Week 54

I've recently stopped reading fiction on the advice of other writers while I write my own first draft. It's to avoid getting bogged down in another person's style and letting it affect mine, or, worse, letting it infect it. The trouble is, I find non-fiction a bit dry and snag on pages early on, so I liked this advice in Becoming a Writer, when Dorothea Brande suggests watching carefully what effect certain writers have on you as a writer, whether they make you jump to your notebook with ideas or throw the book across the room with envy, and reading those that have a positive effect.

Or reading those who put your own writing in check; the "reticent writer" should force himself "to read Swinburne, or Carlyle".

The oversensational can reverse the recommendation and read the eighteenth-century Englishmen... if you have a dull and prosy note, a course in the novels and stories of G. K. Chesterton should be of advantage.

I like this idea. What I need is to work out which authors have an improving effect on my writing.

Photo of an antidote locker.

I think my writing suffers from adjectives, or more specifically, a proliferation of adjectives, or verbs and nouns that are so numerous that they do the job of describing, like I cannot decide which word to use so leave a thesaurus in place instead. Very often in my first draft I repeat sentences or phrases, that are not necessarily bettered by there as alternatives that I will at some point (presumably in the redraft) remove and restructure. There, I did it there. "Remove', "restructure". Perhaps they are not alternatives, but attempts at adding to and topping what has gone before. Adding to, topping. Whether a symptom of indecision or inveterate construction, it's embellishment, a sort of grasping at words. Why write simply and to the point when you can leave a sentence hanging, floating, unanswered?

Rather than slicing through to its meaning, every sentence opens up and bristles like a penknife. As well as bad style, it inhibits progress, linguistic rhythms and therefore the effect of the passing of time in the story.

Does anyone have the antidote? Who should I read to tauten my writing? What writers employ a decluttered, muscular style, for instance not using the word "employ" when "have" will do?

Word count this week: 948 Total word count: 95,976 First draft: 85,960

Week 53

This week's post is bound to come out wrong. But.

No-one tells you how hackneyed your writing will seem when first you start to write. Chances are it simply is hackneyed, but I also wonder if what I think of as clichéd phrasing and ideas are just things that have been knocking around in my head for a while. Not well-trodden universals, but symptoms of my view of the world. Perhaps those things that seem so obvious to me - the habits I assign to people, the little behavioural tics or repetitions in dialogue - aren't obvious, even delightful and intriguing, to other people.

What I'm saying is I love how learning to write and express ideas well is usually a lesson not in elaborating on things, but unwinding them, teasing out the essence of what you're trying to say. It's all too easy to mistake a-not-explained-enough thought for a simplistic one that's not worth saying.

That's my story anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Word count this week: 0 Total word count: 95,028 First draft: 85,012