Is there anything more groan-inducing than opening up an old manuscript and realizing just how terrible it is?
No, I take it back. It wasn’t terrible. I liked the story, I liked the characters, but oh my god, technically, what a hot mess. Five years–just five!–and the damage was just unbelievable.
Things at which I was more terrible than I am now, apparently, complete with ranty tumblr moments from me and various others on these subjects.
-Overwriting. Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, how many actions does a character need to commit in one sentence? NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION AFTER THE FIRST ONE.
-Similarly: excessive description. Especially when you’ve already described them once. What the hell is this, Dickens? Move on, already! Delete. No one cares.
-Epithets. Okay honestly, I never used these a lot since I started submitting stuff; I’ve hated them for some time thanks to some very clever betas and fellow RPers. However, even titles can get just… bad. Even ‘the Secretary’ and ‘the Inquisitor’ are hard to follow after a while, man.
-Who the hell is talking? Okay, I still get accused of this a lot, but wow. Just. Wow. Related: tags. Terrible, terrible tags. Hissing words, laughing words, snorting words.
No, Katey. Just. No. That is not a thing that happens.
-Looking. Looking at this, looking at that. Stop, okay, Katey? If you describe something we know the PoV character is LOOKING AT IT. Who else would be? Oh right!
-In a similar vein: filter words. “She felt” “he thought” “he knew” “he saw”… no shit, Sherlock, who did I think was feeling and seeing the crap I was describing? It’s tight third person limited PoV–there is only one possibility! (Assuming I wrote the PoV right. Which, well, at least I didn’t fuck that up!)
-Passivity. Passive voice can be used to such great effect, but I feel like shaking it off as a default has been pretty much the longest process of my entire writing life.
Now I look at this list and wonder, five more years down the road, what horrors will I find in my current works? Ah, it’s the fate of the writer to grow up in public a little bit, I suppose. Bless editors. Bless you all. And bless people who’ve hired me to edit between now and then, because thanks to you I have my little Elements of Style book memorized. And though many of its rules are outdated, it’s still the solid foundation it was back in the day!
Please do not consider this a writing advice post, but do consider it me taking the piss out of myself. As an editor myself, these days, I find it necessary to reassure authors that I’m not just being mean and I TOTALLY understand where they’re coming from. Let this stand as proof. Because god, that only took a few days to edit up, but it felt like years.