There’s an old adage; There’s no quick fix.
Here is a short article dedicated entirely to the quick fixes that will drastically improve your writing. This one’s fairly simple, it’s the kind of stuff that’s obvious in hindsight, but hard to figure out or pin down on your own.
This week’s article length, and last week’s gap, is dedicated to appendicitis. Appendicitis; When a superfluous organ revolts, and the best solution is to stir your insides around with a scalpel. It’s also sponsored by the two lovely, wonderful nurses whose only failing to me was not being able to get a blood sample from my wrists. Blood samples that really weren’t needed but the doctors were asking for anyway. They made a valiant attempt at it, and that valiant attempt meant two large needles being dug around in my wrists for three futile minutes, which has made typing with my left hand especially to be a huge pain. And that’s where the ‘e’ key is.
Alright. Moving on.
Here’s the disconnect. You want to convey an idea, but the best description you’ve got isn’t an exact fit, or too obviously an exaggeration. You’re going to hedge it with ‘like’ or ‘almost’ or ‘kind of’ — It sounded almost like the sound of tearing tin cans, it was like her skin was crawling, it was almost as x as y.
Don’t do that. Just let the sentence lie. The disconnect comes from the reader then having a clear image, and then negating it by the weasel word. It makes the image less clear, more contradicted in their mind, and harder to hold. It’s easier for them to suit the definite towards what the image should be on their own, than it is to be told that the image they’re conjuring is wrong.
Be boldly wrong.
When an author doesn’t give characters an action in a dialogue — eating, fighting, fiddling with a pen — they need to keep emphasizing visual actions to keep the scene grounded and prevent ‘talking heads’. So what do the characters most often do?
Smile and nod. Frown and shake their heads.
It’s like kerning. Once you notice it in other people’s writing as well, you can’t unnotice it. It’s horribly uneffective. Think of what their mannerisms are, more specific to the character, and whenever you think of writing about a smile or a nod… try something a bit more evocative.
Finally, I’m going to link to an article by Chuck Palahniuk, who gives the best advice I have ever heard, and quote a comment by Dan Harmon, buried somewhere in the depths of a Reddit AMA:
My best advice about writer’s block is: the reason you’re having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the GOAL of writing well and the FEAR of writing badly. By default, our instinct is to conquer the fear, but our feelings are much, much, less within our control than the goals we set, and since it’s the conflict BETWEEN the two forces blocking you, if you simply change your goal from “writing well” to “writing badly,” you will be a veritable fucking fountain of material, because guess what, man, we don’t like to admit it, because we’re raised to think lack of confidence is synonymous with paralysis, but, let’s just be honest with ourselves and each other: we can only hope to be good writers. We can only ever hope and wish that will ever happen, that’s a bird in the bush. The one in the hand is: we suck. We are terrified we suck, and that terror is oppressive and pervasive because we can VERY WELL see the possibility that we suck. We are well acquainted with it. We know how we suck like the backs of our shitty, untalented hands. We could write a fucking book on how bad a book would be if we just wrote one instead of sitting at a desk scratching our dumb heads trying to figure out how, by some miracle, the next thing we type is going to be brilliant. It isn’t going to be brilliant. You stink. Prove it. It will go faster. And then, after you write something incredibly shitty in about six hours, it’s no problem making it better in passes, because in addition to being absolutely untalented, you are also a mean, petty CRITIC. You know how you suck and you know how everything sucks and when you see something that sucks, you know exactly how to fix it, because you’re an asshole. So that is my advice about getting unblocked. Switch from team “I will one day write something good” to team “I have no choice but to write a piece of shit” and then take off your “bad writer” hat and replace it with a “petty critic” hat and go to town on that poor hack’s draft and that’s your second draft. Fifteen drafts later, or whenever someone paying you starts yelling at you, who knows, maybe the piece of shit will be good enough or maybe everyone in the world will turn out to be so hopelessly stupid that they think bad things are good and in any case, you get to spend so much less time at a keyboard and so much more at a bar where you really belong because medicine because childhood trauma because the Supreme Court didn’t make abortion an option until your unwanted ass was in its third trimester. Happy hunting and pecking!