Robert Putman (paraphrased) made a staggering statement: ‘As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no writing group but you decide to join one, you cut your risk of giving up over the next year in half.’
Let’s refocus the statement. Who is your champion—who spurs you on and keeps you focused? Why gives you encouragement in your writing, and feedback to improve? Where do you turn when you have received a reject and who do you rejoice with when you get asked for a full? That’s right, you need to be connected to a group, or someone who cares.
I’m fortunate; I have a loving wife who has never given up on my writing, even when I send her another revised chapter; and I am thankful for a friend who gives me fast feedback; and an editor who polishes my writing as much as the shoe-shine guy in Lisbon who rubbed my shoes so much I thought a genie might pop out.
What value do I place on a professional editor? HEAPS!
I value any feedback from readers, but place high value on corrects and suggestions from a professional editor—one who is connected with publishing and knows what to look for in a ‘good read.’ I have used the same editor for my partial reviews, synopsis and query letter and her ideas on my plot and characters has given me insights that I missed. The edits have also allowed me to correct weaknesses quickly and the end result is a far more polished manuscript. I don’t always agree with the suggested corrections, but use them to improve the areas noted. Above all, having a professional (paid) editor gives me encouragement as a writer and, I must confess that without her, I would have given up long ago. Here are a couple of feedback examples:
One definition: A thriller is a fast-paced novel full of conflict, tension, suspense, unexpected twists, and high stakes. Every single scene and element in a thriller is meant to propel the action forward, test the characters, and take the readers on a roller coaster ride that will leave them on the edge of their seats. I was visiting technology schools in California a few years ago and my companion and I rushed off to enjoy a roller coaster ride, straight after breakfast. By the time I had been thrown around and tossed up and down, I felt physically sick. It might have been the big breakfast! This raises an interesting thought—how much of a wild ride do good thrillers have to have? For some, the pace is never too fast; for others, a more measured rise in tension is preferred. I think I’m in between. I like twists and turns, yet also building tension. And, I am over plots that are too far fetched. For me, the action must be real, or plausible. The bottom line is that a thriller needs to have thrills, no matter what the ride is like.
” When I get an idea I just start writing,” says Ascension author Nicholas Binge. “I’m such a discovery writer, I have no idea where I’m going with it.”
Nicholas loves the spontaneous approach to writing (with a few standard “touch points”) and I work the same way. Other writers plan their plot from the get-go, but I wonder if there writing is, as a result, formula driven? Each to their own I guess. You can watch this fascinating insight into the breakthrough deals that launched Nicholas onto the world stage here.
The end of a novel is simply the most difficult to do well; a finish line reached by the athletic culmination of words racing forward from the opening line. I found that my writing slowed at the end, like an exhausted athlete who is filled with elation and emotion as he collapses over the tape, triumphant. I hope my readers share the same emotion.
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ writes F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. I like this because it is profound and emotive; a final comment about chasing the American dream.
First, let’s back up. My writing took rough shape when I won a writing contest at age 12, It was a short story about my cat, called Mog and it won me a year’s pass to our local movie theatre and a little publicity in our local paper. I don’t remember all the details, but the movie pass was wonderful, and opened my eyes to cinema, stories and characters. My next claim to fame was a high school textbook, co-authored and well received with several reprints. I wrote my first novel – 3 WISE MEN – following an idea about the power of perfume and the details fell into place after a trip my wife and I took to Europe. I self published and was able to revise and improve over several months. So, what did I learn from writing this first novel:
Start you second novel as soon as possible as it will always be better
I guess I need to qualify what “better” means. It can be summed up this way; a second novel will most likely have more nuanced themes and a more interesting/complex plot with improved conflict, characters with depth, and be a more fulfilling story for your readers. I can remember being quite angry at the thought that “your first book is always your worst’ but, in some ways, it is. In my case, I made several re-writes of 3 WISE MEN that improved it. However, even after several great reviews, I agree that first books are lacking the quality of subsequent ones. My second manuscript was built on the lessons of the first and, by this stage, I had a greater sense of my personal writing style. Yes, my first novel was not bad at all (based on reader feedback), but my second has a quality that I know is better, even before an editor gets his or her scissors to it.
Someone asked me why I didn’t just self-publish to get me book ‘out there’ as I did last time. Why persist in editing, refining, getting feedback from beta readers, and sending off query letters to chosen literary agents? Here is my answer:
Self Publishing is from my head, but traditional publishing is from my heart
I so believe in my book, in its plot, characters, potential and value, that I want to find an agent who thinks likewise, and who will work with me to make it the very best of my work. Therefore, I will persist for however long it takes, to get it accepted by a traditional publisher. The task may be difficult, but so has been the writing; writing from the sum of my experiences since my youth and wisdom and observations from my mature life. I’m not suggesting that my new novel will be a best-selling, but it is selling my best for others to enjoy and ponder on the world we share in such a way to want to make it a better place for all. At one point I wanted to throw my manuscript away, but now I want to embrace it. Therefore, I will persist.
“The best writers have this marvellous sense of recall for experience and observation”