Monday, March 28, 2011

Editing and Critique Partners

Oh, the dreaded E word!

I don't mean "electronic", which gives book publishers hives. No, I mean someone taking a hacksaw to your work and bleeding all over it until you're not sure you ever wrote anything good to begin with.


That said, editors have a thankless job. First, the writers come to them, whining and crying, "Oh please edit my work. It's good. It'll be worth your while; you'll see!" And then when they do as the writer asks, and edit to the best of their ability, the writers whine and cry, "Oh, how could you be so cruel? How could you kill my favorite sentences?" They get it coming and going.

The thing is, you can't edit your own work. You can see the story in your mind, but you're too close to it. You can't see where you've failed to explain it well enough or clearly enough through your writing. Worse, what about all the correctly spelled typos? The spellchecker won't catch it when you spell the darn word correctly, even if it's the wrong word. Taylor Mali gives an excellent illustration of why we need editors and proof readers in his poem The Impotence of Proofreading.

Having someone edit your work is nerve-wracking and scary, but the whole point of being a writer is so someone will eventually read your work! And not your mother, who's very proud of you and will tell you your writing is fabulous even when it's crap. Not your friends, either. They're too scared to hurt your feelings because they know this is "your baby".

You need editors and critique partners, people you can trust to tell you where your story needs elaboration, cutting back, or even rewriting. And you have to trust them to look at the story with your best interests at heart. They are there to help you make the story better. Granted, you don't want people who are derisive or so negative they kill your love and urge to write; but you do want people who critique seriously and with the intent to help you. The comments may be hard to read, but they are meant to make your story the best it can be.

The biggest thing you must do is let go of your "Attachment To The Words". You can't have favorite sentences when you hand off your work to an editor. They might get cut or moved or so rearranged they don't look like they did before they left your hands. You have to let it all go. Once it goes to your critique partners, it will change, probably for the better. The good news is you can choose which comments to take to heart and which to ignore. Maybe your reader didn't get what you were trying to say and a little rewording will help. Maybe they jumped the gun too early and the problem will be explained a little later, so you just need a little more setup to prime them.

A big thing to remember: the editor and critique partners are there TO HELP. The more comments they make, the more they care to make your story the best it can be.

I have (currently) four critique partners who help me smooth the rough spots, fill out the descriptions, and edit the crappy word choices I made. They also come from all walks of life: I managed to find a technical writing editor who can fix my word usage (YAY!); I found a scientific writer who enjoys science fiction and romance stories, and reads, a lot; I have a romantic suspense writer who has a great grasp of romantic elements in the crazy world of conflict; and I convinced a science fiction/fantasy writer to critique my work to help me with the paranormal aspects of my stories.

The more people who read your work and offer suggestions, the better. You'll never catch all the little quirks in your stories, but the cleaner you make them, the greater the likelihood you'll win a contract with a publisher and/or agent.

The biggest thing I want to offer: DON'T GIVE UP, even if you have a lot of work to do on the story you had critiqued. So this story wasn't the best; move on to the next one and learn from the mistakes on the first. Deb Coonts mentioned that the first story is good, the second story is great, and the third one is awesome, because she's had practice and learned from the mistakes. Same thing here. Don't give up after the first story if it isn't as good as you thought. The best stories are yet to come! :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writers Groups

"So you want to be a [writer], kid; well, whoop-de-do . . ."

I got this quote from Danny Devito's character Phil in Disney's Hercules. He was pretty sarcastic to poor young Hercules because he'd been disillusioned about training heroes only to see them fall in battle too early.

People who don't write or can't write have often told me that I can't make a living on writing stories, but I think they're either too afraid to try or too lazy. Writing for a living takes just as much work as a traditional job, except a traditional job hires you on the premise that you'll be productive for the "company", while writing requires you to have something produced before you get hired. That's tough, and it doesn't help if everyone is telling you, "You'll never make it" or "You can't make a living on writing; be a doctor or a lawyer." My father-in-law recently sent my husband a whole bunch of "work-from-home" links because he doesn't really think I have a job and with the state of the economy, he's worried we're struggling. *eye-roll*

Writing takes a few things to make it successful. It takes determination and persistence; it takes practice, practice, practice; it takes unflagging desire. It also takes encouragement. Because writing tends to be a solitary exercise and humans are essentially herd-animals, we do best when we're around others like us and can share ideas or methods to improve our craft.

Writing groups are essential to being a successful writer. This is my opinion, of course, but even electricians or doctors have mentors or "masters" from whom they learn the methods and tricks to their trades. Writing groups are full of all levels of writers, some who are very successful, some still learning to break into the publishing world. You can learn from all of them!

I'm part of two local writing groups: Las Vegas Writer's Group ( and Las Vegas Romance Writers ( Both groups have been invaluable to the improvement of my writing (very special thanks to my friend Susanne for introducing me to LVWG!). Not only was I introduced to other writers in my local area, but I started learning the serious and practical aspects of the writing world through them.

This weekend I attended the LVRW meeting and met successful writer Kris Tualla from the Phoenix RWA chapter ( She was a wonderful speaker, but she also had a lot of great information on the new trends in publishing. She gave us suggestions on how to make our works profitable and noticeable in the glutted market of e-publishing. She also told us that Romance Writers of America is a great organization for helping writers, particularly romance writers, find agents, publishers, editors and mentors. And the romance writers want to help new writers get out there and published. There isn't a competition in this group. Just because she gets published, doesn't mean you won't and vice versa. The masters are there to help and encourage you in your efforts; take advantage of them.

Kris said she was a part of two or three writing groups. I'm a part of two in my city, but there are more than that in each place and you can join them. With the romance writing groups, you usually have to be a member of the national organization, RWA, as well as the local chapter. There are fees, but they are worth it and, if you're serious about being a writer, the costs are small compared to the benefits.

"So you want to be a [writer], kid; well, good for you!" Go forth; join one of these groups, and prosper! Learn from the masters and may we find your stories not only on the net, but also on the bookstore shelves! :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writer's Block

Uh . . . what do I write now?

Ever feel that way when you're trying to write something; like a letter or a paper or even an email? It happens to all of us, but it's the worst when it happens to someone who's trying to make a living at it.

Some people say "writer's block" is a mythical thing; just an excuse to get out of doing something unpleasant. But for most writers, those who are both published and unpublished, writing isn't unpleasant at all. We just get stuck sometimes.

Every writer has different coping mechanisms. Some even have more than one. I've heard of writers who go for long hikes, or go running to jog their muse back into line. Others stare into space for long periods of time as if meditation will coax their muse into speaking more clearly. I've heard that banging your head against the desk might work, but I have no interest in the reaction headache afterwards.

I actually use two techniques to get my stories back on track. The first is going for a long walk and talking the story out loud to myself. I'm sure I look like one of those lunatics who talk to themselves while riding the bus or wandering through the park, but it really works for me. It lets me hear the story and get the characters clear in my mind; not only who they are but what they're likely to do when confronted with the circumstances of their situation. I once freaked out a pair of Mormon guys in the ties and white shirts as I described a particularly active and graphic battle scene while walking down Main Street in my home town. They gave me wide berth after that! :)

The second thing I do is switch to another story. I usually have at least four to five stories going at once. That doesn't work for everyone and many experts (published and successful writers) say that's not the best way to finish any one story, but it works for me. It works because if I get stuck on one story, the creative energy is still there and I can divert it to one of my other stories where I'd gotten stuck before. It helps me work out any kinks in the flow of the first story while working on the other, and vice versa. It's also a good way for the story to percolate in the back of my mind and the solution becomes clear so I can continue on.

The last thing that sometimes works is just pushing through. Yeah, the writing is crap and the story may not flow as well as before, but the good news is you can always go back and edit/cut/correct anything that isn't up to snuff. I usually have to do that for endings (since I'm not very good at them; the story already ended in my mind, why do I have to write the ending?). Pushing through is a good exercise in determination and persistence, and you'll need both to get published and be a successful writer. It's hard, it sucks, but it must be done.

One last thing. When it comes to writer's block, don't worry about it too much. If you think about it all the time, you only give it more energy and make it worse (read: stronger). Focus instead on the story, what you love about the characters and their situations, and go read a book in your genre for a half hour to remind yourself what you love about what you're writing. Tickle the muse, tease her with new ideas and seduce her back into telling you more of her secrets.

She's only waiting for you to say please. :)