I Dispense Writerly Advice

Here's a chat with a newbie writer who stepped out of her comfort zone and let me read her first three chapters, and what I had to say about them when I finished. 

Thanks for agreeing to this blog post, Mrs. S, and WRITE ON. 

4:31 PM 

understand me when i say this
it's going to sound harsh, but it's not
you're making rookie mistakes
rookie mistakes are easy to absorb and understand and FIX
you know who your characters are

your setting is great
I'm following your story

4:33 PM
here's an example of what I mean by rookie mistake:
you wrote this:
She accentuated who she meant by pointing at me.
instead, say this:
She pointed at me.

early writing is either too wordy or too sparse for the most part
you're wordy
because what you really need to do, what EVERY writer HAS to learn to do, is CUT CUT CUT
your mythology is there
your plot is there

* waits *

4:36 PM 
Mrs. S: yay!!! I can live with Rookie mistakes!
I think sometimes it is easier to have too much rather than too little

me: pick up PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell and Janet Evanovich's book HOW I WRITE
I read both of those at least five times each

i'm going to give you three pointers

Mrs. S: go for it

4:41 PM 
me: 1. You're info dumping. You're telling me too much at the beginning instead of slowly working it in to the story

I just found info dumping in my first chapter and the book is sold.

Everyone does this!

4:43 PM 
2. You are telling more than you're showing. Janet Evanovich gives some excellent examples of this. Here's one I (kind of) remember:
Joe was so mad.

Joe threw his keys across the room, making a dent in the sheetrock wall.

4:44 PM 
Mrs. S: yes that is going to be a tough habit to fix but I think I understand better

me: I still don't understand it.
My CP's point it out ALL THE TIME.

Mrs. S: give the character an action to represent the mood or emotion

it is literally giving a feeling an action

me: YES. I had to go thru and fix a TON of sentences in my original manuscripts, but once I got the hang of it I started writing it that way the first time

sometimes you don't realize you're doing it, and you cheat but again, that's what revision is for
3. Passive verbs. The word "was" is not your friend. 
The wall was covered with paintings and artwork by local artists.


The walls exploded with paintings and artwork by local artists.
anytime you can use another verb for was or find a better way to say it, do it (most of the time)

I'm not saying that exploded was the best word choice, but if you can find any way to say it without using passive verbs, do it

Mrs. S: that makes sense too!
this is all incredibly helpful advice

me: and again, those three things change when you practice
you figure out that either

a) you're going to get the story out and fix it later
b) you do the work AS you write
I do a little bit of both.
I draft as fast as I can to get the scenes out
and then the next time I sit down to write
I go back and look for things to edit
that's what I did with HOURGLASS

5:01 PM 
I will not do it again

Mrs. S: well moving forward I can be more conscious of it and then revise later

me: I need to free write because I don't plot/outline
I listen to what they tell me (the VOICES!)

and sometimes, 3/4's of the way in, I find out they've lied to me
and nothing sucks worse than slaving over revising a paragraph you end up having to cut

Mrs. S: hahaha so true

me: Important: Your writing life will drastically change if you give yourself permission - and I mean FULL permission - for that first draft to suck donkey balls.

5:04 PM 
You'll have flashes of genius beside lots and lots of poo.

Mrs.S: well I pretty much didn't expect it to be spetacular and sell as is LOL

me: I did.

I remember when I typed The End
I was ALL
I bet if I read that draft now I'd have to be hospitalized.

Mrs. S: LOL

me: Here's what you need to know tho
the mythology, the world, the people
no one can teach you that stuff

5:07 PM 
you are either a storyteller naturally or you aren't
I think it's possible for a person to learn it, but it's hard to come by
it's like teaching someone how to feel
the storyteller part is there for you, Mrs. S, and the more you read and write the stronger it will get

the other stuff is mechanics and it CAN be learned
you just have to WANT to learn it and WANT to be better
I have no use for someone who isn't willing to work for it
I think you are

5:10 PM 
Mrs. S: I definitely want this even though i am a bit terrified of it

me: well hells bells, that's excellent
if you aren't terrified you aren't doing it right 

and when you get done with your book, if you don't hate it you aren't doing that right either

I fully believe that what makes the difference is choosing to respond by ... being a like a dog with a pork chop
you aren't letting go dammit
that pork chop is YOURS
and you will FIGHT to keep it
because you freaking LOVE pork chops

5:12 PM 
Mrs. S: I can love pork chops =P

it is really strange because I didn't have stories floating around in my head ever before now I have them all the time I seriously have 3 completely different stories outlined I don't know where it came from all of the sudden

me: you've always been a reader, yes?

Mrs. S: yeah more so since I graduated college

me: they've been up there in the Crock Pot that is your brain
it doesn't work like that for everyone but I think it does for most writerly people

5:16 PM 
Mrs. S: thank you for reading my stuff and being willing to talk about it with me 

I feel better

me: Let me add, that along with my pork chop analogy is this
i need a good analogy dammit
you need to be a sponge

you need to absorb what you read and learn
so your new motto is
be a spongey pork chop

Mrs. S: that sounds revolting on sooo many levels LOL

me: i mean

be a spongey dog with a pork chop
I think we can figure out a way to put that on a t-shirt

5:18 PM 
Mrs. S: I was just thinking that!



  1. Love the new blog look!

  2. Great advice. I hate my ms right now, so glad to hear that means I've done something right. :)

  3. Hooray for encouraging new writers! As for show not tell, I'm working through first-round edits and am still be struggling with this one...

  4. You two give good exchange.

    Great Minds...Cheers!

  5. Okay, so wait! Janet Evanovich has a writing book? Why did I not know this? I have to have that book! Oh, and good advice to this new writer. You're so encouraging. And funny, of course. And right.
    But, really? A craft book by Janet Evanovich? Why could you not have told me this before Mother's Day? Now I have to be all frivolous and buy it for myself. Torture, I tell you. Pure torture. Dragging myself over to Indiebound now to see if they have it. But it's gonna kill me.

  6. My favorite line..."if you aren't terrified you aren't doing it right" ... Made me smile. Great advice!

  7. YES, YES, YES! This is all great adbice :-)

  8. Really really great advice and pointers given in a way that encourages rather than humiliates! Nicely done!

  9. I think "if you're not terrified, you aren't doing it right" is going up on my board right now.
    Great advice.

  10. Excellent advice Myra, thanks for sharing this ;)

  11. Nice to see critiquing in action, thanks for the insight!

  12. Haha nice interview ! I would so choose ghost stories over truth or dare also :D



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