Writing Improvement Meme

A popular meme for artists is to look back over the work they’ve done over the years, and pull it together to show how they’ve improved. So I thought I’d try the same with my writing. The point of this isn’t to show how I was a literary prodigy at a young age–far from it. In fact, I want to show you just how terrible I was, and show how someone with no natural talent can improve through a lot of hard work. If I can do it, anyone can.

So without further ado, here goes… and please, try not to laugh too hard.

2002–2006 (Age 15 to 19)”

He skipped down the street, hope welling up inside him.

“And he lived happi–”

His story was cut short as the icing of death clouded his eyes. Then he collapsed.

When I started writing more than occasional bits and pieces, I wrote short stories, convinced I couldn’t complete an entire novel. They were full of terrible clichés and odd sentence cadences. I was also convinced that a good short story should firstly have some crazy twist at the end, such as “the character you thought was a man is actually a mouse!” or some kind of morality theme. Secondly, it shouldn’t end happily, because only silly childish stories did that. Both were so far off the mark it’s quite laughable when I look back at it.

2003–2009 (Age 16 to 22):

The oversized maw, he could tell, was crushing his body, and he could feel his life slowly ebbing away. The pain of his failure wiped out all else from his mind, his despair crushing him much more effectively than the Zolom.

I discovered the wonderful world of games, and of fanfiction. At this point my definition of a chapter was equivalent to one short scene, and the main character was angst in human form. I had no idea of the concepts of pacing, or describing a scene beyond the action happening in it.

This was the first story I came up with that was actually long enough to be more than a short story–I got up to about 20,000 words before I gave up, but it was the first time I’d ever planned anything out, and written a cohesive piece longer than 1000 words or so.

I also did a lot of writing in forum role-plays then. Though it didn’t do much to help me improve with novel plotting, my writing itself improved quite a bit in this period and developed into the kind of style I use today.

I first started thinking of writing a novel at this stage, though I never got too far. You can probably see that the writing’s improved, but I still thought a paragraph was enough to comprise a scene! I never got very far with any of these works. They all petered out quickly because I never sat down and wrote an outline or a plan. I had cool ideas, but nowhere to go. Planning is key, people!

2009–2010 (Age 22 to 23):

“Did he really master a thousand stances by the time he was eighteen?” he asked, even though he’d heard the answer many times before.

“He did,” came the usual reply. “In fact, he was so bored with the usual ones, he started making up his own. So you have him to thank for the Full Moon of the Baboon and the Wolf answers Nature’s Call stances, for instance!”

They both started laughing, and he tried to make them up himself, frustration forgotten.

In these two years, I started to get very serious: I settled on a plot I loved (and still do), and started writing a novel. I built a world and countries with history, a magic system, created characters and planned their purpose, gave them all interesting back-stories, and even drew up a map.

Then I wrote the first 3–4 chapters, threw them out, and rewrote them. Many, many times. This exercise was very good for getting a feel of what elements worked, and what didn’t. However, notice the problem–it was only the beginning! The other problem I had can be seen in the snippet above: Characterisation. The character Leo was meant to be seventeen, not nine. So I worked a lot on that too, writing all kinds of alternate universe shorts, and role-playing with a friend using those characters.

November 2010 (Age 23):

“Al,” I say again, more firmly this time. Still no response, save for the scratching of quill on paper. I’m annoyed now. I know it’s because he can’t forgive me, and I don’t blame him… but I’m annoyed nonetheless. I thought he would at least hear me out. He doesn’t know if it’s an apology, or important news, or even just me trying to reach out to him.

So, I snatch away all the paper from his desk and rip them up. [She’s still ignored.] In the end, I have to throw his inkpot out the window and snap his quill in two before he turns to me irritably. [He takes it in his stride but doesn’t pay her much heed.] Then I punch him. I don’t expect it to connect, but it does, and I can’t even claim to be horrified. It’s just… satisfying.

I completed my first novel during NaNoWriMo. And it was crap.

I’d been working hard to improve my writing and plotting, and reading books about writing. I used a side character spun off from the other novel I’d been working on, and gave her a world and story of her own. Unfortunately, it suffered from a terrible case of plot armour and overreacting characters, like in the snippet above. There was zero tension, and the main characters weren’t very sympathetic, doing terrible things with no proper reactions.

2011 (Age 24):

I raise my face to the morning sun, still gentle before the blazing harshness of noon. It is a welcome warmth. It nearly makes me believe in a world where I’m not squeezed into dresses so tight I’m gasping for breath, or expected to watch every word in case I offend another member of the Council or their family, or trying to disguise my frantic scrabbling to keep control of the other girls. It is a world where I can dangle dirty, unshod feet from the top of a roof and enjoy the cool breeze that blows in from the sea and no one even looks my way.

My first attempt at re-writing the mess of a novel ended up in a series of disjointed scenes that told a story in the same way someone would use a series of photos to show a movie. That, too, was discarded.

I didn’t work much on the story itself this year–instead I focused on re-plotting everything, and on getting to know the characters better through writing scenes like the one I took this snippet from. I also read many books like these to improve my skills in the specific area of novel-writing and plotting. Which led to…

2012 (Age 25):

It grew into a dream they shared, so tenuous that they had to anchor it with exuberant discussion lest it fade away. They spent many nights talking about the enemies they would face, the accolades they would win, the lands and titles that would be gifted to them. The girl clung to this as a promise that they would always be together; that she would not be left behind. But there were many ways to be left behind, the girl would soon discover, and most of them were beyond the boy’s control.

I finished the first draft of a novel that I was proud of. I had it edited, had it go through beta readers, and finally sent it off to agents. Though the best I got was a very positive rejection from one sole agent, it was still a new milestone for me–a long way from the days of terribly angsty characters, one-paragraph scenes, and bad characterisation and plotting.

The Future:

So what awaits in 2013? I’ve just redrafted the novel yet again, and I’m proud to say that I think it’s my best work yet. It’s something I would be happy to show not only family and friends, but strangers as well. Now it’s back with the agent who gave the positive rejection… who knows what the future holds?

But what I hope you can see is that when it comes to writing, talent is overrated. I’ll be the first to say that mine is severely lacking in comparison to that of many of my friends. It’s the hard work that you put in that makes the difference. There’s the endless writing and rewriting. Forcing yourself to read books analytically and take notes . Experimenting with different voices. Studying the art of writing through books, blogs, podcasts and other media–and applying it. Expanding your vocabulary and finding words you love. Daring to try, and to fail, and to try again.

There is so much I still need to learn, and to improve on. Writing doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to others with a natural talent. However, I hope this inspires someone out there who wants to try, but doesn’t think they can. If I can get this far, so can anyone with the same passion.


Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

The management of Magnificent Nose takes no responsibility for lost productivity due to its readers recklessly clicking on TV Tropes links.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Improvement Meme

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    1. A lot, a lot of hard work. If you keep at it and don’t give up, you’ll definitely be able to. I think the real secret to writing a good story is rewriting until you’re sick of it, to be honest. 😛

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