I hope you’ve never had someone in a workshop or critique group blatantly declare your work “boring,” but as I know too well, there are many ways your readers can say “boring” without using that word: I lost interest here, the pacing is off, we need more tension, I’m not feeling compelled….and on and on. Yikes.
Here’s a great piece written by one of the members of my fabulous neighborhood prompt group, Joanne M. Lozar Glenn, about what to do if you get the dreaded “boring” scribbled onto your manuscript page. After all, we know it’s better to hear the word from a critique group, right, rather than waiting for the silence of the editor’s eyes slipping away, looking to see what else might be in the stack?
Fixing “Boring” Writing
By Joanne M. Lozar Glenn
Has anyone ever told you that something you wrote was "boring"? Did you think the criticism was valid?
That's hard to hear. If and when that happens to you, try this:
- Look at work you've done that your critic, or others, found engaging. Analyze what you did there that you did not do in the work your critic found boring. That's a clue to what you do well. Do more of it.
- Remember that writing gets interesting when it becomes specific. Use concrete, specific, sensory (sight, touch, taste, smell, sound) details to make your point.
- Write about people. Most of us love to peek into other people's lives.
- When you write about people, write about a particular person instead of people in general. E.B. White once said, "Don't write about men; write about a man." Again--specificity!
- Narrow your focus. Go deep rather than wide. Write only what you can see through a one-inch picture frame (metaphor courtesy of Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, one of my favorite writing books). Stay in the moment. Use concrete details to illustrate abstract ideas.
- Edit with copies of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Gary Provosts' Make Every Word Count nearby. Both authors offer lots of examples to clarify their advice, and Provost is easy and fun to read.
- Whenever you can, tell a story--even if you're writing for business. Stories make facts and information more palatable. Humans are hard-wired for story. Give them what they crave.
- When you tell a story, tell the truth. Readers can tell when you're hiding something. Your emotional honesty comes through on the page, and readers will not only find that interesting, but love you for it.
Joanne M. Lozar Glenn is an independent writer, editor, and educator based in Alexandria, Va. She writes and edits content for clients in healthcare, education, and business, and leads "destination" writing retreats (www.wtwpwn.com). Her essays and poems have appeared in Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, Ayris, The Northern Virginia Review, Hippocampus, The Writer, and other print and online journals. She is the author of Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace and co-author of 25+1: Communications Strategies for Business Education and Applying Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine: A Step-by-Step Guide.