Tag Archives: Writer Resources

When you don’t agree with your child’s teacher.

Why, oh why, are there people in our public school system teaching children how to write that have no idea about basic fictional writing principles?

My son came home the other day with a low grade on a story he had written.  No biggie, I’m not an ogre—until I read her comments, that is.  My husband sat at the head of the table watching me with hands folded.  I think he was waiting for me to blow a fuse… which, admittedly, I did.

My husband said, “I didn’t see anything wrong with it.  I wanted to see what you thought.”

This is the comment.  Hold your breath…

“Don’t use so much dialog in your writing.  Dialog kills a story.”

Okay, so I took a deep breath, and read his story.

He had done a horrible thing.  He had allowed the dialog to tell his story… without a STITCH of show versus tell issues.  It was actually GREAT.  (No explosions, but that’s okay.  He’s the quiet one)

His story was realistic, believable, and perfectly constructed.  Now, I understand that writing is subjective, but to grade him down for writing correctly?  UGHHHH!

My husband raised an eyebrow and said, “I would LOVE for you to go in and talk to her about this.”

Yeah, he would think it was funny if I got taken out of the school in handcuffs.  This teacher is not to fond of my son to begin with (he’s a giggler and she is a drill sergeant)  We’re just biding our time until we can get him out of this class.  My husband had growled his way through a few parent teacher conferences with her already.

So, what did I do?  I explained to my son that he had written it correctly, and sometimes you are going to be judged unfairly.  I told him that I want him to know what is right, but next time give her exactly what she wants to get the grade, but know there is a better way to do it.

(It’s sad to give real-life advice to an eight year old)  I just know that there is no winning with this woman, and she, unfortunately, is in a position to make my little guy miserable for the rest of the school year.  Believe me, if it were the last day of school, she’d totally have gotten a writing lesson from me… I just need to think of what I’m doing to my child as well.

A week later he came home and said, “Mom!  I wrote a really bad story and she loved it!”

I looked at his new story.  It was 100% tell, no feeling, no dimension, flat characterization.  And she wrote “Nicely done.”

I cringed.  “Okay, but you understand that this is NOT the correct way to write, right?”

He laughed.  “Yes Mom.  I tricked her.”

What’s really sad, is the chances are the 23 other kids in the class don’t have a parent who’s an author.  They will all leave this class thinking they are great writers.

And people wonder why there are so many bad manuscripts out there in the pipeline?

“I don’t know why these agents are rejecting me.  Mrs.  So-And-So from third grade said I was a genius.”

Sad, really.

Have you ever been in a situation like this?

Writing to a Deadline 15: OMIGOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Writing to a Deadline Part 13: Rewriting and resubmitting

Wow.  They were right.

I took out one relationship element, and the rest of the story just fell in line.  I read through my final product and shivered.

Yeah, I actually wrote that…

But that sting is still there… is it as good as I think it is?  Probably not.

Three days until I have to submit.  It’s a holiday weekend.  No one is going to have time to read, right?

This is where friendships you have made come into play.  I looked up every applicable beta reader past and present, and let them know my dire situation.  I even sent it to my very first beta partner… who was nice enough to teach “idiot little me” so much when I first started out (boy did I stink back then)  I haven’t spoken to him in over a year.  You know what?  He jumped on board.

A debut author from the same publishing house I am submitting to saw my plea on Scribophile, and offered to read it.  So did one of my current betas, and my writing buddy who was also in the same boat having to make revisions to her submission for the anthology.

Suggestions come back.  Minor changes.  The last beta to come back arrives five hours before I need to submit.  No pressure.  More minor suggestions.

Make the applicable edits…. And Done.

Funny thing.  I created a PDF, got ready to send, and got a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I checked back on something I had just added that night, and it didn’t flow. Honestly, it sounded HORRIBLE.  I took a few minutes and changed it.  Perfect…. Sometimes, you really need to listen to your gut.

  1. Create a new PDF.
  2. Write up and email thanking the publisher for their suggestions; this is how I used them… yadda yadda… thank you for your consideration.
  3. Attach PDF
  4. Send.

Now the painful waiting process… again.

The deadline has passed.  Whatever happens now, happens.  There is nothing more I can do.

I feel good about it.  I didn’t crack, and I held on to the bitter end.  No matter the outcome, I am proud of this 40 page little gem.  If anything, I proved to myself that I could do it.

Writing to a Deadline Part 12: The Slap of a Rejection

After a week of waiting… Rejected.

Wow.  That stung.  I read the email.  Well, that’s not true.  After the words “Not ready for publication at this time.” I pretty much skimmed it.

Two things stuck with me off the bat.  George was an unnecessary character, and the opening was confusing.  What??????????  George is the catalyst!  Deep breath… don’t scream.

Being a good little camper, I shut down my computer, and walked away.

I stewed over it for a while.  What were they talking about?  How could they say these things?

Then I took my own advice.  It was a nice day.  I got on my bicycle, and just rode.  I thought over those two comments, and cleared my head for an hour or so.  Once I was able to deal with it, I went back to my computer to read it again.

It’s very hard to take your own advice when something happens to you.  I have walked a few people through this very thing, but never myself.  I’ve sent out work before, but they all saved me this heartache by not answering my queries at all.  This time, I got the definitive “No”.

But was it really a no?  I read it again.  It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t completely a rejection either.  They gave me a full-page type-written list of areas they thought were lacking in the story.  Someone thought it through, and let me know everything they thought was a problem.

In my own advice to others: “If someone took that much time, they must have seen something in it that they liked.”

I printed out the page, went to my room, closed the door, and read it over and over.  I realized that if I took their advice about the character George, that the characterization inconsistencies that they pointed out with three other characters would just naturally fall in line.

The last line of the email stated:  If you would like to make changes and resubmit before the deadline date, please send the rewrite directly to “********”

Wait a minute… Go past the normal submission channels?  Hop over the other entries right into a special mailbox?

Not quite so much a rejection anymore, is it?  Thank God I submitted two weeks early!

Seven days for a rewrite, taking out a major plot element.

Gotta go…. Got something to do. 🙂

Writing to a Deadline Part 10: Rewrite and Beta Blast

If you’re just hopping into the insanity that is my writing life, check out my previous “Writing to a Deadline” posts or this won’t make sense.

Okay… fixed that climax.  Yeah!  I did it.  Oh no!  Now I am at 10,280 words!

That’s a whole page over!  Ugh!

Edit madness:  Extra word here, extra word there.  Unnecessary clause?  Can I tighten that dialog a little?  Does this person need to smile?  Is that dialog tag necessary?

Okay, I’m done.  Right?  Am I?   ARRRHGHHHH!

Beta Blast!  Call in the two people who the story really seemed to resonate with (Don’t bother with the person who didn’t seem to get it from the beginning)

Sorry, guys… I know it’s a lot to ask… but I need it back in two days.

Wait….  Wait….  Wait….  Tear a fingernail off.  Wait….  Water the plants… again.  Groom the dog… again (not that she’s complaining.)

Then the panic moment happens.  Through a writer’s group, I find out that someone submitted, and got a positive response.  Not an acceptance, but a request to make changes and re-submit through private channels.

Oh No!  There is a possibility that they will close for submissions if they fill all five slots.

It’s okay… take a deep breath.  I decided that I need to submit NOW, even though there are two weeks left until the deadline.

My two betas came back with minor changes.  Of course, while I was waiting I made changes of my own, so I pleaded for one more read.  Yeah, I can be annoying that way.

My worst writing nightmare is that all of these people call in the favor at the same time while I am up against a deadline of my own ***gack***

Okay… their responses come back.

Remove that comma, change that word…

Easy fixes.

Slow and steady.

Writing to a Deadline Part 9: “And the beta-reading verdict is?”

If you’re just hopping into the insanity that is my writing life, check out my previous “Writing to a Deadline” posts or this won’t make sense.

Note:  This post is mainly for those of you who have not yet been through the beta-process.  Just to prepare you for what it can be like.

Last week I sent out my story LAST WINTER RED to a small Beta Army.  And back the comments come…

Three fast “I just read it” responses came back in one day.  “Liked the story” on each of them.  At least that’s a step in the right direction.  Next step… they will go through and make suggestions.

Time to wait again

The professor got back to me noting “Great story” but lack of setting.  Yeah… I’m famous for that.  I only give what’s absolutely necessary.  I’ll think that over.  There was also a small element that she thought was lost in the middle.  Easy fix, but it will put me close to the word count.  She was also totally engaged and drawn in by my beginning. Yay!

Critical Beta Reader #1 comes back, and hates my beginning. She didn’t mention lack of setting at all.  (Don’t you love contradicting crits?)   She pointed out a few details that she thought were overdone.  Easy fixes.  When she finished, there was more red than black on the page, though. Ugh.

Getting nervous. Re-write of one section per Professor’s comment brings me up to 10,075 words.  Yikes! Editing per Critical Beta #1’s suggestions brings it back down to 9,975. Whew!

My long time beta partner says it just needs a little tweaking.  She likes the beginning, but not my starting point.  She’s probably right, and this might be what critical Beta #1 meant, too.  I think I can fix this now that I understand better…  Just move the starting point three minutes later of where it is now.  She also suggested inserting a little more turmoil over the conflict early on for the MC.  Hmmmm.  I can do that, my only concern is only having an extra 25 words before the 10,000 word maximum.

Romance Beta comes back and actually liked the kissy stuff????  Yea for me!  She pointed out things that the others didn’t even see.

Memoir writer also pointed out some minor things that others didn’t notice.  Easy fixes.

Two people thought my closing six words were absolutely brilliant.  They both mentioned it without me asking… but Critical Beta # 1 deleted them without comment.  Too funny.

So many suggestions fly at you so quickly… you need to decide what fits for what YOU want in the work… and at the same time, please the masses… not everyone.  It’s impossible to resonate with every reader.

Clock is ticking.

Three people made the same comment about a rock in the well during my climax.  Going for a complete re-write of that scene.

Ugh… no words to spare.

Tick tock, tick tock… no pressure.

My First Face to Face Critique Group

Believe it or not, up until today I had never been part of a face-to-face critique group.

There weren’t any around me, and I didn’t want to travel all the way into the city and pay $30 for parking.

I had thought of starting my own, but hesitated because of the work involved with being a moderator.  Then, luckily enough, a friend of mine started one ½ hour from me.  She was so nervous, and very happy when I signed up… THe old strength in friendly numbers thing.

In retrospect, we discussed a few mistakes, one of which was opening it up to ANYONE who was interested.  She was trying to be nice, but it was frustrating to get there after critiquing ten pages of 4 other authors, and only having two other people show up. (The moderator, myself, and another participant)

It worked out fine, but I wasted valuable time reading and critiquing twenty pages for two people who will never see my comments,  — and if you know me… 20 pages equals about 90 comments. I am very thorough.  Also, I won’t see what they did for me (if they ever even read mine in the first place)

In retrospect, we discussed only opening up the critique sessions to established members of our writing group (which is 300 members strong).  This way, we can be sure the people are already invested, and not just “fly by night”.

What WAS good was that the three of us who came were serious.  We critiqued each other’s work, and since we had an extra hour, chatted further about each piece than we would have been able to under normal circumstances. (If the other two showed up)

I was particularly tickled that they both asked for the rest of my work (Last Winter Red) because they liked it so much they wanted to see what happened.  Everyone needs a little ego-boost now and then 🙂

Did they come up with anything my beta-army didn’t?  Yeah, a few things.  Every set of eyes notices something different.  What was cool was that I could talk to them about it.  The only problem with on-line beta partners is that you have to email back questions, and sometimes that’s hard.  Here, we just chatted it over.

Probably— if I knew who the people were, and I could trust that they would show up.  I believe that the more opinions you get, the better your work will be… and someone may just see one word that is wrong that everyone else read over.

Also, I love getting out and chatting with other writers.  I love helping people develop.  There are so many people out there with great ideas, they just need help formulating them in a marketable way.

I was there once (a novice), and it was not too long ago.  Someone helped me.  Okay, a lot of people helped me.  Gosh, I was bad… but my ideas were good.  Now that I know a little bit about writing, it’s my turn to share the wealth.

That’s not to say that I don’t make the same silly mistakes all the time.  I am nowhere near arrogant enough to say I don’t need my beta-readers.  I am just to the point where I know what they mean when they think something is not right.  I can look at their comments, hit myself in the head, and I know EXACTLY how to fix it.

Other writers taught me how to do that.

Now, I can give that knowledge back to others.

Row 80 4/2 Writing to a Deadline Part 6: “Writing from the Outline”

My goal is to get published.  At the moment, I am working on a novella for an Anthology.  This is where I am:

If you’re just hopping into the insanity that is my writing life, check out my previous “Writing to a Deadline” posts or this won’t make sense.

I’d love to tell you that this outline is absolutely useless, but I’d be lying.  I think it is actually helping me.

I keep referring back to it, which is good, because it is keeping me on track.

Since I have my story clearly outlined, I know all of the “little carrots” that need to be dropped early in the story so they are not “big surprise veggie bombs” later.  I even caught myself forgetting one, and I had the chance to re-write a conversation that included that little snippet before it was too late.

In the first three scenes, I set up my world (and clearly defined it since it is a Futuristic Dystopian).  Introduced all the characters.  Gave the conflict of the main character and all subordinate characters.

I looked at my word count— 2,685.

Hmmmm.  The submission guidelines say the story needs to be between 5,000 and 10,000 words.  Can I finish it in that parameter?

My outline has 26 items/scenes/”things that need to happen”.  Some are more in depth than others.  I very carefully looked over the list, and placed a word count next to each number.  This is how many words I think I will need to get each idea down.

300 here, 500 there, 1000 there, 2000  for the climax.  You get the idea.

When I totaled it all up it came to 9,685.  That was a bit of a surprise.  I thought it would be higher.  However, I am also brutally aware that I only have 315 words to spare.

Now, my challenge is to hold to those numbers.  If I can’t finish each item it the allotted word count, I need to subtract words from somewhere else.

The writer’s retreat is here.

Two full days of writing with a goal to finish.

Too lofty a goal?  We’ll see.

Writing to a Deadline Part 5: “I Love this stinking outline”

If you’re just hopping into the insanity that is my writing life, check out my previous “Writing to a Deadline” posts or this won’t make sense.

Wow… one thing that the outline “in my head” wanted me to write just wouldn’t work.  Yikes, would I have wasted a lot of time.  The whole scene would have been lost in editing.

And I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t outline first.

Yes, I’m a pantser, and I cringe every time I read over this outline.  But it is helping me to figure out how one scene will flow into the next.  I stare at the outline every day and make changes to the story before I’ve even written it.  It’s a very strange place for me.

Why aren’t you writing yet?  Deadline, Jen, remember?  What are you doing?

I do most of my writing in the car driving back and forth to work.  Okay, stop gasping… I do it in my head.  I have a pretty good idea of where key scenes in my outline are going.  My question now is whether or not I will be able to write this story in the “10,000 words or under” parameter.  Being concise was never my forte.

I am now four weeks in.  Yes, everyone else is a month ahead of me.  Some of them may have even submitted.  The publisher may have already picked a few that they may include in the anthology.

Maybe.  I have a little cheat card up my sleeve, though.  I am going away to a writers retreat over a weekend.  Eight writers closing themselves in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no internet, and no ambition other than word count.

My challenge to myself is to be completely prepared going in.

Ready, set— go.  Write, Edit, Polish, Complete.

When I get home, send it out to Beta readers.

Re-polish.

One last read from whomever I can convince to put up with me

Submit.

Cutting it close?  Well, honestly, yes.

Today I actually start writing to my outline.  New ground for me.  Let’s see how this pantser does.

Stick to the outline, Jen.  Stick to the outline.

Resist the urge to explode something.  You can do this.

What stupid writing thing did your beta find this week? I bet you have a writing crutch, too.

Do you have a writing crutch?  Is there something you do over and over again, but you have no idea that you are doing it because it feels right?

Mine, apparently, is the use of commas.  SEE!  I just did it again!  I naturally place a comma anywhere where I would pause if I were speaking.

Funny, a beta called me on this last year, and I thought he was nuts.  Several other betas have corrected my commas here and there, but didn’t mention my overall addiction.

Recently, a new beta said (paraphrasing) “I’ve read your blog, so I expected you to overuse commas in your novel, but it really slows down the reading.”

I honestly didn’t even realize I was doing this.

Now I am looking for them like a hawk in my novel.

So, what about commas my blog?

I don’t know.  I might let them fly here.  When I type out a post, you should feel like you are talking to me.  If there is a comma there, I am probably taking a cyber-breath.

What do you think?  Do they annoy you?

I find this extremely funny, to be honest. (Tee hee, there is another one… they just fly out of my fingers.)

I’m not editing any of my natural commas out of this post, just for the fun of it.  This is how I speak.

Now, I just need to make sure all my character dialog and narration doesn’t suffer from my comma frenzy as well.

What do you do in your writing that shoots out of your fingers without you even realizing it?  (Gosh, do I want to put a comma in that last sentence, just to break it up a bit!  ARGHHHH!!!)