Friday 15 August 2014

One writer's blind Miriam Halahmy

Where do you come unstuck? I seem to have a regular list of minor blind spots and two major ones. Perhaps writing this blog will remind me what I have to watch out for and even throw up a couple of things I'd never even considered.
Join me on the journey through my litany of blind spots.

MINOR BLIND SPOTS ( and these are just the ones I can remember)

Just ..... why does it appear so often? Is it glued to my typing fingers? It is almost never necessary and yet it punctuates dialogue, thought, narrative comment as though it is the most essential word in the English dictionary.
Strike 1 : just ( almost always)

Suddenly ... I know, I know - it's a real struggle to avoid this when you want to move things on. But this is a word at times I almost wish had never been invented.
Strike 2 : suddenly just about everywhere possible. Think of another way. ( groan)

Commas.....I litter the first draft with them. Most of those you don't need either.
Strike 3 : commas ( a lot of the time)

Contractions ....this is the opposite to the Strikes - for some strange reason my first draft almost never contains contractions. My typing fingers seem to automatically speak in formal language - she had never told anyone and she knew he had not either. I don't speak like that and neither does anyone I know!
Correction : pretty well all places where there should be a contraction.

Exclamation marks... They litter the dialogue as though everyone is shouting but I simply can't see it the first time round and often not even the third time round. I'm still removing exclamation marks the morning I hovering to press Send to lovely agent.
Strike 4  : you honestly don't need more than about 4 in a 60,000 word novel.

MAJOR BLIND SPOTS  ( can I bear to be this honest?)

1. Impatience : I can't relax until I've completed the first draft - well, that's probably normal. I love redrafting - I really do. You get that long lovely time to enrich your plot, layer the characters, leak in those juicy bits of research you've been saving. But then after I've done about several major and minor redrafts the impatience sets in and I want to be DONE! That's where I have to try and reign myself in, put the manu to one side, focus on something else and try not to read it again for at least I week - I know, I know - I bet the rest of you leave it at least a month and you're RIGHT - but I'm too impatient.

Note to self : C'mon! Learn patience! It's never too late you old boot.

2. Switching the initiative away from the main character.
Now this is the really serious bit of this post and probably why I've written it - this is my biggest note to self. I think it is a combination of a serious blind spot and impatience. I have had three separate readers in my life for three separate manus point it out - the second one was an editor who loved the book otherwise. It always happens around the climax of the book. I get distracted by an idea for the plot and for a second main character, it takes hold, plays out like a film in my head and BINGO - the initiative swaps hands like a deck of cards. I convince myself its a great piece of writing ( and probably the actual writing is ok) but the book is in danger of disappointing the reader and unravelling before my eyes.

Note to self : Be honest! And slow down!

But I am also one very lucky writer because over the years I have been able to develop close, supportive, trusting relationships with some very talented writers, including Sassies, Leslie Wilson and Savita Kalhan, and they are willing to read my manus and be very honest when I'm stuck in that blind spot. Usually I know there is a flaw, I'm worried about bits of the book - but I need the firm clear objective eye of my lovely readers to feedback before I press that Send button.

I have just finished my seventh novel. My readers have already pointed out Major Blind Spot Number 2. It's a relief to be honest - I couldn't see it but I could FEEL it. Now I have the time over the summer to fix it - I already know how- and it's going to be great fun. Just wish I'd had the good sense to sort it out myself.
*sigh* - maybe next time - especially now I've written it in a blog post!


JO said...

Glad I'm not the only one who has to go through everything culling the 'justs'!

And the major one - never knowing when to stop - I can fiddle with a piece till the end of time!

Sue Purkiss said...

Me too - 'just' creeps in all the time. And 'well'.

Very interesting, Miriam!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Had to laugh about the exclamation marks! Only 4 necessary in a novel of 60 000 pages! Are you serious? I sprinkle them as liberally as some people sprinkle salt!

Commas too... spend my life putting them in, and then removing them, then putting them back in when I reread!

But you left out the ellipses... I have them everywhere. Don't modern people all speak with ellipses in their sentences...? How can they be wrong?

Too may short paragraphs! But surely they add tension?

But most of all, what I LOVED about your blog Miriam is the beautiful spaces that you write in. If I had one place, one setting, like you have... then who knows what I might be capable of writing... with or without ellipses, commas or exclamation marks!

adele said...

Yes...just is one of mine too! And so is 'all' As for ellipses and exclamation marks, anyone who has ever emailed me knows how liberal I am with both of those but not in mss. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! "Well" and "all" and "suddenly" are all ones of mine. And I seem to be obsessed with how characters breathe as well - I know this, but I still can't stop myself.

Joan Lennon said...

You're not an old boot!

Sue Purkiss said...

Ooh, another one - 'She stared at him...' My characters do a lot of staring. And, like Dianne, I like the look of the places you write!

Becca McCallum said...

Gonna chime in here with the writing spot love. I've found my new writing spot - I do cleaning at a cafe in the mornings from 8 til 10, and I can sit down there after with a cup of tea and my notebook and just write with no disturbances. And then I can type it up and tear it to shreds. ;)

I have problems with all of these, except the exclamation marks. Sue - I love your comment about your characters staring.

Penny Dolan said...

I did love this post, Miriam!
So many are my faults too, especially "just" and exclamation marks, especially in emails etc.(See above) Lots of "staring" from me too, Sue Purkiss, but I also confess to gestures that get overused. And faces going pale.

Pity the poor editors faced with these blips from all of us, though I'm sure lots get edited out.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Maybe we should come up with an SAS list of all these blind spots and alternatives to avoid them - hmm, there's a book in there somewhere - Adele? Nicola Morgan?

Savita Kalhan said...

I overuse 'just' 'suddenly' and 'thought' and my characters are real starers too! Blindspots are just that, I mean exactly that... They're hard to see, but, once pointed out, glaringly obvious. Great post, Miriam, and thank you.