Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writing and Learning

Please forgive the two-week silence.  I was away at a writing workshop for 10 days and busy this week resting up and catching up with things on the home front.

The workshop, run by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, was about marketing.  We discussed the state of the current publishing market and ways to better market ourselves and our work.

It was quite interesting.  I got a lot of tools for my writing toolbox and information that is encouraging and exciting at this time.  I even put up my first e-pub - a short story.  You can check it out here if you have a Kindle, and here for other ereaders.

But I want to focus for a moment on writers learning their craft.  Yes, what we do is art, but there are still a lot of things to learn about that art.

When I started taking writing seriously, I could tell a story.  But my craft flaws kept readers from getting to and enjoying the story.  So I had to learn the craft of writing - and learn it well enough it went into my subconscious and came out my fingers.

My craft is a lot better than it was five years ago.  It still needs work - I just put aside a book I was working on because I realized I don't have the skill yet to write it.  I'll try it again next year, and learn more in the meantime.  Learning is an ongoing process - no good writer will say they know it all.

So how do we learn?

  •  Books.  There are some good books about writing out there.  I recommend Stephen King's On Writing to anyone interested in getting serious about the craft.  Look for other books written by successful writers. 

  • Workshops.  A good workshop can help your craft along and speed your improvement.  Conversely, a bad workshop can set you back and teach you stuff that'll slow down any progress.  Do your homework when it comes to workshops.  Find out who's running it, and what their qualifications are.  Ask good writers you know what workshops they would recommend.

  • Practice.  I don't know why we writers shy away from the word practice.  But it's something we need to do.  Use a short story or novel you're working on and practice something - maybe this time it's getting in the 5 senses every two pages, next time you're working on character voice, and another time you're focusing on cliffhangers.  But pick something and work on it.  And realize every word you write can be practice, so write a lot.  The upside?  Sometimes we can sell our practice sessions to an editor.
That's all about learning for now.  Is there a topic in writing you would like me to talk about?  Leave me a comment.  I look forward to hearing from other writers about these things.  Good luck, and don't be afraid to learn!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rules # 4 and 5: You Must Send Out What You Write (and keep sendiing it out)

I hope you've been enjoying these posts of mine.  I don't claim to be the most knowlegable writer on the planet but hopefully there's been some nuggets of wisdom here and there.

I'm combining the last two rules because they are closely related.  Rule #4 states you must send out what you write.  Rule #5 says that when it comes back, you send it right back out the door.

Send out what we write?  To, like, editors?


It takes some courage to send out our work.  We put part of ourselves in what we write.  Sometimes when we give it to someone else to read it feels as if we're sending our baby to school for the first time.  Will they like it?  Hate it?  And what if they reject it?  Doesn't that mean they hated it and us?


Ive sent stories out to dozens of editors.  I have a large collection of rejection slips.  I'm not saying they don't give me a twinge of disappointment at times.

But here's what I've learned - a rejection simply means an editor is not buying your story.

It has nothing to do with you.  It might have nothing to do with the quality of your story.  Stories are rejected for a variety of reasons.  Maybe it didn't fit the idea they had in mind.  Or they just bought something that was similar.  Or any of a number of reasons that have nothing to do with quality.

If you send out a story, the worst thing  that will happen is the editor will reject it.  That's it.  No one dies, your family willl still love you, and you are still a writer.

Sometimes we tie our self-esteem into our stories and their fates.  We can't do this.  If you are going to succeed in the business of writing you are going to hear "no" a lot more often than you will hear "yes."  And the writers who succeed in the business are the ones who persevere through the "no's" to get to the "yes's."

That's why you keep sending out even if it comes back.  So one person didn't want it - how do you know someone else won't?  Everyone is different.That's why you don't give up just because someone doesn't buy it.

I was recently concentrating on fulfilling rule #5 because I'd let a lot of stories pile up at home.  So I made an effort to research markets and shove everything out the door.  The result?  As I type this I have 3 novels sitting on various editor's desks, and  56 short stories (if I'm counting right).

That's a lot of words out there.  I'm hoping that in all that there's a "yes" or two in all that.  If not, I know what to do - keep sending it out!

Okay, so send out, but where?

Here are free two websites that are worth checking out for short story markets:

For novels, consider subscribing to .  It's $20 a month but chock full of information concerning publishers. is another subscription site for both novels and short story publishers.

Do your homework, write your best, and follow the rules!  You do that and you will find yourself a published writer at some point!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rule #3: You Must Not Rewrite (unless to editorial demand)

This is a tough rule for some writers to get their heads around.  Before I weigh in on it, you need to read two very excellent posts on the topic, both on Dean Wesley Smith's blog: here and then here.  Go read them, I'll wait.

Okay, everyone back?  Let's chat about this.

I don't know why people get angry about this.  But apparently they do.  Can someone explain it to me?

Maybe it doesn't bother me because I was blissfully ignorant of this myth for the most part.  I get the reasoning as well.  Writing and rewriting require two different knds of thought processes, and the two of them don't get along.  If you go back over your work with your critical brain running the show, you will probably kill all the special parts of your story.

Remember my tale about the story I wrote that I thought was garbage but everyone else thought was great?  If I had gone back into the story with critical voice, I would've changed all kinds of things.  And I'm willing to bet it wouldn't have been nearly as good as it was.

But does that mean all first drafts are great stories?  Not at all.  The best way to understand it is to think of a manuscript as a tool.  You are using that tool to tell your story that's locked in your brain.

Sometimes the manuscript you write is the wrong kind of tool for the job.  Like using a screwdriver when a hammer is called for.  There's no point in trying to change the screwdriver into a hammer - the right thing to do is to find a hammer.

So if you write a bad manuscript the first time around?  Well, you take the idea and go for the correct tool.  In other words you redraft the story, writing it again from the beginning.  And when you do that you're still working in creative mode, which is the mindset you need to be in when you're writing your fiction.

  But why the editorial exception?  Couple of reasons. For one thing, an editor can give you money for your work, so it pays (pardon the pun) to listen to them.  And an editor knows how to tweak a story to make it sell.

That doesn't mean you have to do all they tell you.  If you disagree with something an editor says, you should think twice about making the change.  But I've found often I'll see an editor's suggestion and think, "hmm...good idea there."  And it makes the story better.

Again, I'd really like to know why some people freak out over this rule.  Maybe a reader can clue me in?