Writing Notes: Recognizing Weaknesses

I was asked recently how I identify my own weaknesses when it comes to writing. There are many answers to the question, and as I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of self-editing lately, I thought I’d address it here as well.

There are several ways I identify weaknesses in my writing:

        Readers: Comments on my serial drafts and reviews both give me a wealth of information about what my readers are feeling/thinking, and what I should be focusing on in the next book. Everything starts and stops with readers. This is normally big picture stuff – plot, continuity, etc (revisions).

        Writers: Beta readers (used sparingly these days) and my editor are invaluable in pointing out my weaknesses, and making suggestions to fix them. This can encompass both the big picture and line-item levels.

        Self-editing: Wherein I pick through the book myself looking for plot holes, grammar/spelling errors, etc. I do a lot of this as I go, but also do a read-through after the draft is finished to fix the obvious mistakes before sending it off to my editor.

I have a pretty decent “feel” for grammar/spelling (always have), though I’m the first to admit that I’ll never be able to see all the little line-edit issues myself. The brain just doesn’t work that way – when it’s my own writing, I automatically see things the way I expect them to be for the most part, even when I’ve had time away from the story. So the need for a copy-editor other than myself will never go away. I have considered using editing software to quickly find potential problems with my prose, but have waffled on that. Because my phrasing and the rhythm is a big part of what constitutes my own “voice”, and I don’t want to edit that out.

As far as big picture items go – plot, continuity and character development (revisions, not edits)…I really depend on my readers and editor for feedback. Reviews and comments on the serial scenes really help guide what I focus on with regards to my characters and the overall plot. As described on DWS’s blog here (see “Cycler”), I write, check for spelling/grammar issues, send to one trusted reader for feedback (in my case, my editor), and publish once those issues are fixed. Then reader reviews and feedback for that story tell me what I need to work on in future books. I like this method because I’m learning as I go, practicing the craft with every story I write. And since I hate revision with a passion, this allows me to keep moving forward. I’m just as much a perfectionist as the next writer when it comes to my stories, but I get the best feedback from the books/parts of books I’ve revised the least, which says a lot, I think.

Once my weaknesses are identified, I can work on them by reading blog posts on craft, using reference books for writers, studying how other authors have dealt with the issues (ie, reading a lot of books), and then applying what I learn to whatever I’m working on. It’s a constant process, and I don’t expect it to end.

Writers, how do you know what you need to work on? Do you rely more on your own intuition, or do you rely more on the comments of others?

Readers, how you do feel about your reviews, presumably written for other readers, being used to help the author grow and learn?

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