I started this post by focusing on words, phrases, and plot points I see too often. It’s true that there are way too many stories built upon descriptions in pleasing sets of three (seriously, check out paragraph ten), or pieces that use birds as a metaphor way too often (same example). As you can see, I’m guilty too. I also end up reading a lot of pieces that begin with a character waking up in the morning and either ending when that character goes to sleep or with some kind of climax that isn’t earned by the plot itself, like a car crash or explosion. The further in I got into the post, though, the more I started getting bothered by the worst phrase of all: “I can’t.”
To be clear, this is a phrase I hear writers say out loud way too much. Write “I can’t” all you want!
All joking aside, this phrase is dangerous. Specifically when extended into “I can’t write ____” or “I can’t do ____.”
The “I can’t” attitude has infected me in the past as well. I’ve felt this way about a number of projects that might have been great but I felt at the time were outside of my reach, like conference proposals or anthology queries or chapbook ideas. By not giving myself the chance to learn and stretch my writing muscles in the past, I’m sure I missed out on plenty of opportunities.
I’ve never written a “happy” story in my life, and have recently challenged myself to include comedic elements in my work. This is hard! I can imagine that at the very least I’ll know that I gave it a good shot. There’s plenty of great work for me to read and pick up on some of the common elements of this type of writing, though, rather than giving up on it and writing like I always do. I don’t plan on being a comedy writer at the end of this, but I am going to be better equipped as both a writer and a reader.
If you’re like me and you’re tackling a new genre or style rather than giving in to “I can’t,” read as much of what you’re trying to create as possible. Really, this works. Familiarize yourself as much as you can with what’s already out there so that you have a good idea of what a finished product looks like. That way, you won’t be relying on overused words, phrases, or plots to push your piece forward. No matter what the style, scope, or genre you’re practicing, there’s always going to be something published out in the world for you to get your hands on and study. Hell, read everything you can anyway! It’s only going to make you a better editor of your own work.