245 sample queries later…

I just finished going through all of the Query Shark’s posts. I’m not sure why, I’m not really in the querying stage for any of my writing. But there’s something beautiful about schadenfreude, and about watching bad writing get torn to pieces. It’s addictive.

In this case it felt even better, because the Query Shark does it out of a sense of kindness – or, at least, purpose. People submit their queries and she critiques them so that we have the chance to learn how to sell that novel we’ve got in the wings. Because query writing is a lot different from novel writing, and far more complicated than I had considered before I read through all the archives.

One of the things she would often say when a query had been rewritten to her satisfaction was, “Now go back and apply what you’ve learned about writing to your novel. It won’t do any good to have a good query letter but a novel full of all these mistakes.” I’m paraphrasing, obviously, and I would suggest that anyone interested in publishing go read through those archives. Even if you don’t want an agent, and even if you plan to self-publish, there are some great writing tips in there.

One of the things that Query Shark suggests is the removal of excess words. This isn’t exactly new advice, but it’s a piece that’s easy to forget. My old creative writing teacher used to say, “Write prose as though you’re paying a dollar for every word you put down, and write poetry as though you’re paying five dollars for every word.” Despite this advice, my prose can be bloated and my novels are full of subplots that have nothing to do with the actual story.

The other piece of advice that stuck with me was the removal of gerunds. It can be easier to  write in that more passive tense, but it makes the writing less interesting. I have a tendency to use gerunds in my writing as well.

Just a warning: it can be a little depressing to read Query Shark. I, at least, felt inadequate when looking through the criticism. But there’s some encouragement in there as well, and a lot of people have written to the Shark thanking her for her harsh but needed words.

On with the writing! Perhaps one day I’ll send a query to her myself. But for now, I need to focus on Camp Nanowrimo. I’m bombing it this year, and not in the good way. Which is ridiculous, because in Camp Nanowrimo you set your own goals and can basically do whatever you want.

 

Writing Advice that I Just Don’t Get

This post is going to start off with some feeble excuses. Mainly, the excuse as to why it’s been a while since I’ve updated anything.

I don’t know if anyone else is having this problem, but I have difficulty writing both a work in progress and a blog post at the same time. This unfortunately means that when I have a lot to say on my blog, I don’t write a lot of what I want to write. And when I hit a good streak on a work in progress, the blog languishes (as it has been doing recently).

I’ve decided to gear up for Camp Nano in July, with a goal of writing about half a Nanowrimo novel – I’ve set my goal to 750 words per day. This handily works with the 750 words site and I won’t feel like I’m trying to kill myself. Also, I reserve a special place in my heart for Nanowrimo, and I feel that the particular kind of stress it brings should be a strictly November thing.

So, if you don’t see me during July, that’s why.

When writing we all come across a lot of advice. I think that enough people have ridiculed the ‘write what you know’ advice, so I thought I would spend a post discussing some of the newer advice on the circuit which haven’t particularly worked for me.

Before we begin, I’ll just note that writing is a personal thing, and what works for one person may not work for another. Others may find them amazing. I am, of course, open to all takes in the comments.

 

Ignore Your Inner Editor: I started getting this one a lot when I joined Nanowrimo. It was on their list of advice for writers and is clearly intended to help you keep moving. It’s a terrible thing to be completely paralyzed when you know you have to write 5,000 more words to get back up to your goal.

One day in November 2011 I was at a write in and sitting next to my municipal liaison. I was studying my prose, decided I could re-word a sentence, and moved to chop it out. My ML caught me in the act and spent the next 15 minutes lecturing me on how I needed to quash that inner editor and just go, go, go.

This advice is getting popular, it would seem. But it really, really doesn’t work for me. I have strong feelings of self-doubt and I like to edit as I go, even though it means I can spend hours staring at one sentence. It means that the novel is just a little bit better if I go through for edits and rewrites. And all those little bits really add up, and make it so that maybe I don’t hate my writing with a fiery passion and confine it to the dusty spaces of my spare hard drive.

Sometimes I do acknowledge that I’ll just have to fix a problem later, and I usually do that with Nanowrimo novels because of the time and word constraints. But that may be connected to the fact that I have never revisited a Nano-novel. To think that I might have written that s***…

Kill Your Darlings: This could mean a number of things, but most people seem to take the advice as, ‘kill your characters, don’t be squeamish.’ So that’s what I’m going to focus on.

A week or so ago, I read a blog post on George R.R. Martin and the mixed success his last two books have had, especially compared to the smash hits of the first three. One comment that came up again and again was that readers didn’t particularly care any more. Not to spoil too much, but George R.R. Martin likes killing off his characters. A lot. Often there’s a shock factor involved.

Two things have happened to his series: first, the characters we care about are all dying, so we don’t care anymore; second, the deaths are no longer a big shock.

It’s great to have a big twist in the story. It’s great to be willing to sacrifice something you love for the good of the tale. But maybe this advice should be followed by, ‘Don’t turn a writing feature into a gimmick.’

Never Give Up: This is a hard piece of advice because it’s the kind of advice we all want. It makes us feel like we could and should keep striving for success with our work. And yes, we should persevere. Just because we have a setback or two doesn’t mean we should abandon everything. But I’m going to delve into anecdote time again to show why I don’t agree wholeheartedly with this advice.

I wrote three novels between my 16th and 17th summer. One of them was a Nanowrimo novel, one I wrote in three months, one in six. I took a different approach to planning each of them, which I will spare detailing here.

One of the things they all had in common was that they were terrible.

No big surprise there. I believe that I wrote well, for a teen, but that didn’t make me a publishable author. And when I look back on those novels, I do love them in their own way. But I would never, ever try to edit and publish them under any circumstances. I like to think of them as practice, like Nanowrimo each year. They helped me develop the skills and and determination to write a longer piece of work, and they helped me learn what I was good at and what I was bad at.

For a while, I tried to edit one of them for publication. But there came a time when I had to face facts: it simply wasn’t publishable. It would be easier to rewrite it with a different plot and an altered cast of characters, more suited to the ideas I actually have in my head now.

This still happens to me. Recently I had to stop a work in progress and start a large part over from scratch, just because books and movies at the time were coming out with the exact same concept. Though I had conceived of it independently, I had to scrap the thing and start over because no one would care whether I’d thought of it ‘first’ or not. It would be derivative anyway. And while it can be depressing to look at a monster of a work and realize its days are done, surely that’s better than bitterly slaving away for years that will end up in the editor’s trash pile, or at the bottom of the amazon kindle list.

That’s all for now. If you’ve got extra pieces of writerly advice that don’t quite work for you, or if you have a good reason to trust more wholeheartedly in the advice above, do let me know.