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Monday, October 22, 2012

What I’ve Learned (as an author)


In the not so distance past I had finished my first novel and I was ready to go.  I hand wrote that baby on legal pads, which are still stacked in a closet somewhere.  That would be the first and oh so ugly draft.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, from my hero and heroine to the lowest servant had a POV.  In any given scene I wrote what EVERYONE was thinking. I wasn’t just head-hopping back and forth between the main characters, but jumping all over the place like a basketball during an NCAA tournament. I had read romance novels for X number of years and never picked up on only one POV at a time.  That was just the first of many newbie mistakes. 

The second draft was typed into my computer and at final word count it was 225,000+.  Yep, really, really long.  Of course, dump all POVs that don’t belong and that is an easy 100,000 gone, right?  That manuscript has been edited to death and I still have it at about 115,000 and it still needs a ton of work.  Maybe one day I will tackle it again.

Of course, this was the start of the series that was just going to rock the charts so I have six stories started from that one first manuscript and all of them are collecting dust.  Oh, did I mention that these also take place during the American Revolution between America and the Caribbean?  Why am I writing an American based romance when most of the romances I read take place in England?  (head slap).  So, off I went to start a new book.  This one did get finished, polished and was published, but it went through some major editing to get there.  I had so much to learn to be an author.  

The first advice I read was get a critique partner. Oddly enough, my first critique partner came by way of my chiropractor.  She knew I had written a novel and she had a patient who had written a novel who was looking for a critique partner and voila, my first critique group was born.  There were five of us then. I wrote romance, Laura wrote historical fiction, Jo wrote YA, Sandy was writing a memoire and Jennifer was writing a paranormal.  I learned a great deal from these ladies and we were all learning together but we ceased to be of much help to one another.  Once I got my basic issues fixed, I needed romance critique partners. None of these ladies read romances and some of my scenes were a bit steamy (this was before I realized I wanted to write Christian romances so those scenes have since been deleted). 

This is when Yahoo Groups became my friend.  I think I tried three groups before ending up in one where I met Jerrica Knight-Catania.  This was not the group for us however, and we formed our on and the rest is history! 

With such an awesome group, publishing was just days away, right? 

No!

An author needs so much more than a critique partner, which I soon learned.  Nothing can be accomplished (successfully) without a great critique group who is willing to be honest despite how painful.  And let me tell you, it is not always easy to remain positive when it looks like the critique parters has bled all over your manuscript. I remember a teacher telling me that she didn’t use red to grade papers because it is a negative (maybe she used violent) color.  Even though red happens to be my favorite color, after seeing it all over a manuscript, I kind of agree.  Blue is less bright, if not a bit more soothing. 

Usually after I’ve made the suggested changes to my manuscript, it gets sent to a beta reader.  This person will read the work with an eye on the general style of the story. Does if flow, are there any holes or gaps, does something need to be added, is something repeated too much, is the characterization good?  They will also correct grammar and spelling, but that is not the main purpose. At least not in my mind.   There is usually less red (or blue) when a beta reader is finished with the story and until becoming involved in this group I had no idea how important beta readers were. 

Finally, I send, what I hope is a clean manuscript, off to my editor.  If I have done my job, as well as those I entrusted with my baby, there should be very little for the editor to mark or change.  Okay, I live in a dream world where only perfect manuscripts go to editors.

There are more steps I skipped over, I am sure, and I am learning more and more each day. But, what I have learned from being involved in critique groups is that I am a much stronger Beta Reader than anything else.  Content is my strength and punctuation my enemy. 

And the last thing I learned was it takes a lot of time to get it right. I only have three books, but I am proud of each one.  Hopefully soon there will be a fourth because characters are screaming to get out of my brain and onto a computer screen where they can tell their story.

What is your strength, if you are an author, and what was the hardest thing to learn and overcome?  As a reader, what drives you nuts, that is missed and should have been fixed during the edit process?

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Amy.
    Hmm... I think my strength is knowing there is always room to improve my writing, so I seek out ways to grow all the time. I've recently learned that my weakness is overwriting. I didn't even know what that meant until I Googled it. LOL. But my editor was right, so I'm working on being more concise so my sentence 'gems' stand out more. I think the hardest thing to learn as a writer was to take constructive criticism.

    As a reader, the main thing that drives me nuts is when the author seems to think I'm stupid and keeps repeating the same idea over and over again. I get it. I don't need five conversations about the same thing. :)

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  2. I think it would be a lot easier to tell you my weaknesses. LOL. One of the biggest is that I have a fondness for the unlikable character. I don't believe in perfection in a person, and I can't stand reading perfect characters who have no flaws, and so I tend to go a bit too far to the other side of things. Luckily, I have fantastic critique partners who are always willing to rein me in when I go too far.

    I can't stand it, as a reader, when I can't sense the emotional connection between the author and the characters. If they feel too distant, then why should I want to get involved with them?

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    1. Catherine,

      In other words, you don't think I am perfect - LOL. All kidding aside, I don't like perfect characters either. Frankly, they are no fun whatsoever. I've read a few books where frankly I don't get whey the couple is supposed to be together. When that happens, I stop reading.

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  3. Amy,
    I think my strength is dislogue. I can't even believe I'm saying that because it took me five years to really "get" dialogue. Countless dialogue books later and reading my own dialogue out loud people tell me all the time now how great my dialglogue is. My weakness is being overly dramatic. I realky have to watch this because it can make a great story seem ridiculous.

    As a reader, it drives me crazy when a story line is based on a conflict that a simple talk would fix.

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    1. Julie,

      You do write some great dialogue but I am not sure if I wouldn't consider you overly dramatic. Maybe it is just me. I agree that the simple talk fix does not work, unless it has been established that the characters stink at communication.

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  4. typo, i think this is really important, very annoying when fun wrong type :(

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  5. Eli,

    I agree with typos being a distraction. However, the wrong typo can change the entire meaning of a word or sentence and can end up hilarious, even if it does need to be edited out.

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  6. Ha - I plead the fifth. If you don't know my weaknesses by reading my work, than I sure as heck am not going to point them out! ;)

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    1. Erin,

      You don't have any weaknesses ;).

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  7. As a reader the thing that drives me nuts is improper grammer errors. But I read it in my mind as I think it should be and go on. I was an editor of my high school newspaper....I know how errors can happen even with the printers.

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    1. Jackie,

      I think my problem is I read it in my mind they way I meant it to be or meant to type it so I don't notice that it is wrong. Thank goodness for proofreaders.

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  8. Amy, Only another writer understands what we go through to get these words out! Not to mention to make them worth a darn. I cringe to think of my earlier excursions. I hope I don't look back a year from now and cringe at what I'm writing now! Eek!

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    1. Andris,

      I look back at my first novel now and see so many things I would have done differently. I think we learn and grow with each word we write, which can only mean we get better and better, right?

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  9. Great blog, Amy. It's hard to talk about our weakness or even recognize them at times. :\

    The only thing that really bugs me is when I feel a writer starts to write the same hero or heroine type over and over and over and...well, you get the picture. ;)

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