By Linda Robinson
After I joined a large critique group a few years ago, I was terrified to press Send for my first 2,000-word submission. How intimidating to put my work out there, knowing it was open for target practice. I wasn’t worried about grammar and punctuation, but about the story itself.
Nail-biting nervous, I waited for the first critique and opened it with sweaty palms and nausea churning in my stomach. The review was intimidating. More scarlet words than black littered every page. Strikethrough sentences had been rewritten in the reviewer’s voice, and right margins bulged with comments. I sank back in my computer chair like a deflated balloon and berated myself, thinking I must be a masochist.
The next critique didn’t murder the chapter in red ink, and I felt better. Then more came in, and the “new rules of writing” comments were as plentiful as fleas on a mongrel. Some were good, others were comical, and a few bordered on being absurd. One critter mentioned that writers should no longer use the “to be” verbs was and were (which probably stemmed from the “deep point of view” style of writing), and every occurrence in my submission had been highlighted, even in dialogue. I laughed out loud.
Since I was in the group to learn how to be a better fiction writer, I refused to let a daunting critique-or several-hinder my goal. As time passed, plenty of encouraging critiques and helpful comments arrived. I took the suggestions of many critters, lined the birdcage with one or two others, and got second opinions about the rest.
On a serious note, many of the so-called new rules were invaluable. One kept me aware of little things that can degrade a big story. For example, words we say all the time in conversation, like very, really, and others, become boring in a novel when overused. And I applied “use stronger verbs” in lieu of using ly adverbs.
Other rules were better bent or sometimes even broken, because if I constantly worried about not breaking them all, I’d never get the manuscript written. Worse yet, if I followed all suggestions, I’d lose my own writing voice. I chose to hang in there with tough skin and an open mind, and the benefits proved priceless.
My main goal now is to write. Write until I fall asleep in my recliner and almost drop my laptop (true experience). Get up in the morning and write until my characters are through talking. Write until the story is finished.
Because story trumps.
Then I’ll start at the beginning and read, self-edit, reread, and probably write more-as many times as necessary. Only then will I make sure I haven’t broken the major rules and guidelines before I pass chapters on to my small group of critique partners, and later my editor, to work their magic.
How many of you have been overwhelmed by today’s novel-writing dos and don’ts?
Linda Robinson, author of four published novels, writes Christian fictional stories of faith, friends, and family relationships. While writing the third novella in a new series depicting Natalie Hudson and best friend Tori Rhodes from teens to mature adults, Linda guest-blogs and writes short stories for magazines and contests.
Read more about Linda by visiting her web site and reading her blogs at: http://lindarobinson.tateauthor.com, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/linda.robinson.5095 and Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaRobinsonLR.