Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Posts tagged ‘critique groups’

First Monday mentoring for February – whose writing advice should you take?

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Here’s a common question – who’s advice should writers take?

When I started writing, I soaked up how-to-write books by the dozen, but most didn’t make sense until after I discovered their truths through my own work. That’s why, when I wrote The Art of Romance Writing, I made it as clear and helpful as I could, putting into it everything I wish I’d known starting out. Staying in print since 1982 shows me it achieved my aim.

These days there’s more writing advice on and off line than anyone can absorb, and they often conflict. Write fast, 2,000 words a day minimum. Write slowly, polishing your work as you go. Start with characters. Start with plot. Write what you know. Or what you can find out.

There is some truth in all the advice, but not all the advice is true.

320086_298851486811477_100000598836215_1134194_633661937_n

After writing more than five million words for publication, I can assure you that there’s no one way to write. There’s only what works for you. Be wary of anyone telling you theirs is THE way. The advice may work if it suits your style. You can write fast if it’s your natural inclination, but not otherwise. I’ve had as many books spring from characters as from plot. Often it’s a mix. Let’s face it, if there was “a formula” to writing, every writer would use it and be successful. But writing is more like fishing. Sometimes you catch nothing, sometimes you pull out that elusive best-seller. There’s no predicting which.

So here’s my list of sources whose advice may be helpful.
– An editor who asks to see a revised version of this work, or more of your future writing. They’re prepared to put their company’s money where their mouth is.
– A consensus saying much the same things. If several editors or critique partners suggest that your characters are shallow or your pacing slow in your body of work, you’d do well to look at these aspects carefully.
– People whose opinions you respect, such as successful writers, editors, those making a living from publishing (but not those making money from assessing work).
– Your own instincts. If you’ve written several drafts and find yourself back at an earlier draft, you may need to listen more closely to your inner voice, telling you when you’re on track.

What sources may be less than helpful to you?
– People with their own agenda. Either those making money from commenting on your work, or those who want you to write like them. I repeat: you can only write your work your way.
– The green-eyed monsters. When you get encouragement from an editor, win a contest or place highly, be prepared for others in your writing circle to say nice things, while giving you advice that comes from their own jealousy. It doesn’t make them bad people. Jealousy is all too human. But it does make them poor advisors.

So what advice have you given or found useful? Comment using the box below. Comments are moderated to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Mentor as anything – how to get the right writing help for you

Critique partners and groups can be a great encouragement to your writing but by and large, the members share a similar level of knowledge and skill. Where do you look for help at a more professional level?

The answer is mentoring. At their best, a mentor will be your guide through the minefield of completing your first or subsequent books, provide answers to your questions, help you through the “stuck” periods when the screen stays stubbornly blank, and be there for you through the ups and downs of professional life. At worst, a mentor could try to shape your writing so it sounds more like theirs, or create a dependency that does neither of you any long term good.

When Romance Writers of Australia took over the Valerie Parv Award http://www.romanceaustralia.com/vpa.html from the Australian chapter of Romance Writers of America ten years ago, I was pleased to continue as final judge and mentor the winner for the year they hold the award. This involves a learning curve for both of us, as each winner has different needs and expectations from the process. Some want to work on their winning manuscript, others to explore issues such as working with agents and dealing with contracts, usually it’s a mix of the two.

Breakfast of champions, past Valerie Parv Award winners welcome 2011 winner Michelle de Rooy, far right, alongside Valerie.

One of the greatest compliments I received came from Kelly Hunter http://www.kellyhunter.net/About%20Kelly.html , a rising star among Harlequin authors, who said in the time we’d worked together, she appreciated that I’d never tried to change her voice. Given that her voice is unique and special, that would be a crime anyway. But it’s key that your mentor doesn’t expect you to write as they would.  H.G.Wells notoriously observed that the greatest drive in all the world isn’t love or sex, but the desire to change someone else’s copy. It takes a strong person to recognise when changes would make your work different, not necessarily better.

Nor do you want a mentor who nitpicks. Spelling or grammar can all be fixed later. The main focus should be on the writing. What story are you telling? Is it coming across as you intend? Are the characters consistent and likable? Do we share their emotional journeys?  How can you fix these elements if they’ve gone off track? I encourage my mentees to specify the areas they want to work on. Being a mentor is about giving a service. My satisfaction comes from seeing them blossom and grow, and sharing their joy when they finally get “the call” from an editor offering a publishing contract.

Apart from winning the VPA, how can you find the mentor for you? I work with a very few promising writers through my MentorXpress program via my website http://www.valerieparv.com You can check with your state writing centre, as many offer mentoring programs. Then there’s Writing Australia, a new umbrella organisation of writing centres. Their recently announced Unpublished Manuscript Award offers a $10,000 first prize and $2,000 toward a mentor of your choice. Together with distinguished literary figures, Mark Macleod and Peter Bishop,  I’ll be judging this award which closes on October 13, 2011. Enter at the Writing Australia website http://writingaustralia.org.au/events/event/unpublished-manuscript-award/

Who was or is your greatest writing influence? What tips on this do you have for other writers?

Valerie

@valerieparv on Twitter

Tag Cloud