Never Have I Ever

~Never have I ever… run a marathon (or any race really).

~Never have I ever… been to New York City (closest was Ithaca).

~Never have I ever… won on a slot machine (not even $5!).

~Never have I ever… entered in the The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest.

This has been a choice, though not always an active one.

Back in high school, my sister and I had several friends on the track team that told us how much fun they had traveling together to track meets the previous year that we had missed out on. Having fun, hanging out with friends, and allowed to skip class for the events? Heck yeah, we signed up!

The coach did not know what to do with us, as we were not athletic by any measure, and most of the slots were already filled. There were a few openings on the team, events that no one else wanted to do, so she had us try out for those slots. One of these was the grueling 2-mile. I tried it once in practice and said “Nope!”, and dropped out of track. The call of friendship, teamwork, and getting away from me was stronger for my sister, so she stuck it out and did quite well. Today she is still a fit long-distance runner, while I often wheeze walking up the stairs.

At the time, I made excuses, but as I have aged I know it was my choice, good or bad, to not run. After taking a genetic test, I discovered I don’t have elite athlete muscle fibers. Not shocked? I wasn’t either. It did say I could be an endurance athlete, though, which makes sense. Several people in my family (besides that one sister) are runners, including my cousin, Jonnah, who does ultra running. (Check out her blog at the ultra farmer, she is very inspirational in regards to running, organic farming, and life in general.)

Someday, I will run a marathon, though I should baby-step into it with a 5k, then a half marathon, and then finally a full one. I think my first would be the Beat the Blerch, the marathon initiated by the online comic The Oatmeal – Matthew Inman. It is less serious than some races, and, if nothing else, they have cake!

The reason I mention the running, the slot machine losses, and travel, is to discuss bad writing. Seems like an odd transition in topics, doesn’t it? The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, if you have never heard of it, is a competition to create one awful, no good, very bad sentence, while still maintaining appropriate grammar, $10 words, and exceptionally descriptive styling (aka overly purple prose). I have never submitted to the contest because, for a long time, that was how I wrote.

My issue was similar to what I see in many beginning authors, in that I felt I had to use flowery language in order to be “a real writer.” The books and stories I read were not like, except for the required reading in English Literature classes. And those are BORING! (This is especially problematic in authors who have congratulated themselves on their intelligence in the past, myself included.) We try to sound fancy and mimic the great works of the past, or at least what we have been told are great works, and work to impress the gatekeepers of the Victorian era. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

This problem is very common with new authors, especially if they do not have a copy editor. (Get a copy editor, for the love of God, get a copy editor!) I struggle to read these books and stories, and it is as much work to stay focused with the story as it was for those boring books in high school. The reason is flow. So simple, yet so hard for a newbie. An innovative and unique story, with amazing characters and in depth backstories, can be a slog to read when the descriptive style interrupts the narrative. A new author really, really wants to share the picture in their head with the audience, but it comes out like they are telling you what they dreamed last night. No one wants to hear that, even if they asked!

Without this over description, a story might seem too simple for the beginner writer. “No one will think I am a real author!” Baby Writer says. Yet, without all the flowery prose, the worst the story could do is bore the reader. I have read simplistic stories that flowed well, and while the plot was mostly beige, I finished it. Those other stories where the author is trying to impress Victorian high society? Yeah, it is as much of a nope for me as that 2-mile race when I was 16. Just not worth it. Heck, even in stories that flow, my eyes glaze over when the character is being described, unless it is brief.

These are all choices we make, as authors, readers, and gamblers. I don’t win on slot machines because I have played maybe five times in my entire life, risking a total of $20. I won’t become a better writer if I don’t put my work out there and listen to feedback, good and bad.

Accept you can be wrong, that it is okay, and you can grow. The reader is 100% correct on interpreting their own experience, so as authors, don’t tell them they just didn’t understand it, or they didn’t read far enough into the story. Listen and grow, and maybe go for a jog. I hear it’s good for your health!

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