Wicked Wednesday: Mythbusters VI–Getting Advice on a Manuscript

Mythbusters_ critiquersPre-published and published authors get lots of advice on getting advice. Some people say you must have a writers group to succeed. Others say that kind of review stifles creativity and produces homogenized products. Some people have beta readers, some use outside editors. There all kinds of opinions about what advice you need, when you need it, and what to do with it once you get it.



Edith: I think what kind of critique a writer gets depends partly on her personality. I don’t Editedpagemind sharing scenes with my in-person writing group, even if they aren’t fully polished, because the members have such good feedback and they know my several series by now. I know some writers, though, who cringe at the thought of getting scene by scene critiqued. At this stage in my career I do rely on an outside editor (yay, Sherry Harris and yay Ramona DeFelice Long!) to be my beta reader/developmental editor before I send the book in, but I didn’t for my first couple of books. Some of the Guppies find manuscript swaps invaluable.

Liz: Agree with the personality comment, Edith. With writing groups, I think the structure and level of the group matters as you get further along in your career. As you grow, your writing grows, which means you need critique partners who are also growing and maturing in their work so you can help each other. I enjoy getting plotting help from my fellow Wickeds and a few other creative folks while I’m in development mode. Then when I have a good draft, Sherry offers her invaluable advice and feedback (we sure do keep her busy, don’t we?). If there’s time, I’ll get other opinions from those I trust, but alas, I often don’t leave myself enough time!

Barb: I’ve been in a writers group for twenty years. It’s taken a long time for us to learn how to critique–that different levels and kinds of comments are needed at first draft, second draft and so on. We have different strengths as critiquers–structure, plot, action scenes, pace. And we know each others’ foibles. “This is very over-written, but we know you always do that in the first draft and simplify later, so no worries.” So it’s a comfortable, safe place. I also have a developmental editor who looks at the whole draft once I have it (Hi, Sherry! Another shout out.) What I’m lacking are “virgin eyes.” Someone to look at the next book who hasn’t read the rest of the series and can tell me if someone who is new to the series will be able to follow. I find it harder and harder to judge that.

Sherry: I have that same new eyes worry too, Barb! And it’s been weighing on my mind as I write the fifth book in the Sarah Winston series. I write my first draft and ship it off to Barb Goffman to do a developmental edit! She’s really great about making me up Sarah’s internal dialog and emotional reactions to the events happening in the book. I rework the manuscript and send it to a group of Beta readers who change depending on who has time. Their input has been invaluable and they always seem to spot different things. Thanks for the shout out ladies! I’m honored to be a small part of your writing process and learn from all of you.

Jessie: I agree with Edith about the value of the groups being tied to personality. I sort of wish I wanted to join a writing group but I don’t, not really. I feel very private about my early drafts and never share any of them with anyone at all. I think if I knew I had to let anyone see those first stabs at the story I would be unable to write at all. In fact, the only person I always share my work with before it goes to the readers is my editor at Berkley. I usually have my husband cast his sharp eyes over the last couple of drafts for plot holes but not always.

Julie: I don’t belong to a writing group. I have tried a couple, but for whatever reason it hasn’t worked for me. My first reader is my friend Jason–he loves cozies, and is a good “this doesn’t work” “I didn’t understand why she did that” reader. He is also very encouraging, and I feel “safe” having him be the first person I trust with my baby. I do find the Wickeds to be great sounding boards, and I also benefit from the Sherry read through. I was once in a workshop that was so detrimental with feedback that I didn’t write for a year. As I’ve gotten better, I’ve learned how to filter feedback, but for early career writers, take heed. Choose critique partners well. As I progress as a writer I am looking for more detailed feedback, but I still work alone through the first draft. And then, of course, there are my editor’s eyes, which are incredibly important in the process.

So there you have it. One Wicked doesn’t show her manuscripts to anyone until her editor sees them, and others get multiple levels of critiques–and everything in between. Like all the Mythbusters posts, this shows there’s no one way to write.

Writer friends, what are your thoughts on critiquing? Readers, do you think you can tell when a manuscript has been under or over-critiqued?






Wicked Wednesday: Mythbusters V–Write What You Know

Teachingis thegreatest actof optimism.All young writers get the advice to “write what you know,” but let’s face it, if we all did that, there’d be way too many books about sitting on your a** typing words into a computer all day. As you’ve grown as a writer what has this advice come to mean to you?

Julie: A work friend came into my office this week and said that she is loving Clock and Dagger, and knowing me makes it more fun. “How so?” I asked. “You’re in there. Like the colors they choose for the cards? Purple and green, just like StageSource.” She was right, of course. Part of me crept in, even when I didn’t mean for that to happen. But the whole “write what you know” should be “write what you can imagine.” You will ground things in your life, but I find a good google search and a long walk will free up my imagination to create what I didn’t know, but did imagine, would be a good story.

Sherry: Julie, one of the things that has so impressed me with your series is that no one would ever guess you didn’t know a lot about clocks until you started researching for the Clock Shop series. It’s a great example that you don’t have to write what you know. To me “write what you know” is also about what do you know that you don’t know you know. Right before I got the opportunity to write the garage sale series, I’d pitched my gemology series to our agent, John Talbot. He wasn’t interested in it but asked me what my hobbies were or what other things I knew about. After I stammered for a bit I finally said I liked to read. Then I slunk away. I would have never thought to mention I loved garage sales.

Edith: All of my series of course have bits of what I know, but what I love is widening what I know. I have some background in midwifery and in Quakers, but I had no idea of the depth and richness of my town’s history, or of the late 1800s and what a time of change it was. I absolutely love researching everyday life, political happenings, carriages, buildings, and attitudes of the era – and I didn’t know I would. Plus what Julie said, especially with my characters. Imagining how the mind of someone completely made up works, creating their motivations, following them around, writing down what they do – that’s the best.

Liz: I agree that a little bit of what you know informs everything you do, but there are so many opportunities to stretch. In the Pawsitively Organic series, I definitely know animals, but cooking is not my thing. So I have opportunities to learn all the time as I’m writing. Also, how many of us really know what it’s like to find bodies/investigate murders? Aside from the police-officers-turned-writers, probably not many of us. So we’re all researching, learning and stretching every day.

Barb: I think what this advice usually means is to write authentically. Make up people, but ground them in real and believable human emotions. Make up places, but give readers touchstones in those made-up places that help them believe they could be real. And give us imaginary plots and storylines–sometimes wildly imaginary–but do it in worlds with enough inner consistency that people are willing to go on the journey. Everything you have ever observed about the behavior of people, institutions, community, and place is relevant, and that is writing what you know. But then you can mix those up in wild and crazy ways, as long a you provide a foundation.

Jessie: I’ve always thought of this as an admonishment to to write the truth as you experience it. The plots and the details can vary wildly but to be a successful story, to resonate with readers, it should first strike a chord with the writer’s own truth. What do you value? What do you notice? What makes you angry or sad or elated ? That’s what you know. That’s what’s worth writing about for you.

Readers: What do you think? Can you tell when a writer is well-grounded in what they’re writing and when they’re making it up as they go along? Writers, do you or do you not, “write what you know?”