Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Don't you hate it when they do that?!?

A client of my editing service and good friend told me the other day that she was struggling reading the book she was currently reading, because although it was by one of her favorite authors in the Christian industry, they were, as she said, "breaking all the rules you taught me to follow."

It's as the Bible says - if it weren't for the law, there'd be no sin. ;)

As a reader, when we don't know the way it's "supposed" to be done, we only focus on the story. The book is good or bad or ho-hum based on the story alone. That's kind of nice!

But once we dive into the industry for ourselves, and begin learning the craft of writing, we gain what I call the Internal Editor.

I'm thinking of naming mine, because man, she's doesn't shut up ;) 

This I.E doesn't turn off easily - even when we're reading a story we so desperately want to enjoy....but can't.

Because the author is head-hopping like a bunny rabbit on crack.

Or because the author is using so many adjectives and passive writing, every sentence is about 4 words longer than it should be.

Or because the author is using way too many dialogue tags (she said, he declared, she yelled, he exclaimed, etc.) instead of story-progressing, descriptive action beats.

Or because the author is over-explaining their plot and not trusting us as the reader to get it.

Or because the author is switching tenses from past to present or past-perfect to present or any other combo.

Or because the author is describing a country meadow at sunset for six paragraphs when two well-done sentences would have sufficed nicely.

And so on, and so on.

As writers we might get frustrated with the "rules" and forget that they're there for a reason - that they might our writing stronger. Our books more effective. Our ministry more uplifting.

So next time you get a hard critique from a friend or a less than stellar contest score or a rejection letter from an editor or agent, don't hide under the covers or quit your dreams. Eat chocolate, then glean from it. Where can you improve your craft? ARE you guilty of what they pointed out? (probably, and if it's an editor or agent than most definitely)

We're always learning and growing on this crazy ride, even us multi-pubbed authors. We don't stop, we always want to try to get better. I for one don't want to "peak" and then backslide. I want my every book to be better than the last and not as good as the next. Don't you? Then keep learning. Implement those rules instead of buck them. Give them a try instead of thinking you know more than the veterans or teacers teaching you. (maybe you do, but odds are for a while at least, you don't)

Some authors get away with the rule breaking (Nicholas Sparks) and we still love them because their stories are so powerfully and emotional. But think how much BETTER they would be if they followed the rules we're taught to follow in writing? Think how much STRONGER the connection we'd have when not being confused about whose POV we're in, etc.

Don't get frustrated because they get away with it and you don't. Just focus on making YOUR book the best it can by writing it the best way you know how. No short cuts.

Unless of course, your first novel was contracted for a million dollars, and almost every novel you've ever written turned into a record breaking award winning movie.

In which case you should take over this blog ;)

And buy me a pair of Jimmy Choos.


  1. Great post, Betsy!!

    I am pretty much a pro at the eating chocolate part of this process. ;)

  2. How do you approach a conferance correctly?
    Like I want to go & I want to present but i also know the chances of getting an agent & publishers the first time with your first book is pretty slim.

    I want to go & I want to have fun but I don't want to be crushed when I'm not picked although with all my heart I want to be picked.

  3. Suri, I think you misunderstand what conferences are for. :)

    No one gets a book deal at a conference. No one gets signed by an agent at a conference. It's probably happened before but not only is that not the norm, it's ridiculously rare.

    So don't go with the expecation that you need to get signed or contracted on site. That will not happen. Not even for published authors!

    Go with the desire to learn and grow, and if you decide to pitch your novel to an editor or agent, then do so with your best effort and then sit back and listen to their advice and feedback. They might love the idea and request a proposal when you get home. They might love the idea and request a full manuscript when you get home. That's your ultimate goal, but if they don't ask for that, don't be upset. Just listen to the reasons why they're not requesting it, go home and implement their advice into your manuscript, and then try submitting again or to a different place.

    Make sense? There's really not nearly the amount of pressure as you put in the scenario ;)

  4. Thanks! I might not have worded it the best, I'm having a writing breakdown today :/
    I know there wouldn't be an offer. But do they request an MS on the spot? Or is that ALL after?

    Also, do they tell you they aren't inrerested there?

  5. It's okay Suri! I've been brain scrambled lately myself ;) It's probably my fault for not understanding you.

    The agent/editor at the pitch appointment will either:

    1. Not request your project further and explain why and offer valuable feedback for you to grow.

    2. Request a full proposal of the story idea (synopsis and first 3 chapters)

    3. Request a full manuscript of your story idea

    Either of the requests would be sent via mail or email (they'll let you know which) when you get home from conference. Agents/editors don't want to lug a bunch of heavy paper back home with them from a conference. They might keep a business card or one sheet but more often than not they'll simply give YOU a business card or tell you how to submit their request to them.

    Does that answer your question? :)

  6. Yes, thank you! It's sounds so nerve racking and like it takes a lot of courage! Actually, I think what will take more courage is telling my fam I want to do & not hearing it was a waste of money or I told you so when an agent doesn't ask for anything.

    On a side not, I should finish my first draft by the end of the month :)

  7. I totally understand your fears and hesitations! Don't worry, we've all been there and had to "prove" ourselves to our families or to ourselves at some point. I'm sure within your family unit there is someone who will be encouraging and proud of you regardless of the outcome you get right away. And if there's not, you can bet us Scribble Chicks are proud, and Jesus will give you the courage you need to get out there and follow your dreams! Remember, He is the dream-planter :)