Posts Tagged ‘sample critique’

the-write-time“If you want to be a writer, the sole requirement is that you write.”

On the surface, we all know this to be true. In reality, however? It’s not as easy to actually write. Life gets in the way. We run out of time. We get distracted. We put off writing till everything else is done, then realize our energy is also “done.”

Sound familiar?

Robbie Blair thinks so too. His article, The Write Time: 6 Strategies To Make Your Writing Schedule Sacred, features some great ideas for doing the one thing that makes you a writer. Which strategy might work for you?

Yes. This.

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– Lea

7335643838_40c3d8841a_zChuck Wendig, author of the writing blog terribleminds, is the snarkiest blogger I know, but he also has some profound things to say about this business we all share a love-hate relationship with. Recently he blogged about how to sharpen your writing instincts. One of the things that struck me most was this little tidbit, an explanation of what “writing instinct” is:

You see the author operating at a high level and you wonder: why am I not doing that?

The reality is:

You’re only seeing the island, not the heap of volcanic material that pushed it out of the sea.

Put differently?

A house needs a strong foundation.

And the foundation of that house hides forever in the darkness of the dirt.

You’re not seeing all the time it took to craft the instinct necessary to do this thing.

Instinct is valuable because it’ll tell you which way to jump. It’ll give you the sense in the middle of a story that something is off, it’ll tell you if your character will have broken her contract with the reader, it’ll tickle the back of your mind and say that the plot is untenable or this description is too much or hey what’s the deal with you writing all these stories about orangutans that’s really weird, man. Instinct can even help you on the business side of writing, too.

Check out Chuck’s post in its entirety here: Polling Your Intestinal Flora: How a Writer Cultivates Instinct. It’ll make you laugh AND think.

– Lea

I’ve seen it hundreds of times; heck, I’ve done it myself.

Editor/Critique Partner/Beta Reader: Suggests change to word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, scene, plot, or anything else in your manuscript.

Author: “But, but…I meant… That’s because… Don’t you see… I don’t have to…”

Inevitably when someone tells us something about our story might need to change, we come up with excuses. We try to explain what we meant. We assert that we are the exception to whatever rule is mentioned. We think, “They just don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Uh-uh. No. Stop, especially if you paid for that advice or you want advice from that person in the future. Granted, not all advice should be taken, but before you throw out an edit or critique, you MUST realize these three things.

NO Explaining

One: Don’t try to explain. You will not be there to explain your point to the reader.

The biggest mistake I see when someone receives an edit is trying to explain what they meant. The problem with this? The author doesn’t stand over the reader as they read a book. You won’t be able to watch the reader’s face, see their confused look, explain what that sentence is trying to convey. It doesn’t happen. If a reader can’t understand something without you explaining it, you need to fix it so they can. The greatest value of a critique is finding those spots in your story that need more explanation. This enables you to smooth and clarify your story so those confusing points disappear (or rejoice, if your intention was to confuse the reader on purpose).

Two: Don’t ignore the rules. You are not a special snowflake.

Yes, you need to know the rules and follow them. That should be a given, and if it isn’t, you might want to reevaluate your approach to writing. Why? Because rules are there for a reason. Do you know what that reason is? It is so all readers have a uniform path to follow on the road to understanding. Following grammar and punctuation and even story-structure rules allows readers to relate to your story on a relatively uniform and easily understandable plain. If you didn’t follow the rules for parts of speech, how is a reader to know what the sentence is about (subject), what the subject is doing (verb), what they are doing it to/with (object), et cetera? In the same way, stories have a familiar structure, as do scenes; punctuation has a familiar usage. This keeps us from confusing the reader.

Can you shake up those rules? Yes — once you know them very well, know why they exist, and decide to break them intentionally for a very important reason. Never just “because,” and never out of ignorance. Listen when someone says you’ve broken a rule. Investigate it. Did you break it? If so, fix it, or make sure you are breaking it intentionally (and in a way readers will understand — see #1).

Three: Listen to your gut and not your ego.

Ego says, “My way is best, and everyone else is wrong.” Instinct says, “I’m considering your advice,” and then, “It does/does not seem to fit with the effect I want.”

Critique partners, beta readers, even editors (GASP!) are not infallible. How they see a story might not be how you want the story to go. But you can’t let hubris get in the way of making your story the absolute best it can be. Remember point #2? Thinking you are special and the rules don’t apply to you? That is ego. Hubris. Pride. It has nothing to do with being a great writer. Instinct is what you need to listen to.

What am I talking about? I’ll give you an example. The longer I’ve written, the more I’ve come to realize that when the pieces of a plot are “right,” when they start to come together in a way that is at once complex and exciting and logical (i.e. understandable), I get this excited feeling in the pit of my stomach. If I’m not excited about it, I’m not there yet; the plot’s not ready. My latest book had problems with the ending. I knew it wasn’t quite right, but I sent it to my editor anyway (yes, I use an editor even though I am one; I never solely rely on my own ability to see my work!). I didn’t tell her where I was struggling. When I got my edits back, she had pointed to places in the climax and resolution that she felt weren’t strong enough — the same places I felt weren’t strong enough. She had some suggestions for fixing it, but her suggestions didn’t give me that excited feeling. So I asked her to let me think on it a bit more. I did. I discussed the issues with my husband, who is a techie and understood the issues I was struggling with. And finally, as time marinated my story, I happened on what I thought was the solution. I got that excited feeling in my gut. I e-mailed my editor about the idea and got a very excited e-mail back. She loved it. Even more than her own ideas, in fact. It was a gratifying moment to realize I had listened to my instinct, and it had paid off.

I didn’t all of a sudden decide my editor didn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t dismiss the sense that the ending wasn’t quite “there” yet. No, I paid attention to my gut. You should too. Don’t automatically dismiss other people as wrong, thinking you are infallible or just that good as an author. Trust me; none of us are. We all need to consider alternatives. We let our writing instinct tell us when all the information comes together to produce just the right solution for our story. It’s a fine line we have to walk, but it is possible, and the more you grow as a writer, the easier it will be.

So when that next edit or critique or beta read comes in? Take some time with it. Don’t automatically start defending yourself. Don’t try to explain or make excuses. Don’t brush off the comments and tell yourself the other person just isn’t smart enough to get what you meant. DO consider, reevaluate, and then move forward, striving to make your story the best it can be.

– Lea

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We all know it’s the truth, those long hours spent at the computer thinking, “This story is crap! I’ll never get it published! I might as well dump it now.” And then something happens and that story you hated becomes the story you love.

That “something” happening is called editing. So here’s a little funny to make your editing this week a bit less arduous…

– Lea

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lea schafer, freelance romance editingIf you’ve been around the romance world for very long, names like Bella Andre and Courtney Milan shouldn’t be unfamiliar. They are the stars of self-publishing, and they are in rapidly growing company. Romance is the number-one selling genre in self-publishing, and indie romance authors are, more and more, making a living off their work as they publish book after book under their own steam. This article hits a lot of buzz with its “making millions” headline, as well as spreading a bit of untruth (Andre states plainly in the article that she was released from her contract; she didn’t leave), but the true fascination here — and what should catch romance authors’ attention — is the work these women put into self-publishing their stories. It’s definitely worth a read.

These Romance Writers Ditched Their Publishers for Ebooks — And Made Millions

enhanced-buzz-8821-1379622691-8Castle. He’s the epitome of everything we hate (the in-no-way-reality glamorized version) and love (the wacky creative mind) about writing. He’s us but…also Nathan Fillion. Whether you love sci-fi or romance, he’s next to Godliness, right?

So what could be better than Castle/Nathan helping us out with some helpful grammar tips? This post on Buzzfeed, 7 Helpful Grammar Tips From Richard Castle, does just that. Let’s see how many you “get.” 😉

– Lea

file0001948795741In college (or even high school), the steps of a writing process are rigid: prewriting (aka brainstorming), research, outlining, rough drafts, polishing… Sound familiar? For a fiction writer, there are steps to creating a book, but they aren’t all the same for every author. Finding YOUR process, the things that help you create a great story, is one of the most important pieces of knowledge a writer can have.

What am I talking about? Most writers fall into one of three camps. Either they are a pantser, meaning they sit down at the computer with absolutely no idea what they want to write (or a niggling of an idea but not a fully fleshed-out story) and they simply start. Whatever comes out, comes out. Then there are plotters. They plot everything out to the smallest scene in the book, know everything there is to know about their characters, etcetera, before they ever begin actually writing the story. And then there are the rest of us, who fall somewhere between the two extremes. Figuring out which approach helps you write is figuring out your process.

Every author is different. I for one used to be an extreme plotter. Over the years I’ve realized that as fast as publishing moves — especially romance publishing — I don’t have months to plot out a book before I ever write it. That was a luxury of the predigital age, for the most part, and in romance, the faster you move, the better. But if I sit down at the computer without any preconceived ideas about my story, what I end up writing is usually a hot mess. So I had to hybridize my process to what fits my needs. Now I do some pretty thorough explanation of my characters, their motivations and goals. I explore various themes for my stories and how what will happen to my characters demonstrates that theme (like a character learning to trust — how do the actions of that character and those around them play into that need?). I also want to know some key points in my story structure (something we will cover at a later date, but basically the opening, middle/midpoint, black moment, and a couple of points in between). Once I feel strongly enough about the material I have, I start to write. There may be changes along the way, modifications, revelations about my characters, but that’s just part of the journey.

Another part of my journey is revision. I never send out a rough draft. As you go along writing a story, things do change. You are more into the world you’ve created and the characters you’ve poured onto the page by the end than you were at the beginning. You have to go back and layer that deeper understanding in, refine the language and the setting and the dialogue, look for mistakes and continuity issues and such. No book is “done” just by getting it on paper; it needs to be smoothed and finessed until you have a finished product. That’s part of the writing process too. Don’t forget it!

file5281279373109Another part of your process includes the things that help you write. For me that includes music. Every book has a playlist, and I use it both to speak to me about my characters and to set the mood when I sit down to write. This is especially helpful when I’m editing a book I finished a month (or months) ago. Other authors might need silence. Some need pen and paper, while others need the feel of true typewriter keys beneath their fingers. There are different approaches to being stuck as well: taking a walk or bath, switching your writing medium, listening to music (or different music). There are as many ways to approach writing or writer’s block as there are writers. You discover by trial and error what works for you.

So what is your writing process? Have you discovered it yet, or are you still working out details? Many authors find that their process changes over time or from book to book. Is that true for you? Share some of your best tips for a smooth writing process — you never know when another writer might need just that piece of advice. 🙂

– Lea

528253e1dc3ee590a8b1dbdd33719095If you haven’t connected with Kristen Lamb’s blog yet, go over there right now! She is a major source of information, not just on writing techniques, but on social media for writers (her specialty) and on how to effectively live this crazy writing life we all struggle with. Here’s a recent article she wrote on “to prologue or not to prologue.”

The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues

Don’t be fooled by the title; she gives you seven reason to forgo that prologue, but also two reasons to include one. Basically, if you’re just including a prologue to info dump, nix it. But if your prologue contains information or events critical to the story that would be less effective if shared another way, you might want to keep it. Check out what Kristen has to say. Do you agree or disagree?

– Lea