Crayoned Walls

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An essay on writing from a new writer

Cindy Lou Harvell
5.0 1 review
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An Essay on Writing

As a new writer, I of course hope to snag the attention of anyone who will pat me on the head and take notice of my genius. As I learn the skills necessary to be a good writer, I look back on my earliest work and laugh at myself. I recognize how juvenile my writing is. My writing is Art Brut, undisciplined art, laughable in its low quality. At the time that I wrote it it seemed good, better than good, it kept me wanting to draw those over flowery descriptions overly stuffed with adjectives and adverbs. I felt those words paint a picture of what I saw and believed others would see as I did. Looking back, I didn’t see the picture as anything more than crayon marks on the walls. Had anyone told me at that point that my art was childish and sad I would have been angry, heartbroken, embarrassed and I would not have shown it to anyone again. I would still have written it.

I am realizing that as I learn and improve in my skills, my feeling of how I am doing is the same on many levels. I am still feeling that I am doing good art. I am impressed by my own expertise, still feel the genius of my own writing __ I still want praise and that pat on the head. I am thinking that this is not something I will outgrow. What has changed is that when someone points out my errors, how crappy my grammar and punctuation are, how clumsily I write a paragraph, or how wordy I am, I don’t get offended. I don’t feel angry, sad or depressed. I don’t feel the need to hide my work. What I hope for is that the critic is going to be specific enough that I see what they see. Telling me it sucks isn’t helpful. Tell me why it sucks.

There are any number of reasons a reader does not connect with a work. If they take the time to tell you, then you can improve your writing, if you choose to. You as a writer must decide to take offense or take notes.

After hundreds of beta readers have shredded, analyzed and corrected my story, I began to see a pattern. There were a handful of readers who just didn’t like westerns. Probably more than that, but many of them were professional enough to wade in with some good advice, anyway.

My grammar and spelling sucked so bad a wind was created across my keyboard. Aside from studying The Elements of Style, I invested in a grammar program, which isn’t foolproof but helped tremendously.

I used way too many words to say what I need to. I went off plot to write back story, I put in stuff that wasn’t ‘The story’. My manuscript ballooned to 200,000 words, and I still had no plot. My beta reader was asking me ‘what does he want?’, ‘what does this have to do with the story’, ‘When does the story actually begin’, ’Why should I care about this character?’. I didn’t have an answer for any of those questions. It took some time before I did. It was discouraging, but I was possessed by my story, so I kept trying.

I joined a group on Facebook about that time. The banner on one of their walls said, ‘If you don’t read, you can’t write’. I considered that. I wasn’t reading much. I was spending all my time writing, trying to figure out what my MC wanted. What the hell was I supposed to be reading?

Someone said, “Read what you want to write, write what you want to read.” Now it was making sense. My crayon marks on the wall began to change. I invested in some books on writing. I started reading stories of my favorite authors. I started answering my beta readers’ questions. Thank you, William Nuessle. I told him want my MC wanted. His response was, show me, don’t tell me.

I invested in “Getting the words right.” By Theodore Cheney. I began to see how I was not getting the words right. I saw how overstuffed with meaningless words my MS was. I went through my 200,000 words and trimmed them down to 50,000 words. It looked like a skeleton of my original draft. It still didn’t have a clear plot. Yes, I am a pantser. People kept harping that an outline was important, and I kept wondering why. When it became clear to me what my character wanted, I did make a loose outline.

I ran my story through Grammarly and was stunned at all the errors, all the changes suggested, and despaired that there were so many places my passive verbs were pointed out. What the hell was a passive voice? Maybe I would never be good at writing.

I persevered and more importantly, my beta reader persevered. Up to that point nobody had managed to get through my first chapter without being bored and disgusted. Nobody. What a hurdle that was. I felt like I was swimming up a waterfall. I invested in more books. I bought the ‘Snowflake Method’ by Randy Ingermanson. Thank you C. J. Quitoriano, my second really excellent beta reader. There are two really helpful books about the Snowflake Method, one is how to begin using it to write paragraphs to string together and the other is how to write better scenes.

I began to make character profiles and structure my story into an outline. I created a time line of events. I used scenes to show what my character wanted, I played him off other characters to show his personality. I went through the story and made an outline of how I wanted my character to change throughout the story, to get from the little asshole he was to someone my readers liked. I fleshed out my characters into real people, showing their strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, their likes and dislikes. I was learning. I got some beta readers to read the whole story. Yay!

I again have to say that each step felt like I was successful. My work was genius, I was producing art, even though it was still brut art. I didn’t know that. I thought I was really good. My skin was getting thicker though, because when my betas were telling me a passage still sucked it was no longer hurting my feelings, it was making me ask what was wrong and how can I fix it.

This is all to say that as you write, you need to be asking yourself some very personal questions. Are you happy with crayon marks on the wall? It’s your wall, it’s your crayon. If you really really like those crayon marks, keep doodling zentangles and enjoy them, but be realistic and know that nobody else is going to like them as much as you do. Nobody is going to give you money for them. You might get a few pats on the head like the child that you are but if that makes you happy, please keep on. Also please don’t take your crayon marks to an art gallery and expect to be respected or have some art critic ‘discover the genius’ of your work.

If you really want to be read and to sell your work put in the work, listen to your beta readers, learn the craft, sharpen your skills, suck up your pride and polish that raw talent to a high shine. You can always improve. Don’t get to the point where you say I am done.. I am perfect. You are not every going to be to a point where you can’t be better.. unless you are dead.

Also, when you get to a point where your work is recognized as professional, don’t forget your crayon marks on the wall.

These are just some random thoughts as I stand on the sidewalk and look back at my own short journey down the writer’s path. I am further than I had hoped to be, not nearly so far as I want to be. As always, every word I write is a work in progress. ~ Cindy Lou Harvell 2021

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