Welcome to another post where I process things through writing and post it because if I didn’t post it, I’d never write it! (Does anyone else use their blog like this or am I just broken? 😅) This time, what I am attempting to process are my writing weaknesses. After coming off a year where writing was my last priority and pretty much didn’t happen; receiving only rejections in an albeit very small pool my first time back into the query trenches; and questioning how I fit into my MFA program and what it’s trying to teach me…well, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my writing weaknesses lately.
This post is meant to help me outline them, see if I truly believe they are weaknesses or not (!!) and come up with a game plan of how to address them, if they are. So let’s get to it!
For those who are unaware, I’m currently working towards my MFA (Masters in Fine Arts in Fiction Writing), although as a less-than-part-time student, as I’m pursuing it thanks to the tuition assistance program where I work. Granted, I have Complicated Feelings™ about this program, but that’s a post for another day. o, the first two weaknesses listed below have come as feedback my faculty mentor from my MFA program.
The second two weaknesses listed below are ones I’ve identified and personally know I struggle with. If you’re a writer and have any feedback on any of these areas–suggestions, tips or tricks, or just plain commiseration–I welcome it!
Research and Setting
Feedback: my setting suffers because I am unable to pinpoint the exact period of time that influences the story
This is part of the feedback I received from my thesis mentor, who is an award winning writer of SFF publications, in both the short story and novel realms. It’s the feedback I’m struggling with the most. One of the main reasons I write fantasy is because I love to encourage my imagination. I love to make shit up. Now, I won’t hesitate to go onto a research dive when I run into specifics I’m not familiar with (like, I don’t know how to properly stab someone and kill them, so my search history is terrifying at best and concerning at its worse). But, when I’m writing secondary world fantasy, I don’t traditionally go and research a specific time period–15th century Naples, for example–to use as my setting.
So, where I’m struggling this is:
- Am I doing this wrong? Should I be researching for a comp time period, even for a secondary fantasy in a completely made up world?
- Will I lose freedom if I do this? I love the freedom of crafting the world the way I want it and not being bound by facts (as a historical fantasy writer might be). If I start to do in-depth research for each new project, will I start to become bound by the conventions of history? Or will my stories actually become stronger because of it?
- Time management: HOW DO YOU FIT IN IN-DEPTH RESEARCH AND PUTTING DOWN WORDS WHEN YOU HAVE NO TIME TO BEGIN WITH!? Help.
I would seriously love insight from others on their thoughts about this!! It’s been about a month since I’ve received this feedback and I just feel stuck and a bit lost, to be honest.
Feedback: I do not give myself enough time to rewrite my work
This is one I’m not quite sure I believe, for my professor has only ever read my short stories. They’ve never read a novel length work from me, nor read any revisions of a novel I’ve worked on. And I won’t lie: my short stories I’ve turned in, for both college and now in graduate school, are not my strong suit, so I know they’ve only seen my worst work.
Plus, considering I’ve had other graduate students read beginnings of a novel that I think rewrote and were floored with the amount of rewriting and work I did, also makes me question this.
Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to hear others experience with their own rewriting journeys. How often to do rewrite novel length works (or edit)? What are your processes?
Reflection: I lack confidence in my writing, inspired by my anxiety, perfectionist tendencies and dreams of publication.
Onto areas I know for a fact are writing weaknesses for me! Confidence. Oh boy, is this a weakness in all areas of my life, honestly. But writing especially. I love writing. It makes me feel the most whole, the most alive and the happiest. Yet, years of rejection have taken their toll and chipped away at the confidence I was had (yet, part of that was also growth and becoming a better writer, learning to recognize weakness and wanting to improve). The dream to publish and realizing how hard it is to do so has also influenced my love for writing.
Also, it’s just downright cruel to make a writer also have anxiety and be a perfectionist who just wants to do it “right,” yet there is no definition for right. Ugh.
So, fellow writers: how do you inspire confidence in yourself?
Reflection: I don’t make writing a priority.
This is just plan and simple: I don’t. I have plenty of excuses for it, many of which are valid: working two jobs, being in grad school while doing so, having other hobbies, a partner and a pet to care for, mental and chronic illnesses–not least of which is the lack of confidence described above.
How does one balance it all and still fit writing in (especially if I have been doing myself and my stories a disservice by not learning more history to support them)?
So, this post turned into kinda a plea for help. 😅 I would really, really love other writers input. Do you struggle with similar things? Have you conquered these beasts? Do you have any advice? Inquiries minds would love to know!
All in all, though: I am nowhere near where I want to be as a writer and I have plenty of writing weaknesses. Hopefully, I can improve in some (if not all) of these areas this year. My goal isn’t to become the perfect writer (those don’t exist). I do want to grow creatively: write more, believe in myself and value myself a writer.
Yeah, I’d like all of that, actually. 🖤
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I am far from an award-winning writer, but I would like to respectfully disagree with your advisor on your first point. One of the great things about second-world fantasy is *specifically that you aren’t beholden to a specific historical time/place*! Some of my favorite books break that “rule” — The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft come to mind right away. I say borrow from any place/time you want and mix liberally with your own made-up stuff, to craft exactly the setting you want your books to exist inside. There’s no immutable law that says another world’s culture, technology, fashion, farming techniques, scientific understanding, etc. had to have collectively evolved exactly the way it did on Earth.
It probably is worth spending time making sure you haven’t introduced mismatches that will throw a typical reader. (E.g. “If healing magic is cheap and everywhere, why is my main character always complaining about an old injury?”). And it’s good to think through the consequences of things like indoor plumbing — on, conversely, why there are sewers underneath your city that *doesn’t* have plumbing. A second-world should make internal and consistent sense. But as for the critique that your books/stories don’t invoke a specific time and place? Bah!
Dorian, as a writer I respect and admire, I really respect your opinion on this!! And you’ve reminded me how badly I need to get on Bancroft’s series (I own them, just haven’t read them yet).
I do agree EXACTLY to your entire paragraph. 1000%.
Funny enough I think research is my only strength. Yesterday, I spend one hours calculating ships speed, horse speeds and distances to see it a tiny choice in my story is “correct” or if I’ll get called out. However, lack of confidence is definitely one of my weaknesses and also I struggle with descriptions. Trying to describe a room (for example) in a way that will make sense and not be boring that’s the worse part for me.
I think that’s AWESOME that’s one of your strengths (it’s not a bad one to have, by far). I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t struggle with confidence, which is sad. Why are we all so cruel to our own brains!
M.A. Crosbie says
Ahhh I feel your pain on these…but please don’t beat yourself up! The level of introspection you’ve applied here already shows how much you care, and that supersedes any of these “weaknesses”. The historical detail one really stuck out to me, because I don’t think it was fair to you and your stories. As you said, you like to make shit up, and create secondary worlds, so they don’t need to be rooted in a specific time or place. They can be, if you want, but you shouldn’t be criticised for not evoking (whether obviously or not) a particular era. Maybe this person misunderstood what genre you write in the most? Maybe they come from a more historical fantasy background, so their training is influencing their thoughts here? I’m not sure, but I don’t think you need to worry about this one, nor do you need to add in-depth historical research onto your plate right now!
As for confidence, I wish I could grant you an unassailable supply forever! You are an amazing writer and editor, and I hope that as time goes on, you will start to believe it more and more. I know it’s cliche, but I think it will increase with each new project and revision you do? (And same with rewriting, maybe your process involves doing detailed outlines and clean drafts, so you don’t have to spend as much time rewriting?) You’ll start honing in on the best processes for you and your brain, and finding that magical flow state more and more. I’m also always here to be your hype girl, with confetti cannons and smoke machines blazing, whenever you need it <3
Meredith, your support always mean the bloody world, I swear. 🖤🖤 I do think that you’re right and they do come from a background where that is a very important aspect for them (and a great strength in their writing). I do appreciate you mentioning that you don’t think I’m a failure of a writer for not doing in-depth research for my second world fantasies, as I think that was my biggest fear (and it means a lot, coming from a very knowledgeable historian and incredible historical fantasy writer like yourself!!).
I love you so much. You’re the best hype girl, best friend, birthday buddy I could ever ask for. 🖤
On the worldbuilding stuff… oh lord do I hate this. Can anyone pinpoint the time period of Lord of the Rings? How about Discworld, where Pratchett ended up writing a book poking fun at how anachronistic his influences were. Peter McLean’s talked about using Georgian nobility in a Tudor period because he prefers that. And so on. Large numbers of people think secondary worlds need to faithfully reflect a historical period and they’re horribly wrong.
The problem is there’s a lot of them and you might need to sail with the wind.
I don’t have much of a solution. If you do adopt looking to go fairly closely with a historical period, I’d maybe suggest picking something with some big obvious period details, using them prominently, and winging most of the rest… maybe? But it sucks. The other answer is really in depth joined up worldbuilding which is a huge time sink.
Also holy shit massive respect for finding any time to write with two jobs, grad school, and a relationship. Maybe try setting yourself some time for little sprints here and there, if word sprints work for you?
Peat, thank you SO much for these thoughts!! I think my thoughts are very much in line with yours and I’ll need to learn to adapt (though, the sail with the wind analogy I am very much a fan of).
Thanks (sometimes, I think I’ve overextended myself just a wee bit). I do need to get back into the habit of sprinting, I think. They are so helpful!!
I know a little about the master’s program you are currently in (and what they are notorious for…), and based on your description, I think I might know who your advisor is. That said, go with your gut. The writing and artwork that I have done for school and also for myself has taught me to listen when appropriate and to discount when appropriate. I’m curious if he was explicit in how it would help your work. But even then, I say try his way with research, in a simple way, like just a scene. Then do it your way for a scene, and see what you think. I’m only beginning to write again, but I am an AVID reader. I am more than willing to read and let you know if there are differences I notice! My immediate thought is the research helps with continuity, but you might not need that. Just my two cents.
I also get what you are saying about his feedback on rewriting. You are being asked to turn in specific essays, etc. He doesn’t know your actual practice. It’s hard to tell whether or not to trust him. I’m rooting for you!! Let me know how I can help.
Also, I created my own WordPress account and am considering blogging the way you do! I love it. All the things you share help me to remember to not discount myself, my writing, and even my artwork. I think I might start my own blog…when I get brave enough I mean!
I always appreciate the time you take to write your blogs, the services you offer, and your honesty when it comes to doing what you have to do, and more importantly, what you love to do – and all the struggles that come along with that.
Oh wow, I had no idea you were familiar! I think I do need to learn a little better how to listen versus discount, like you discuss. I really like your comparison of adapting her suggestions for a smaller section and compare it to my own, traditionally style and see what fits better!
Thank you so much for your support. It truly means a lot!
Ahhh, I am SO HONORED my blog has inspired you! Like, that is incredible to me. 😭 If you do start a blog, please let me know so I can visit it and read your awesome posts. It’s a great hobby, imo, and a great way to process and create your own space. My friend Kate @ Your Tita Kate just wrote a blog post about starting a blog in 2022 that you might like!!
Thank you so much, seriously. This comment made my entire year already.
Um, the first one is utter bullshit and I think that’s all you need to know. Like, how is it fantasy if it’s based off history? Fuck that!
Ha, thank you so much, Beth. 🖤