Writing process

Why can’t we see the same mistakes in our own novels that we see in others?

I have just finished critiquing a fellow writer’s novel. It was a pretty good read. I enjoyed it a lot. But, it was a critique and so I after I commented on the good things, I concentrated on what didn’t work. The main problems with the story were easy to pick. Too much information was conveyed through dialogue. The book changed part-way through, as if the author had finally realised where it was going, but he hadn’t gone back and changed the start. There were some excellent emotional scenes but in other parts of the story there was no emotion at all, and it was just a straight telling of this happened, then that happened and then that.

These are all traits I recognise from my own writing.

If it’s so easy to recognise them in someone else’s story, why can’t I recognise them in my own?

Most authors will agree that time gives distance to their work. Putting a manuscript away for six months definitely shows up many flaws. Yet even so you don’t get them all. You make the novel as good as it can be, but when you get your first beta reader they still pick up a whole lot of things that you hadn’t even noticed, even if it has been months between drafts.

I do a lot of writing with a writing partner. We both work the same way. We talk about what we wish to write and what’s going to happen in the story, but only one person sits down and hammers out the first draft. After that the other writer goes through the text and finds the holes and adds all the things the initial writer left out.

It used to be that this worked brilliantly. The writer who reviewed the first draft gave the same sort of feedback that a writer from a (good) critique group did.

But, I have noticed that as we write more and more together we’re actually becoming blind to each other’s writing mistakes. We know the other person’s writing so well now that it’s getting harder and harder to pick up those mistakes first time around, or even second time around.

We’re relying more and more on other beta readers to pick them up.

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