As the Excuse Editor, it's my responsibility to uncover different excuses writers use for missing their writing goals. "Fortunately", I don't have to spend hours researching this topic; most of the material I need is readily available.
I just have to look in the mirror...
For writers, how you decide to tackle your next writing project may depend on the kind of mirror used.
The Fun-House Mirror
Everything about your writing seems WRONG. Your characters are so thin they could never be mistaken for being truly alive. Your setting is a blur. Your dialogue is fat and rambling. Those finishing touches meant to accessorize and complement are just distracting from your story's true beauty. None of this is what you were expecting to see.
Take another look:
Just by shifting perspective, the image changes. Turn the mirror to create more depth in your characters. What comes into focus? Were they "thin" because you hadn't given them any substance? Add some physical description, give them intriguing habits, expand on their past. Take a step back from your blob of dialogue and your blurry setting. What was your character trying to say? Possibly, the weight of the words was necessary. Concentrate on making each word count before shaking the mirror to let words loose. As you walk by this mirror, notice how the setting ebbs and flows from the foreground to an almost unrecognizable mess behind the scenes. Depending on the part of the story, this type of shifting is necessary. Let your setting travel along with the reader on the journey, popping up crisp and clear to let them know where they are, then settling into their memory as your action takes center stage.
As scary as these mirrors are, they serve a purpose. There are many types: your writer's group, your editor, your book sales...All force you to scrutinize every little detail of your writing life. By emphasizing all angles of your writing, things once overlooked can no longer be ignored. These mirrors spotlight issues such as your passive voice, your dropped plot line, your commitment to marketing.
Take another look:
Even when everything looks great on the surface, looking deeper will reveal an opportunity for improvement. Take these mirrors out when your work needs precise focus. When your story is just about to step onto the stage, you need to make sure it is ready for a close-up. Your writer's group mirror is likely to be much more forgiving than a contest judge; be prepared! An increase in book sales could be highlighting your recent efforts--a blog tour or other networking, perhaps. Seeing the numbers in front of you allows you to see what's working.
As a writer, you can only see the reflection of your own writing, you are oblivious to the audience looking in at you and your work. They are usually unseen to you, once your writing goes out into the world. You don't know what your audience is doing when they come upon your newest story, essay, article, or blog. You can't see the expression on their faces when they read that hard-won turn of phrase. The very nature of the reader allows them to make judgments and decisions about you and your creations without any further input from you. Once your work is out there, it becomes something else in the eyes of a "stranger." After all, when you look into this mirror, all you see is you. But, they don't see a mirror at all. They see a window... into your soul.
Take another look:
Assume that every submission, every reading of your work comes with one of these mirrors. Do what you can to get the right people on the other side of that glass. Define your audience. Know who they are, and then market directly to them by submitting to publications that publish writing similar to yours and becoming part of their "tribes", and create your own. This way, even when you are left only seeing your version of the story, you can be more confident that the readers looking in will like what they see.
Make sure your writing strikes a little pose in front of the mirror this week. Let it have a little diva attitude as it gets ready for a night on the town...