As a writer, you need to be objective in the evaluation of your own work. Why? Because a clear view of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to graciously accept criticism, apply feedback, and facilitate the editorial process—all of which are essential to writing the best book possible, and ultimately getting that book published. Of course, this is easier said than done, and in many cases, we are either overly critical of our writing, or conversely, self-aggrandizing. We can feel that our work is best fit for the recycling bin, or that every word is perfection on the page. So how do we develop the ability to see our writing as it truly is? Here are some standard tools of measurement that you can use to overcome your crushing self-criticism or delusions of grandeur (and everything in between) and take an objective look at your craft.
Check for ‘purple prose’: Often described as overly elaborate language that adds little to the meaning of our work, this kind of writing tries to show off for its own sake and has the effect of jolting the reader out of the story. Typical signs of purple prose include too many adjectives, verbs, and run-on sentences.
Root out clunky descriptions: Don’t get hung up on describing the physical appearance and actions of your characters. Try reading the descriptions aloud to make sure that what you have written is even physically possible. I can’t tell you how often we see a character doing six things at once, for example, ‘reaching around, adjusting their sweater, while picking up their glasses, and opening the folder, and pouring a tea.’ Go ahead and try to act that out!
Details—too many or too few: Both are their own kind of mistake. Too many details will bore your reader and cause them to glaze over, move to their social media feed and never return. Too few will create gaps in the reader’s mind that will keep them from engaging emotionally with the text.
Center your reader: Your reader needs to quickly know where they are in the story, meaning that you should give enough background of the world they are inhabiting for them to feel grounded. If it is a piece set in Victorian England, how can you show that in the first two pages? Present day in the Maritimes? Near future in South Asia?
Reread your work: Every year, read your past work. You should notice bits that make you cringe—a sure-fire way to mark your growth. Experiment with rewriting the passages that now strike you as amateur. Save these, date them, and return again the following year.
In Part Two of this series, we focus on plot, pace, style, voice, and setting, how to develop these aspects of writing to hook your reader, and how to avoid their common pitfalls.
Book a First Look with us for objective feedback on your work in progress, and meaningful suggestions on improving your craft.