the heroine).

Male/Male friendships are a different kettle of fish. We’re not male and we don’t know what makes guys choose the friends that they do. We can ask but does anyone really know why they started talking to the kid that ate boogers in Kindergarten and twenty years later they’re still best friends?

I can’t exactly stalk males through the grocery store and eavesdrop on their conversations, not without getting hit on, arrested or both. If a woman inserts herself into two men’s friendships it changes the dynamic from pairing to group.

We’re always told to write what we know – that and to write the books we want to read – and I believe that’s why we end up using phrases such as “They were brothers, in arms and in friendship” or “Jenny was a sister to her and had been since college” or assorted other descriptors.

Well, I’ll be honest here, I’ve had a lot of friends and they’re from all over the country. In that time period of the late teens and early to mid-20’s when everyone was cementing these friendships and relationships, I was constantly moving across country and all of my friendships were temporary. I’ve reconnected with many of them thanks to FaceBook but that doesn’t alter the fact that I don’t have a non-related friend I consider a sister. So how to write about them?

Go ahead, use a search engine and ask “How to make friends” and see what happens. It changes the very concept of research.

But maybe those familial relationships are all we need to understand the connection.

I have no solution here, I think the point behind this post is to throw the confusion in my mind onto other peoples’ and maybe that will bring an answer to me. Heck if I know.

In order to NOT leave you dangling with an unanswered question and quasi-philosophical complaining about my lack of friends I will leave you with this instead:

No matter how awful you think you are at something, someone else is always worse. We are our own worst critics and, as such, are prone to take a strength and turn it into a weakness to use against ourselves. It’s human nature to question our abilities and ego and use what we think we know to tear ourselves down. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.

It’s time to flip that on its head. Take something you consider a weakness – it doesn’t have to be about writing, it could be any quality or trait or whatever that you believe you flounder – and step back for a moment, consider situations this weakness has come out to play and consider the outcome that actually occurred. Was it as bad as you truly think it was?

Embrace the weakness, use it to your advantage. If all else fails, at least you learned something about yourself, right?

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