Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Dangers of #1LineWed by Jennifer Young

There’s a trend on Facebook just now, one that affects writers only and one that I tend to approach, if I approach it at all, with extreme circumspection. If you’re a writer, or even if you only follow writers, you’re bound to have come across it.

It goes something like this. “Go to page 7 (or whatever) of your work in progress. Then post 7 lines/sentences from paragraph 7.” There’s something similar on Twitter, too. On #1lineWed you’re encouraged to post a single line from your current work, picking up on a specified theme or including a certain word. 

They aren’t promotional posts; just a bit of fun, with the added bonus of showcasing your work. (But no buy links, okay?) Nobody comments, nobody criticises, nobody suggest improvements. They just repost them or retweet them or ignore them. No stress, no strain.

So why don’t I jump at the chance? Why, when I’m tagged in one of these, does a little bit of me die inside? Could it possibly be because the seventh sentence on the seventh page of my latest book (I’d love to say it’s my seventh, but it isn’t) isn’t exactly world-shaking. It’s: “Tom, let’s go”.

The reasons I like and dislike this little game are not just related: they’re the two sides of the same coin and the currency we’re dealing in is a writer’s insecurity. The craft of writing requires attention to every single word. To get it right, each syllable has to be spot on; and the words need not only to be the right ones but they have to be in the best possible order. 

A single sentence picked at random from your novel can expose you, horribly. And even if you have a sentence that doesn’t just work but you’re proud of, the sentences before and after it can let you down. Most of the sentences I see are pretty good. Some of them aren’t so good. But taking a sentence of your own in isolation? That can hurt.

That makes it a good thing. It means I have to look at anything I post with an intensely critical eye. More often than not I end up changing it before I post. (There aren’t many rules in this game so I think it’s okay to post something edited.) By the time I’ve wrestled with seven lines (or whatever) I can have spent a long time getting it right.

That’s the down side: it makes me realise just how difficult it is to get every single word right. If I spend an hour on 129 words over seven lines, how much time do I need to spend on 70,000 words over 200 pages? I don’t have that time. I don’t spend it. But maybe I should. 

Maybe, after all, I’m turning out slack, sloppily-written work which would benefit from hours of polishing. And maybe, if I had to polish to that level of gloss…I’d never finish anything.   

10 comments:

  1. Mmm, I think it would be 'never finish anything' for me. In fact, I don't usually contribute to these posts because they make me so nervous!

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    1. I usually steer clear, but occasionally I take on the challenge.

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  2. I'm afraid I've given up doing these things, Jennifer, though I confess to doing this one a few years back. I don't send on recipes to seven people either, nor do I send poems or ... anything really. Life's too short to spend it taking part in chains. As for my seventh lines - I can't see that any single line in a book is going to have a great deal of import. Unless it's 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn,' or something as good – and that took hundred of pages to get to!

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    1. I don't do chains either - when I've done this I haven't tagged. But it does make me think how hard it is to get every word right.

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  3. I don't take part in Facebook chains, Jennifer but I do like #1lineWed on Twitter because it's usually quite a simple theme, which leaves plenty wriggle room. I don't always participate but I do like to have a quick skim to see what others have written and which tweets are popular (being retweeted). I find it quite good practice to concentrate on a single sentence for 10 minutes, then to let it go and see what happens! 10 minutes, once per week is enough though! : )

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    1. The trouble with #1lineWed is that it generally drives me mad with envy at other people's talent!

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  4. I've actually found that 1linewed has helped me learn some of my writer quirks. When I search for the theme for that week I often learn something.
    One week the theme was "pretty" and I realized that I was overusing pretty as an adverb. It is now on my list of words to check for in my editing process.
    Another week, the theme was "eyebrows." I found that all of my characters were constantly raising their eyebrows. I was using this--and other gestures--as a "clever" way of avoiding dialogue tags. I now pay more attention to my characters' gestures, who's doing them, and how often.Things like this have happened a lot.
    Shortening my lines into 140 character tweets is also good practice in using fewer words. Other times I've just had fun sharing my lines and reading other lines.
    People do often comment on my lines, and I comment on theirs. I've connected with people/writers this way and gained a lot of followers. All in all I've found it to be a positive experience.
    I wouldn't stress out too much about what you post. No one's going to be like, "that's a boring line." We understand that there's an entire story missing from these single lines. It's about giving people a glimpse of your writing, and it's a good way to gain followers if that's something you're interested in. If you have room in the tweet, you can link your blog/website, just no buy links.
    But, if it causes you stress, then maybe it's just not your thing, and that's totally cool too.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Becky. I think you're spot on about using it to spot weaknesses (mine are 'little' and 'just') although I'd never thought of it that way before. As I said in the blog - it's mostly about my own insecurities.

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  5. I'm afraid the cynic in me sees these things as chain letters, nothing more, nothing less. I also have a self-made rule that no one reads a word of my wip until my publisher sees it - I would feel too exposed putting up even one line. But Becky's reply is interesting .... horses for courses and I hope it continues to work for her. It's just not me!

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    1. I'm not brave enough to keep it under wraps, Linda. Well done you on that!

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