I started my “writer’s journey” back in 1993. Actually, I think the writer’s journey is a lifelong adventure. Experience, reading, all manner of things good and bad, they all contribute to the story you tell. But I digress. In ’93 I wrote a historical romance novel. It was terrible and will never leave my hard-drive, but it made me realize I could do BIC (butt-in-chair or if you prefer, ass-in-chair) and finish a novel.
In October after my e-book addiction reached historic proportions (at one point I was reading a book each night), I decided, at the
insistence urging of my husband, to write another romance. I wrote 10,000 words before I realized I didn’t have a satisfying end for the book, and there were some major problems with character development and conflict. I discovered I am not a “pantser” (flying by the seat of my pants), I am a “plotter.” From then on, it was just a matter of figuring out my characters internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts. Simple, right? If only.
Step #1: Read Books on the Craft of Writing
I downloaded a few books on writing and started with Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft which every writer should read, regardless of how you feel about his fiction. It’s a fantastic memoir and comprehensive guide to writing (I do love his fiction). One of the most valuable lessons I learned from his book (and some of the other books) is to write. Let the words flow. Don’t self-edit. Write and write and write. Be true to the story you want to tell. Editing can be done later. I don’t edit much until the first draft of the entire novel is completed.
From King, I moved to Holly Lisle’s books. Lisle has written about plotting, characters, scenes and a myriad of other things. I devoured them in two weeks. Her books have exercises and hints and helped me flesh out scenes, conflicts and a skeletal structure of the story I wanted to tell. You can find out about Lisle here: http://hollylisle.com/. Other helpful books on the craft include: Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict and Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, an oldie but goodie.
Step #2: NaNoWriMo/Butt-in-Chair
After reading books and a few weeks sketching out characters and plot, I started writing with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month https://www.nanowrimo.org ) November 1st. I completed 50,000+ words on November 30, 2012.
Step #3: Beta Readers
Once I had a rough draft, my husband read it. He is pretty much incapable of bullshit, and as you can imagine, that trait is a double-edged sword. When he was
flabbergasted surprised that the draft was readable (he is most emphatically not a romance reader), I was encouraged. I gave it to a couple of other friends to read, two people who, like my husband, don’t peddle bullshit but do have an excess of tact. They were pleasantly surprised to find it coherent. They gave encouragement and made some helpful comments and suggestions for improvement.
Step #4: Critique
From a handful of beta readers, I started searching for a critique partner or beta reader exchange. I had some luck, but finding a good fit is tricky. You want someone who excels in the areas you don’t. Eventually I found my way to Critique Circle , and I’ve been living published-ever-after. Ha.
The critters on that site are fantastic. One very generous individual did a comprehensive critique of my entire manuscript. You submit a chapter at a time and get feedback from a variety of people—romance genre readers, non-romance genre readers—people who have apparently memorized the Chicago Manual of Style, others who have been writing for decades, published, not published, newbies. The gamut. The site is set up so you critique the work of others who have critiqued you. I discovered that finding problems in the writing of others helps you recognize and fix issues in your own manuscript. I’d estimate my technical writing skills improved sixty-percent since I started giving and receiving critiques through Critique Circle.
Some things I’ve learned–divorce yourself from your ego where your manuscript is concerned. Some critiquers are abrupt, some are funny, some are harsh, and then some of the most positive critiques you get are the least helpful to your writing. At this point, consider the source. Is the critter experienced? New to the site? New to writing? Familiar with your genre? Still, with any critique or criticism, it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff. One of the hardest parts of getting one hundred inline comments back on a chapter from fifteen different critiquers is deciding what ideas to implement and what to flush. Always, always, appreciate the time someone spent pouring over your work to help you improve, even if their comments lack tact.
Step #5: Utilizing the Experts
Helpful as the Critique Circle is, I still felt the need to have my entire manuscript evaluated by a professional. You can have good individual chapters but make mistakes with the overall structure or story arc. Luckily, a Critique Circle buddy told me about Caroline Upcher and her First Base editorial services. Ms. Upcher has been an editorial director, an editorial consultant, and she edits freelance for a number of big-six publishing houses. She can be reached at: http://www.carolineupcher.com/. I sent my completed manuscript to her in as polished a state as possible, and for a fee, she read it and sent me back two pages of comments and suggestions for strengthening my work. Her editorial letter helped identify a number of problem areas in my manuscript.
Both Rock Her, my debut novel from Crimson Romance slated for release this summer, and my work in progress have benefited from the assistance of two other freelance editors, Lynette Labelle who runs a Goal, Motivation and Confict course and Debi Schubbe O’Neille who helps immeasurably with both critiquing and editing my writing.
Whether you are a writer just starting out or a veteran, I hope what I’ve learned on my journey is helpful to you. There is no one correct way to write your novel, I’m just sharing what was helpful to me.
Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing? A terrific critique partner or group? If so, I’d love to hear about it in a message or in the comments below.
*Your Mileage May Vary