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I have around 25 writing books on my bookshelf.  Most of them make me feel like I'll never understand how to write a novel, but one or two of them actually give me hope.  I find myself thinking, "Okay, yeah, I get it.  I see what he's saying here."  Did I waste money on the other 23 or 24 writing books on my shelf?  Not at all.  It was worth finding that one book that didn't make me doubt myself.  This is so important.  If we doubt our ability as a writer, we're never going to have the courage to send anything out.  The other problem I have is going over a manuscript again and again and again, always trying to change it to fit a different writing style I don't clearly understand.  At some point, we have to be satisfied with what we've written and just take the plunge.  Send that manuscript out and hope for the best.  This will never happen if we keep using writing books we barely understand.  Can you say frustration??  By all means, keep reading books on writing, but stop when you hold in your hands a book that makes you think, "I can do this!  I can write a novel using this method!"  

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This is really encouraging to me right now, when I can't even remember the last time I've written productively, or had a good idea that I actually carried out.  Lately it feels like I'm groping in the dark and I'll never write anything truly worthwhile or find any fulfillment in it, let alone complete and publish a novel.  Thank you.  I needed this.

Edited by Grey_Skies
Oof, embarrassing typos
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We'll each probably teach ourselves many skills over the course of a lifetime. It's good to have a teacher, and wonderful to have many. So a shelf-full of writing books can be useful, as long as we keep on writing as we read. I know of no skill or craft that's learned only by reading, but many that can be largely self-taught, as long as we regularly try to put our learning into practice by doing. Else, we just accumulate lots of details that we'll gradually forget, because we never actually experienced them.


You make a mention of "writing books we barely understand". These are not bad things. So many skills can be taught at various skill levels, from beginner, through master. I've gradually learned a number of skills where a book I couldn't understand early on was a treasured source, after I'd had years to practice. Having lots of teachers gives not only lots of viewpoints, but some can teach those more advanced skill levels. I'm sure there are a few people who've achieved absolute mastery in some field, but I've always found there were more things to learn.


I'm not sure there is any good "recipe" for determining when a work is ready to submit; it depends so much on what we've decided we want to accomplish. A writer looking to produce volume will eventually develop a feel for "good enough to satisfy the readers," and will run with that. A writer looking to produce art will have a completely different set of standards, depending on how they define it, and they'll have to find the "happy place" that's disciplined enough for the goal, yet not so obsessive as to spend ever-increasing time, while adding ever-decreasing benefits. Perfection becomes the enemy of excellence.

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I'm the opposite of you. I'm sure I'm good with telling stories, but not so much writing stories. Each book did teach me something. But there was only one way I stopped doubting myself. Sending my writing out. I figured I'd always wonder if I didn't try. At least that way I'd know for sure -- good news or bad news. I'd rather know than not know.


Now most people assume that getting published was when they'd know. I haven't gotten that far in fiction -- yet. But I did get two response that told me I'm good enough. (No one will ever be perfect.)

1. A writing friend, who teaches writing at university level, has 20 books published, and even did the writing conference circles as a panelist, edited one of my short stories, (before I knew it wasn't kosher to ask.) He had a lot of suggestions and a number of red-ink, but he wrote, "You can flat out write."

2. One of my query rejections was specifically written to me, (as compared to the boilerplate rejections I usually received.) She said she loved it, and seriously considered taking it on, except she didn't love-love it.


I agree sending it out is the only way to know one way or the other, but for the how-to-write books? I practiced what they preach on shorter writing. If it worked, it stays with me. If it didn't, I remember it as well as I remember how many times I've lost card games. (Never. Although I can tell how often I win, and how many games were played that night, and those two numbers are never the same. I have selective-memory.)


Every book taught me at least two things. If that were average, that would be 50 things I didn't know before. Considering three books are worth reading over and over, It's a lot more than 50. So I also think reading all the books, (but Elements of Style), I've read have been worth the price. Considering I'm cheap, that's saying a lot. 😊

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12 hours ago, jadijohnson said:

At some point, we have to be satisfied with what we've written and just take the plunge.  Send that manuscript out and hope for the best.


I think I've said something like that once before somewhere.


It wasn't kindly received, if I recall.


I totally agree with you.  


If you are "average" on guitar, and listen to guys like John Petrucci, it Yngwie Malmsteen, you'll throw your guitar down and walk away thinking that you can never meet that level of expectation.  Problem is, that not everyone wants to listen to that kind of music.  There are others who like fat, heavy riffs, or soulful blues - all of them well within the reach of your "average" guitarist.


I like the romantic way Tolkien writes.  I love the muscular beauty of Robert E. Howard.  I even love the whimsy of C. S. Lewis.  And while some of those elements are infused in my style, I have my own voice.  I embrace that voice.  And, God willing, others will too.


The dirty little secret to writing is that voice and style cannot be learned - you have to develop it yourself.  It's totally individual, as much as your own speaking voice.  The words you use and the emotions you express make you unique.  It's something I didn't understand when I first started writing fiction, but I learned it as a consequence of my failures.


And it only comes by doing.

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Wow!  Jeff and Spaulding had some great things to say on this topic!  Thanks so much for giving feedback.  I love how much we can learn from each other on this site.  Writing can be such a lonely business.  And no one understands us quite like another writer!  Family can be supportive, but they just don't get it. 😀

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