Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! I've come to the conclusion that life is NOT going to slow down any time soon. I spent a fabulous weekend in Indianapolis with my IRWA chapter mates at our Liliana Hart Event. We had a great turnout (about 160 attendees) and the program was fantastic! If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Liliana's presentations, don't miss it!
This week, my awesome Canadian friend Leah Braemel is here to offer her sage advice to new writers. I couldn't agree more with number one on her list! And number six. And number nine. Number two gives me warm fuzzies. :) The rest of her advice is right on the mark too! Welcome, Leah, and thanks for visiting!
Thanks to Mellanie for inviting me today – I’ve skimmed back over old posts, and there is a lot of great advice here, so I don’t think I’m telling you anything new, but these are the points that I have taught to my own classes. To be honest, these are pieces of advice I have stuck up on notes around my desk because even after fourteen or so published stories, and countless unpublished ones that will never see the light of day, I still need to remember these points.
Things to keep in mind when writing:
1. The BEST piece of advice I first heard from Margaret Moore, but I’ve heard other authors repeat it since: Treat all writing advice like a buffet. When an author stands up (or blogs) and says “this is how you should write” what you should hear is “this is what works for them, it may or may not work for you.” It took me a couple of years to realize how wise Margaret’s advice was.
2. Don’t overload yourself with how-to-write workshops or books. When I first joined a major writing organization almost ten years ago, they and their affiliates offered dozens of workshops a month. I would take at least one craft course a month for almost the whole year. By the end of that year I found myself writing a paragraph, or a sentence, and then thinking “Oh, but Jane said …” so I’d delete the sentence and re-write it using Jane’s suggestions, only to think “Oh, but Mary said…” and so I’d delete that sentence and try to write it the way both Jane AND Mary suggested, and so on I went. Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done for almost a year.
Does that mean I’m saying you shouldn’t read any craft books and shouldn’t take any courses? Heck no. My shelf is filled with them – I highly recommend Mellanie’s books, or another favorite of mine - Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. I also highly recommend Margie Lawson’s courses.
3. There are no “Rules of Writing.” Seriously. They’re more like pirates’ guidelines.
In fiction, you can use fragments. You can use one word sentences. You can end a sentence with a preposition. You can write first person point-of-view for two different characters in the same book. (Just not in the same scene please, that would be too confusing.) Yes, there are editors and agents who will not read a book that starts with a prologue, but that’s usually because most new authors don’t understand what a prologue is supposed to show. There are hundreds of new books published by New York every year that include prologues. You just have to know when a prologue is necessary and when it’s just an info-dump. So if someone tells you that you can never use the word “was” in your first paragraph/page/50 pages, etc., or that you absolutely must follow the (picture me dropping my voice into a horror movie announcer tone) *12 Rules of Writing*, feel free to thumb your nose at them and show them the door.
4. You write the book, not your computer software: Don’t get stuck in the loop that if you just find the perfect writing software you’ll be able to finish your book. Sorry to disappoint you but even if you have great programs such as Scrivener or WriteWay Pro (and hey, Word’s not so bad either), you still have to sit your butt in the chair and write the darn book. The software is simply a tool to help you achieve it – it’s up to you to actually put the words on the page.
5. It helps to have a good chef teach you to cook, but there can be too many cooks in a kitchen. There are those (and I used to be—and still am—one of the advocates) who insist you have to have a couple good critique partners go over your work before submitting it. It’s a good idea, especially for new writers. But you also need to be aware the wrong critique partners can destroy your self-confidence until you don’t trust yourself anymore, and worse, they can try to change your voice or teach you bad habits. The key is learning the difference between a good critique partner and a bad one—oh boy that’s a delicate balance because someone who is good for one author might be a bad critique partner for another. Finding a good critique partner is like dating—you have to try each other out, get to know each other’s styles, and it’s okay to say “no, this isn’t a good fit” and move on.
6. Be aware that what works for you now, may not work for you 2 years from now, or vice versa. If something’s not working for you, don’t be afraid to try something new.
7. If you’re struggling writing a scene in third person, try writing it in first person, and then if your genre or your readers insist they only read third person, when the scene is done, you can edit it back to third.
If you normally sit at your desk, try sitting at the dining room table, or at a coffee shop, or the side of a river. If you normally write on a laptop, try writing on your tablet, try dictating into a voice recorder, or go old-school and hand-write your scene. You’d be surprised how a simple change can unclog your creativity and get you back on track.
8. Edits—they hurt so good. I once heard an author say how whenever they got their edits back from their editor, they pushed their chair back from their keyboard as far as they could get, closed one eye, squinted with the other, and very gingerly pressed the key to open the doc. I find myself reacting the same way most times. (Although usually my editor will tell me in the accompany email whether she liked it or not.) But – and this is a key point new writers need to remember—as much as it hurts to read an editor’s notes that tell you your writing isn’t perfect, you need to learn to listen to what they’re saying. You need to be able to take a step back and say “why are they saying that?” As the author you know what you meant, but maybe you weren’t clear enough so the reader is left confused. The editor is telling you the readers’ side, and that’s something that should be very important to you. Yes, there are times the editor and you may disagree. It happens on occasion. But don’t automatically dismiss their comments either. Their name goes on that book (even for my self pubbed books, I include the name of the editor in the front pages) and they are being judged by your work too. So open that edited doc, read through their comments, then close the doc and walk away for a day. Or two. That space and time will give you a new perspective.
Oh and about those edits? Yes, you really do need to hire a professional editor – unless your mom or your sister is a professional editor, please don’t think them reading your work is a pass straight to self-publishing and rave reviews. Sure it might happen, but seriously, go out and find yourself a freelance editor to edit your work so it’s the best it can be. Read their comments and listen to them, (most authors I know let them sit for a day or two to allow them to digest) and then EDIT your work again, and then hire a proofreader, and turn out the best possible story you can.
9. Straight from Nora Roberts herself – “You can’t edit a blank page.” And added to by me, “you can’t publish a blank page. So if your goal is to be published, you’d better finish that book.”
Reviewers have awarded Leah's books numerous Top Pick and Recommended Reads designations as well as nominated them as Best Contemporary Romance, Best Erotic Romance, and Best Ménage à Trois or More. Leah has also been nominated as Favorite Author and Best Erotic Romance Author.
Look for FEEDING THE FLAMES, book 1 in the Flirting with Fire series, along with the Grady Legacy series from Carina Press.
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