So I know the real answer here is “Everyone has their own method, you need to find your own.” I know I know. Still, I’m interested to hear what works for people.
I can be a decent writer of poetry and nonfiction. But when it comes to fiction, for some reason, I am at a loss. I have fine ideas, and I’m not lost when it comes to plotting etc. It’s just the wordcraft for lack of a better word. The writerliness, or something. Basically, each sentence I write, I look at afterward and think “God that’s a clunker!” The whole time I’m writing I’m thinking “Geez this is just awful! Who would read this?”
It’s not because I underestimate the quality of my own writing. It’s seriously bad. There’s this cleverness and readability* that good fiction writers have that just doesn’t happen for me at least on a first pass.
As an undergrad I flirted for a semester with the idea of majoring in Creative Writing, and my Fiction teacher seemed to have a high opinion of my stuff. Looking back, somehow, I was better back then. Not good, but better. I don’t know how I lost this quality I above called “this cleverness and readability”, but I’m hoping I can get it back with practice.
And so my question: Given that my goal is to develop this difficult-to-describe quality of “cleverness and readability”, should I just keep writing the clunky prose, finish out the story as awful as it sounds to my inner ear, and then try to get it sounding better through the rewrite process? This way I’d get the story out and have something to work with. But on the other hand, should I instead work on each sentence carefully as I write it the first time? Not with the expectation that I won’t have to rewrite it, but with the expectation that what I have to work with after the first draft will at least be something worth working on?
Something I’ve noticed about good writing that I enjoy is that these authors are able to use striking metaphorical imagery in ways that seem natural, not at all “inserted” into the text. They turn out to seem the best and most natural way to describe what they’re describing. That’s something I’d like to learn how to do. But can it be learned?
No, by the way, I won’t be showing you any examples of my horrible prose.
*By “cleverness” I don’t mean any kind of self-conscious smugness or anything like that. I just mean being able to write masterfully and interestingly.