No Critique for me, thanks.

My local library recently started a writers’ workshop that meets once a month. When I first heard of it, I was excited, and I attended the first two meetings.

I’m not going back, and the reason is that I don’t like critique groups, and that’s where this group is headed.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone critique a piece of your writing can be valuable. In my earlier writing years, I may have asked others to read my work. An important point to consider here is that I searched out those who were established, qualified writers or editors in the same genre or area of interest as I; people who could be objective and honest, even if I wouldn’t want to hear what they said. I trusted them.

It’s easy to tell someone how good something is if that is what you honestly believe. It’s not so easy to tell someone their subject is boring: their spelling is atrocious; you don’t like their style; or that they should just go back to English 101 and start over.

I have critiqued the work of others, but I don’t like doing it because each individual has his or her own special style of writing, and it’s not like mine. The only way to find out if a piece of writing is good enough for publication is to refine it as best you can and send it to the people who matter — editors and agents who can champion your work.

Not everyone likes what I write, or the way I write. I don’t like every writer I’ve read, and that applies to some well-known authors that others rave about. Sometimes I’ll start a book by a best-selling author only to find out that I really don’t like the way he/she puts words together, or I don’t like the subject or the way its handled. Would I critique it and say it’s not worth reading? Of course not, because I’m only one reader, and what do I know?

To those who want to be in a writers’ group, don’t make it only about reading each other’s work and commenting on it. Real value in these groups comes from sharing tips on writing that others can use; learning how to write query letters; understanding how to move a story along; learning how to research the market and find the right publisher; sharing relevant information on publishing; bringing in guest speakers who have some expertise with writing; generally supporting and encouraging fellow writers; and above all, learning to use the research resources of your library.

Special note: never ask your best friend, loving spouse, or anyone who is really close to you, “What do you think of my story?” Trust me on this one.

Make Every Word Count

Ever have a day when, as a writer, you just don’t feel like writing? Well of course you have. What a silly question!

Every writer has those days. Sometimes that old friend, Writer’s Block, comes to visit and there’s no way to get rid of him (or her, if I must be politically correct.) And when we do get rid of him/her, him/her always seems to find his/her way back again at another time, and we must deal with the pest time and again.

I mentioned before that one way to get around writer’s block is to change direction in whatever you are working on, or work on something totally different or new or fun or crazy. Our brains need a little vacation now and then just like our bodies.

Besides dealing with the blank page and not knowing what to write, there are times when the process seems terribly slow. We write a sentence and it’s not right. We delete it. We write again. Still not right. And that can go on for a long time.

Sometimes we get involved in editing what we’ve written previously, and that can take up quite a bit of time, but that’s okay. That’s writing. It’s polishing and perfecting, and that’s something that we all need to do.

Then there are those writers who say they have to write x number of words per day or they don’t feel as if they have accomplished anything. I tried that once. I set a number that I thought seemed realistic. Sometimes I hit my target. Sometimes I missed big time, and when that happened I felt bad, as if I had failed in some way. It didn’t work for me, so I changed my standard.

I have had days when I sat down to work on my latest novel and I couldn’t crank out more than a few sentences, either because I was not motivated or I was tired or didn’t feel good, whatever. But I did get those few sentences down on paper and that did move the story along, albeit not very far.

It seems to me that it is far more important to make whatever you write the best you can do on that particular day. Be satisfied with your work, whether it’s ten words or 1,000. Ten great words can be so much more valuable that just trying to hit a target number.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on writing is “Make Every Word Count” by Gary Provost. It’s still in print and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think I’m going to read it again. It can only help.

Time to Rewrite

I have a novel that I completed months ago. I think it’s a good story. It’s a nice romance with some funny stuff in it. I paid close attention to the development of the characters and I researched historical information that I included. It’s also accurate in its description of the town where it takes place because it’s a place I know well. So why have I already garnered so many rejections from publishers and agents? I have a feeling I’m not the only one to ask that question.

We all like to think that what we write is perfect, and that other people should be falling all over it and knocking down our doors to get their hands on it. Wouldn’t that be nice? The truth is sometimes difficult to face. Maybe after months of submissions to a long list of publishers and agents and the matching list of rejections from same, it’s time to step back and take a look at what is missing in the story. That’s what I’m faced with right now.

Mine is a sweet story and it does have a message, and maybe there is a publisher out there who is looking for just such a manuscript. But I knew something was wrong when more than one publisher has requested the entire manuscript after reading the first three chapters, but then rejects it. What this tells me is that I have the beginning right, with enough of a hook to get someone to read it, but something is missing.

So, it’s rewrite time for me. I’m going to take a closer look at the entire book and see if I can add more suspense, or a mystery, or a bigger message, or something. Right now, I’m in the “thinking” stage trying to decide on the direction I will take. I look at this as my continuing education as a writer.
No one ever said that writing was an easy job. Oh, the ideas might come fast and furious and the actual writing can be quite satisfying, but I want to share that writing and the ideas within it to all the readers that I can touch.

If you have been through this too, let me just encourage you to never give up. There is one thing that I have had to do at certain times over the years that might help you also. I never tell people that I want to be a writer. I don’t say that I’m trying to be a writer. I write. Therefore, published or not, I am a writer! Say it proudly and get back to work.

Write What You Know

Write what you know. How many times have you heard that? When I first started writing, I read all the books and articles I could find on the subject of writing and selling (important word) nonfiction articles. No matter how many I read, one piece of advice kept reappearing – “write what you know.”

As a fledgling writer hoping to sell something, anything, I wasn’t having much luck, but I kept trying, and I kept hearing that phrase, “write what you know”.
I thought I didn’t know very much. I was a young wife and mother. My whole world revolved around my home in the country, my husband, children, church, two dogs, a cat and a horse. It was not terribly unusual or exciting. I figured I had nothing of value to offer in the written word. I was wrong.

No matter who we are or what we do in our life, each of us has a passion, a talent, an interest, an insight, knowledge, or an idea that is also held by millions of other people in the world, who are not so different than you and I. The trick is to take your personal passions, talents, interests, insights, knowledge, and ideas and translate them into words on paper – concise, well organized and well written.

It took me awhile to discover that many of my feelings, interests and experiences (limited as they were) did not make me unique. It only made me a part of a larger group with the same feelings, interests and experiences. Once I addressed that, my writing career began to take off.

Look at your life and discover those things that are worth writing about. Look at the people around you…people you know. Look at the activities and events in your community. Look at your experiences. A divorce, death in the family, illness, birth of a child, a child with special needs, a revelation, rebirth of faith, loss of faith, a triumph or victory of some sort….any one of those situations is shared by millions of people.

What you, as a writer, must do is find a way to present the story to them (and the editor) in an exciting way. That’s when you have to get down to the nitty-gritty of bringing those stories alive.

When have a good subject, you might have to delve a bit deeper, talk to people and do some research, but that’s what writers do.

What is your message? If you want to increase the chance of seeing your work in print, it should also contain a message of some kind. Without some kind of help or a message for readers, an article, story or novel will be more difficult to sell.

Whatever subject you choose, ask yourself, “What is the message?” Do I want to entertain, provide instruction, inform, inspire, encourage, motivate, or incite action or reaction? Then do it.

Look to your own personal interests and hobbies. Are you an artist who uses a special technique to make your pictures different than others? Would other artists be interested in it, too?

Are you a parent who has come up with new ways to keep preschoolers occupied? Have you discovered a way to keep them quiet for more than five minutes? Is there any parent who would pass up the chance to hear about that?

What are your interests? Pick a subject on which you have some knowledge, no matter how small; do some research and expand that knowledge.

What would you like to know?…..
Sometimes we find a subject of which we would like to know more. That works for the writer, too. And, you never know where your research is going to take you. Because of my interest in animals, I have experienced what it is like to drive a team of Alaskan sled dogs; gone into the center ring at the circus to watch, close-up, the performance of a magnificent equine act; and ridden a horse over jumps … all to get the personal feel of what these subjects entail.

My enthusiasm and interest on those subjects helped me get the information I needed; it gave my writing real substance; and it resulted in sales.

The George Plimpton syndrome…..
Journalist George Plimpton believed in participatory journalism. He went through training camp with the Detroit Lions football team and played in a professional game to research and write “Paper Lion.” For other articles and books, he trained and pitched in a major league baseball game; and he practiced and performed with a trapeze circus act, among other things.

We can’t all go to the extent of participation that Plimpton enjoyed, but we can expose ourselves to new things. Then, as we write about them, we can be more convincing and authoritative, because we’ve “been there, done that.”

Fiction based on what you know…..
Sometimes an idea just doesn’t seem to translate into an article for a magazine.
I once tried to sell an article about a family Christmas tradition. No one wanted it. So, I took the idea and wove it into a short story, which then sold to Sunday Digest.

When I decided to write a novel, I chose the romance genre, and because I had been a travel writer for about 10 years, I decided to incorporate some of my travel knowledge into the story.

In Caribbean Charade, (written under the pen name of Louise Perry) I combined romance with a cruise and sightseeing activities on several Caribbean islands that I had visited while working for a travel industry publication. The descriptions in the book are accurate and detailed, which gives the setting credibility.

Other fiction that I have written also relies heavily on what I know. Mother Wore Spurs is a novella about an Indiana horse farm and the aging equestrian who is trying to keep it going for her family. I was born in Indian; I love horses; I’m an aging equestrian. I’m also working on a mystery that features characters based loosely on people I have met.

No matter what we write, our feelings, beliefs, and personal experiences are destined to appear in the words. Don’t try to keep them out. They give your writing its style. They are your voice. Use them.

Writer’s block? Look for something new.

I’ve heard some say that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Well, I’m here to tell you that there definitely is such a thing. I should know because it happens to me quite often when the words just don’t or won’t come, no matter how hard I try.

I tend to write first thing in the morning before the daily chores and events of the day crowd in on me. That’s when I think I’m going crank out a few hundred profound and unforgettable words to move my best-selling novel along, and then nothing happens. I stare at the page. I review my character descriptions. I re-read and rewrite what I did the day before. Alas, the characters get lazy and they don’t want to do anything. Like me they just want to lay down and take a nap.

I had such a day not too long ago, so I decided to switch gears and work on an idea that had been stewing in my brain. I and some friends had been bemoaning the near extinction of cursive writing. And if you don’t know what it is, then you need to read my essay, which was picked up for the August issue of The Senior News. If you do know, then you’ll enjoy reading it at http://www.the seniornews.com.

So there I was, agonizing over what my hero and heroine were going to do next, when I stopped and pulled up a new blank page. I didn’t even think too much about what I was writing, but I had been thinking about how I was taught cursive in elementary school and how I still love to write letters to friends, and I simply let those thoughts loose on paper. When I went back and edited the piece, I thought that I had something that the older (we like to call us mature) generation would like, and so did the editor of The Senior News. Thank you very much.

So, the next time your writing comes to a standstill, take a moment and just write about something that you love, or hate, or bothers you, or that you want to change, or even something silly, stupid and off the wall. Even if it doesn’t get published, the break will refresh you, and if it does get published, you couldn’t ask for a better confidence booster. Either way, remember that you are a writer. So write.