On Seeking Constructive Criticism (or “Shall I Be Wistful, or Shall I Progress?”)

Hi Folks,

Note: I ran this originally in September 2014, but it was so much fun to write I thought I’d share it again. So here it is. Other than some reparagraphing to make it more lisible, it appears as it was written originally.

I sometimes experience an exchange of emails with a writer who asks for a critique of some writing with the proviso that I understand he or she is highly sensitive. Others ask for a critique with the proviso that I don’t tear their writing “to shreds.”

Okay. That’s fine with me.

First, I don’t tear anyone else’s writing to shreds. I just read it and report on what I find. As for whether a writer is “highly sensitive,” that’s really neither here nor there.

I’m a professional fiction writer and instructor. I will never go out of my way to hurt anyone’s feelings. That isn’t my job, it’s a waste of my time and it isn’t productive.

But neither will I lie to a writer about her writing just to spare her feelings. That isn’t my job either. It’s not only a waste of my time, but it’s counter productive rather than helpful. In fact, it actually harms the writer.

If you come to me with a piece of writing and tell me up front, “Hey, I just wanted to share this with you,” chances are I’ll say “Thank you.” Then I’ll read it when I get time.

After I’ve read it, I’ll thank you again for sharing it with me and probably say something like “Good story.” I won’t say that unless I mean it, but neither will I go into full critique mode and tell you what I believe would upgrade it from good to excellent.

If you approach me with a piece of writing and ask for a sample edit or a critique or my honest opinion, that’s what you’ll get.

I won’t try to tell you what you “have to” do, but I will tell you honestly what I believe would improve your writing and why. (That “why” is what’s missing from most amateur or unprofessional critiques.)

At such times, I automatically assume you asked for a critique so you can take my suggestions under consideration. I don’t expect you to accept them automatically. But I do expect you to decide rationally whether applying them will improve your work.

But what if you approach me with a piece of writing and ask for a critique AFTER pointing out that you’re “highly sensitive” or that you “have very thin skin” and ask me to “please be gentle” or “please don’t rip it to shreds”?

Well, then I will assume what you want is praise, empty or otherwise, and I won’t waste my time offering an actual critique. I’ll still accept your work. Then I’ll glance over it and say something like “Ahh, what a story (or essay or poem)!” You will then take that statement as you like it.

If I offer an honest critique and it’s negative in the slightest, I will have hurt your feelings. If I offer a less-than-honest critique, I’ve wasted my time and yours, plus I’ve given you false encouragement.

The point is, none of this has as much to do with developing a thick skin against criticism as it does with getting over yourself. You aren’t all that special, Pookie.

Look around. Most writers are highly sensitive, which is to say, we’re human. We ALL enjoy hearing praise, and we ALL dislike hearing criticism of our work.

The difference between the amateur writer and the professional writer, as with the difference between the amateur and the professional ANYthing, is that the amateur focuses on the emotional drama, and the professional focuses on deciding whether applying the criticism will improve the work.

In my own version of the perfect world, we would all place a higher value on honest constructive criticism than on empty praise.

I mean, we’re all adults here. If you want unbridled, unmitigated, unconditional praise, you should show your work to someone who would rather lie to you than hurt your feelings. (This is the role of your mother or that nice aunt or the siblings you get along with.)

If you want to improve your work, I recommend you eschew empty praise, acknowledge and then dismiss as a fluke any honest praise, and seek out criticism as something that at least has the potential to be a learning experience.

What I recommend you DON’T do, under any circumstance, is fling one forearm across your brow, grow wistful to the point of melting into the floor, and throw a do-it-yourself pity party to indulge the unrelenting psychological and emotional pain of having received what you requested.

That really isn’t a good look on anyone, and least of all on an aspiring professional.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

On Challenges, Part 2

Hi Folks,

Note: This follows on a topic I wrote for The Daily Journal. If you haven’t read it, you can find it at http://hestanbrough.com/the-journal-friday-915/.

At the beginning of the calendar year, I challenged myself to write 15 novels during the year.

Later, after an intended novel fell short and ended as a novella, I adjusted the goal to 16 novels or novellas. That should have clued me I was in trouble.

It didn’t. I plunged merrily ahead but conveniently forgot the whole purpose of a challenge: productivity.

In my desire to write a certain number of novels, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed. In short, I lost sight of the little picture: the word count.

Grandpa always said you can’t build a house, but you can drive a nail. (Or you can’t write a novel, but you can write a scene.)

If you drive enough nails, you’ll look up one day through the clearing smoke and see that you have a new house.

Now just for fun, let’s slip a bit afield.

Productivity isn’t finishing a certain number of novels or novellas or even short stories.

In its initial, base form, productivity is putting words on the page. Like it or not, it all boils back down to the basic act: word count is what produces short stories, novellas and novels. You can’t escape that fact.

I find it particularly telling (and humorous, actually) that so many writers wrinkle up their nose and eschew word count as if it were gross and even distasteful. Pedestrian, even. Like sex.

Well, it might be. But it’s still a necessary (if ugly, depending on your POV) act in which the writer must allow his conscious and subconscious mind to engage if he is to birth a new novel.

It occurs to me that the metaphor extends when you realize word count generally isn’t talked about in polite circles.

Get it?

And it’s something all writers engage in whether or not they want to admit it.

After all, if such things really were only for us peasants, Great Britain’s royal line would be really short. In fact, it would have ended abruptly on the other side of a pair of crossed arms and a head shaking side to side eons ago. (Somebody stop me!)

Okay. Okay (deep breaths). Enough on the metaphor.

Now I don’t push productivity for its own sake. I push productivity as a matter of business.

The more works a writer has “out there” the greater the chance readers will stumble on something he’s written, like it, and buy more.

This is common sense, even given that what was once common for most seems to have become a luxury for many. But I digress.

Noting word count, whether it’s done publicly (as here) or in private (all the better people only do it in private) is what drives the writer to produce more literary children.

And when our word-count drive begins to weaken, there’s no better way to enhance it than to give ourselves a challenge.

Try it. You’ll like it. And you don’t have to tell anybody.

‘Til next time, keep writing.
Harvey

To a World Free of Cliché

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 1/10/2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Once upon a time, I edited a manuscript that was teeming with clichés, ripe to bursting with platitudes and filled to the brim with trite, self-serving crap.

It virtually screamed Look at me! Aren’t I wonderful? Aren’t I generous with my time and helpful in all things? Aren’t I just pretty much Oprah on steroids?

Of course, the clichés and platitudes were slumping along behind like great lummoxes, mumbling, Hey, uh, looky here. I ain’t never had one original thought, an’ I’m dang proud of it. This here’s m’nose-pickin’ finger. Yup, I’m dumber’s a bagga bricks.

Did you ever read something that actually made you recoil?

The unoriginal writing in that particular masterpiece bludgeoned me so strongly and so often that I wanted to curl into the fetal position and hide beneath my desk. I hoped the writing gods would come and spirit that evil piece of sh-riting from my laptop.

They didn’t. I’d gotten myself into it, they said, so I could get myself out. Ugh.

So why did I accept the manuscript for editing? I got lax.

Although the writer sent me the full manuscript per my request, I took the sample edit from the first few pages. It didn’t take long during the edit to realize those pages plus a few more had been previously edited so that they weren’t ugly, hairy legged, knuckle-dragging things slouching toward some poor, unsuspecting reader.

But hey, mea freakin’ culpa. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to  f-i-n-i-s-h   t-h-e   e-d-i-t. Have I mentioned how happy I am to be writing full time now?

But back to the original point. Far more important than me having to put up with a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible—I suppose I could have written that (horrible)5—piece of writing was the realization that many writers, we who are supposed to be sources of original thought, simply aren’t.

So here’s a new rule for you, annotated to ease understanding. Not that YOU need it to be annotated—I realize that—but face it: some of the folks reading this are missing more than a few spots off their dominoes.

Strive (attempt with all the power of your will)

never (not even once)

to write (put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard or mouth to recorder)

an unoriginal thought (a syllable or series of syllables that have been uttered before, by anyone, at any time, anywhere, ever)

except as you do so purposefully (intentionally, with intent, on purpose)

to create (cause to occur, bring into being)

a certain (premeditated, planned, intentional, particular)

effect (emotion, gasp, increase in heart rate, smile, chuckle, laugh, recoiling in horror, etc.)

in the reader (person whom you want to impress so much with your work that s/he will seriously consider breaking into your home just to learn more about you).

Again, Strive never to write an unoriginal thought except as you do so purposefully to create a certain effect in the reader.

That one rule would cover a LOT of the other lessons I’ve tried to teach writers over the years, especially if you include the use of the various marks of punctuation in that “create a certain effect in the reader” part. And you should.

Of course, if one of your characters actually speaks in clichés and utter platitudes per his role in society, that’s fine. Let him.

At least until you hire another character to fit the cliché-ridden guy with reinforced-concrete underwear and drop him off a pier somewhere.

Give me three hours’ notice and I’ll drive. Hey, I’ll even help you load him in the trunk. But your narrator… well now, that’s different.

See, thing is, you’re a Writer. You were brought into existence on this funny, filthy little blue marble to shake it the hell up, to look it in the eyes and dare it to say or do something that you can turn into a story.

And in your writing, although your characters will wander around being themselves (as they should), your narrator can’t.

The narrator describes the scene, period, albeit through the characters’ senses and the characters’ OPINION of that scene. The narrator provides a great transitory bridge between the colorful, magical world of your story and the grey-white, humdrum existence of your reader’s reality.

You and your narrator will describe the scenes in vibrant, expansive splashes of prose that leave the reader gasping for breath, not crawling under his desk to hide from an onslaught of boredom.

You and your narrator will make readers laugh until their sides ache, cry until they’re dry, or sleep for three weeks with one eye open.

You and your narrator are too intelligent to mumble clichés or platitudes when you have a perfectly good brain right there between your ears.

And I hope you’re just plain too stubborn to use something someone else has used a thousand times.

So get on with it!

‘Til next time, happy (original, unboring, unclichéd) writing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Why Do You Write?

Note: This post was originally scheduled for October 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post A LOT so it’s up to date.

Hi Folks,

In my years of dealing with other writers, I’ve heard a few clichéd thoughts. In every case, the clichés are caused by the same old myths we’ve all been taught and bought into to one degree or another.

One of the more prevalent myths is that writing for money somehow taints the pure art of writing.

The truly hilarious kicker here is that although writing fiction is as much a pure art as painting or sculpting, most would-be writers don’t present their pure art. (Especially those in Group Three below, but don’t skip down.)

They edit and wheedle and whittle away until what was originally pure looks just like they believe it “should” look, which is like everyone else’s stuff.

It’s extremely difficult to be “special, just like everyone else.” 🙂

Okay, but this post is about the nonsense that writing for money is not a good thing. I’ll deal with the art side of this another time.

“Oh, I Don’t Write for Money,” (he said, one forearm draped dramatically over his forehead as a glass of wine and a cheese stick balanced precariously in his other hand.)

First, a disclaimer — I am aware there are folks out there who are not writers and don’t care to be. That’s fine. What follows is about those who are or claim to be writers.

Over all the years when I was goofy enough to believe I was making a difference presenting in writers’ conferences and sitting on panels (there’s a waste of time you’ll never get back) in genre conventions, I must have heard it at least a thousand times: “Oh, I’m not into writing for money.”

And every single time, for me, that begged the question, “Then why in the world are you here?” I mean seriously, if you don’t write for money, why are you spending money on the latest conference, convention, or seminar?

Okay, some folks love learning strictly for the sake of learning. Got it.

But what about the other five or six out of a bajillion?

Now don’t get angry. Coming from a (former) writing instructor, “Why do you write?” is a completely valid question. But really, it’s strictly rhetorical.

The fact is, writers who say they don’t write for money belong in one of four groups:

Group One consists of hobby writers.

They really don’t write for money. They also don’t invest much of their own time and money in learning how to write. When they do invest money in their writing, it’s for a good and specific reason.

These are the ones the other family members turn to when someone has to write a eulogy. Perhaps they write to leave a legacy—perhaps a memoir or a family history—so descendants will have a record.

Perhaps they pay a proofreader or copyeditor to clean up the writing a bit, and they might even attend a writing workshop or two. That’s perfectly understandable. Absolutely nothing wrong with being a hobby writer.

Group Two are the same folks, but they harbor a secret desire to be professional writers.

They really don’t write for money either. And they hedge their bets by not investing much of their own time and money in learning how to write. If they don’t learn, they have no reason to write seriously and they will never risk failure.

However, they’re so overcome by the fear of failure that they will never seriously consider themselves writers, nor expect others to consider them writers.

That’s okay too if they can’t overcome the fear, but I hope they find something they love to do and do that instead.

Group Three consists of those who are not writers, will never be writers, and know it. They are who this topic is really all about.

They say that they don’t write for money in a tone that indicates they’re bragging. They believe themselves above scrabbling for the filthy lucre, and generally — if they actually write at all — they’re in pursuit of writing The Great American Novel.

They have an elevated calling, you see, and they’re above the whole sordid mess in which we mere mortals are entangled.

However, for some reason they believe others see them as writers (Pssst! No, we don’t.) and they attach some elevated importance to that as well. They would fit right into the Brit TV show Keeping Up Appearances, and any one of them could play the role of Hyacinth. And they’re precisely as annoying.

Those in this group spend sometimes vast amounts of money on appearing to be a writer. But learning and honing the craft doesn’t matter. Appearance — what others believe about them — is everything.

Shrug. Stretch. Yawn. Okay. Whatever.

Those in Group Four are writers, or at least aspirants who have a real shot at being writers.

Those say (usually humbly) that they don’t write for money either. But they invest time and money wisely in learning and honing the craft. (Like those in Group Two, they’re also hedging their bets, but only out of fear of rejection.) We can lump them in with those in Group Five.

Everyone else belongs in Group Five. They are writers. They never utter “I don’t write for money” unless they’re being sarcastic.

These folks have learned what those in Group Three will never learn: If you want to write, write. It’s that simple.

Neither do they think nonstop of all the money they’re going to make. That isn’t what it’s about. They just write.

As one personal example, I seriously doubt I’ll ever make a solid living with my writing. But I also seriously expect my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will rake in cash by the barrel load. And that’s fine. But I get all the fun of telling the stories and putting them out there. (grin)

Let’s pause here for a moment so you can do a quick self-assessment if you want to. Nobody’s judging. Whether and why you belong in any of the first four groups is strictly up to you to decide.

Okay, all done?

Good. Now, here’s what you do.

If you belong in Group One, Two or Three, you can go home now.

Stop reading this and go find something fun to do.

Why? Because I see no reason to take you seriously, or at all, as a writer. And frankly, if you’re in Group One or Two, you don’t expect me to. In fact, you’re probably laughing along with the rest of us.

If you’re in Group Three — well, sorry.

I realize you expect the rest of us to not only realize you’re a writer but admire your tenacity, etc. Here you go. Let’s see if I can hit the high spots:

  • You expect the rest of us to grovel and beg for an autographed copy of your recent release.
  • You authored your book (but not for filthy lucre) and are selling for some exorbitant amount because it’s Just That Good.
  • Oh, and because you paid some subsidy publisher a few thousand dollars to like it enough to publish it.

That about right?

You’re also probably madder than eight wildcats in an oil drum right now. But really, just chill and go find something you actually enjoy doing. Seriously.

Now, if you’re in Group Four or Five (Bonnie), hey, this entire post celebrates you. I’m pulling for you, I’m proud of you and I’m glad you’re one of us.

Keep learning, keep writing, and keep making wise investments in your education.

But don’t tell people you aren’t writing for money. Just keep having fun making stuff up.

‘Til next time, happy writing (or whatever you most enjoy doing).

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

On Specificity and Clarity in Writing

Hey Folks,

I was going to write a whole post on this topic, but really, that isn’t necessary. It’s a personal pet-peeve kind of thing. And far be it from me to foist my “beliefs” on anyone else.

What pet peeve?

Well, people who write things and then postulate—not even apologetically but more apoplectically and with a wag of the hand—that “The reader will know what I mean.”  Those folks get on my nerves. Deep and hard.

But I have come to understand that such things don’t matter, by and large, to many people, writers and readers alike. Or at least it seems so to me.

For example, despite published writings that are replete with inappropriate instances of absolutes (all, never, always, everyone, nobody, etc.), apparently no writers write like that. Ever.

If you don’t believe me, ask them.

And despite published writings that are chock full of eyes wandering out of heads and doing things on their own (her eyes flew across the room and came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings), again, no writer put those words on a page. Again, ever.

And the same goes for other body parts: “her legs raced along the sidewalk” or “his nose smelled something strange” or “her ears listened closely” or “his finger dialed the telephone” or “his hand crept into his pocket to retrieve his revolver.”

No writers that I’ve been able to find write like that either. Ever.

But based on the hard evidence contained between the covers of some books, some do. Or maybe the publishers are sneaking that stuff in.

Anyway, if you mention those faux pas to the writers, they grin the grin of a thousand braying jackasses, wag that hand in the air as if you and they are old buddies and say something like, “Aah, you know, the readers know I didn’t mean it like that.”

And most often I smile and say something noncommittal, like “Hey, when you’re right, you’re right” or “Ah.”

But the truth lurks in my mind: No, Sparky, they don’t.

Readers read for either or both of two purposes: entertainment and-or information. If you write “never,” they read “never.” They don’t automatically substitute “seldom” or “sometimes” or some other less-inclusive, less blanket-clad word.

If you write that “her legs raced down the road,” the reader sees disembodied legs racing down the road.

If you write that “her eyes came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings,” the reader will wince. Because face it, that had to hurt.

And it isn’t the reader’s fault that they take you at your word(s). It’s your fault.

After all, the reader has no choice but to accept what you put on the page, whether it’s in your novel, in your Essay On Some Topic Of Major Importance or on your Facebook page.

I’ve never known a reader who was hungry for a verbal repast to go looking for a soup sandwich. But that’s often what they get.

It is up to the purveyor of the repast to determine whether he or she is going to serve a nutrituous, delicately balanced meal or something that’s half-baked and barely slopped together.

Am I being nitpicky?

Yes. But only where my own sensibilities are concerned.

Hey, if you want to continue slopping grey, watery soup over stale bread in a bowl, go ahead. If you want to hit it with a dash of sea salt, proclaim it prime rib and hand it out to weary, gaunt-eyed travelers who are starved for sustenance, that’s your business.

I’m only giving you notice that I will not partake. Nor will I sidle up alongside you in the soup kitchen, grab a ladle and begin flinging greasy dumplings at the wall in the hope they will stick and “be something good.”

So anyway, I was gonna devote a whole post to this notion that writers, not readers, are responsible for the clarity or lack thereof in writing.

But it’s a personal thing, so I won’t.

I’ll just pass along a wish that your characters’ eyes will remain in their head. Unless it’s a horror novel and they get whacked really, really hard.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

PS: If you wanna see what I do when I’m having fun, swing by Harvey Stanbrough Writing in Public (https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/) and take a gander. For the month of June, you can watch short stories grow there scene by scene.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 12/24/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. Besides, it’s kind’a timeless. A little pre-Christmas fun. Enjoy.

Well, here we are.

We’ve made another approximate revolution around the big yellow ball of fiery gas and come full circle to that time of the year when humans are expected to be giddily happy. And true to form, most of them are, bless their hearts. (Those of you who hail from Texas or have visited Texas and paid attention will understand.)

Anywho, according to those who know me well, I should be expecting a visit from three ghosts a little later today/tonight, so I’d better spit this out while I’m thinkin’ about it: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And I mean it.

Unlike my Uncle Ebby, I don’t think you should ignore or avoid all the merriment if that’s the sort of thing you like.

Anyway, that’s my wish for you (yeah, just as if it’s original to me, eh?), but it’s not automatic and it’s not what’s necessarily gonna come true. So if you care at all, work at it, a’right?

In the meantime, my personal toast to you and yours:

May your days be vibrant, your evenings calm, your heart safe and warm at home.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

 

Top Three Tips for Emarketing

Hi Folks,

Awhile back, a lady sent me a request. “Harvey, would you go to my Facebook page, These Three Words, and ‘friend’ the page?” (This is not the actual name of the page, of course.)

In her friendly but business-like email, she then explained a bit of what the page is about, how often she posts to it, and so on. It was generally a good email. But she didn’t include a clickable link.

I emailed her back a quick note asking her to send me a link. I could have stopped there, but always striving to teach, I explained that I was running too hard to take the extra time at the moment to copy/paste the title of her page into a search engine, browse through the responses, find it, go there, and click Like. (Of course, I did take the extra time to explain all that. Wordy, I am.)

She did respond with a link, which I clicked. Then I clicked Like and was done.

But in the brief email that accompanied the link, she also expressed that she wasn’t sure what I meant by “running too hard.” She added, “Perhaps if you slow down a bit you will enjoy your visit to my page.”

Problem is (and this is a problem for which I am grateful), at the time I almost always had several manuscripts awaiting editing or proofreading. I also (at the time) usually had one or more writing seminars to prepare for and new ones to develop and write.

I also had, and still have, blog posts of my own to write and schedule, and free advice to hand out via email when folks ask (and when I know what I’m talking about). Oh, and of course my own writing takes precedence over everything else.

So I had to wonder. If hers was one of those edits in the queue, would she still want me to slow down? But I digress….

Remember, when you ask someone to do something for you, it’s always more important to you than it is to them.

Here, then, are my top three tips for emarketing via email:

1. If you send an email asking the recipients to visit your website or your Facebook or other social networking page, make it easy by providing a link. If they have to go digging to find it, they probably won’t.

2. Include a direct link to your website (Facebook page, etc.) in a “signature block” at the end of every email you send out. Most email programs provide a way for you to set this up so it will appear automatically.

3. Include a brief description along with any direct link (in your email body or signature block or on a website) unless the link itself is self-explanatory.

Visitors have literally thousands of choices when it comes to which websites they will visit and whether they will subscribe or bookmark those sites. Remember that it’s always more important to you that the visitor remains on or subscribes to your site or newsletter or blog post than it is to them. Making it worth their while is never a waste of your time.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

My Daily Journal now appears on my main website at HarveyStanbrough.com. To sign up and receive an email notifications, go to the website and click The Daily Journal in the header.

 

Expressing Tone

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 4/6/2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

After my original posting of “sigh… present-tense narrative is great. please write in present-tense narrative,” a couple of years ago, several writers emailed to ask why I titled that post the way I did, namely in lower case and repeating the main primary phrase. I thought my response was entertaining enough to warrant updating and posting here.

Actually, as is the case with many techniques I use, I stole that technique from television.

In a couple of episodes of Family Guy, the writers did a take-off of Star Wars.

Of course the take-off was pure satire. The writers took pains to point out major flaws in the Star Wars story. They also pointed out places where dialogue began with a decision, wandered pretty much aimlessly for awhile, then returned with a new decision that would better serve the story.

In the actual story, the dialogue was written and delivered with excitement and pleading and firm resolve, as it should be. In the Family Guy version it was DOA, as evidenced by the flat-lined, deadpan delivery.

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker flies off to some star system to study under Yoda, the Jedi master of masters. After some playful interaction, at the end of which Yoda finally admits who he is, Luke tells Yoda he has come to learn the ways of the Force.

Yoda, in so many words, says no, he will not train Luke. But after much pleading and wailing and gnashing of teeth (about a half-hour of movie time, if I remember correctly), Yoda finally relents.

In the Family Guy version, it went much quicker than that.

1. Luke flies up and asks Yoda to train him.

2. Yoda says, “No, I will not train you in the ways of the Force.” Wait two beats. “Okay, I will train you in the ways of the force.”

And that’s what I had in mind when I wrote “present-tense narrative is great. please write in present-tense narrative.” I preceded it with <sigh> to flatten it out a little further.

Some probably will notice that my delivery is not the same structure as that in the Family Guy episode. In mimicking the original story, they began with “no” and progressed to “okay.”

But because most who read this blather already know I’m staunchly entrenched against the inane idiocy of writing narrative in present tense, I saw no reason to do the same. Though perhaps it would have been more effective.

So consider this a revision of the title if you need one:

present-tense narrative is evil. no, wait. present-tense narrative is great. please write in present-tense narrative.

Ah, it was also called to my attention that my posts are sometimes too long (and I assume not entertaining or educational enough) to warrant reading them all the way through.

Well, at this late stage in my life I can hardly notch-up the entertainment value of my drivel, so from here on out I’ll do my best to shorten it a bit. 🙂 Maybe I’ll post a little more often too. Maybe.

‘Til next time, happy writing…

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

 

I Did It Myyyyyyy Way…..

Hey folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 3/21/2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I don’t like misunderstandings. I like them even less when they’re based on skimming information and missing important facts that are Right There In Front Of You.

If you take exception to any concept I present in any of my posts, that’s fine, but please at least read the post first. If you just skim it and hit the high points (or what you believe to be the high points) and then choose to comment, you might miss some relevant information.

After one post, I received notes from two writers.

I corresponded with both of them and clarified my position in order to alleviate their concerns. That experience led me to the notion that this post was necessary.

Of course, I would never divulge my correspondents’ identities, and my purpose of conveying bits of those conversations here is only to illustrate.

One writer assumed the post was all about her because she and I had engaged in a peripherally similar exchange on the topic a few months ago. (She wanted me to provide something in an edit that I knew to be wrong and therefore refused to provide.)

Thing is, the post wasn’t about her.

The conflict on which I based the post was from a paid edit for which a writer initially hired me and later changed her mind.

I was actually glad she changed her mind (even though it cost me a hefty paycheck) because giving her edit less than my best effort would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thing is, I made it clear in the post that the bone of contention was about a paid edit. The person who assumed the post was about her never hired me to do anything.

Another person wrote to point out that a great author from the past had written “her way” and that her writing had “endured the test of time.” She drew from that the completely appropriate conclusion that “Sometimes rules can be broken.”

Actually, I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes, to create a certain effect in the reader, it’s a very good idea to break the rules of punctuation and grammar and syntax. (See my book on Writing Realistic Dialogue at Smashwords or Amazon or my audio course of the same name, in which I advocate breaking the rules to create a particular effect in the reader.)

But my previous post wasn’t about rules or breaking them. It was about how the reader reacts every time he encounters certain marks of punctuation or the italic font attribute.

Please understand that how you choose to present your work to the world doesn’t matter to me. I would like to see you succeed as a writer, but you are free to attach whatever value you like to any advice or knowledge I pass along in these blog posts.

As more than one writer has mentioned to me over the years, everything in writing is a matter of personal preference.

That is true. Everything in writing and in life itself is a matter of personal preference. For example,

  • You may choose to omit all capitalization from your writing (e.e. cummings did it in his poetry; Don Marquis did it in his archy and mehitabel collection).
  • You may choose to write dialogue without benefit of quotation marks (Cormac McCarthy did it in one novel).
  • You may choose to replace all the periods in your work with commas or em dashes or nothing at all. That will give the reader the truly unique experience of interpreting your work however he chooses and creating the novel with you.

The point is, if you would rather concentrate on being “unique” instead of just writing your story, that’s completely up to you.

But I do hope you remember that the reader also has personal preferences.

By and large, readers choose to select works that they aren’t required to “figure out.” The reader’s job is to be entertained, not to decipher “cutting edge” writing.

Everything depends on what you deem important.

If you want readers to be standing around the water cooler on Monday morning talking about how there was no capitalization or punctuation or quotation marks or whatever in your book and “that must have taken great courage on the part of the writer, blah blah blah” that’s fine.

But frankly, if those same readers read some of my work, I’d rather they were talking about what a great story they just read. In fact, I’d rather they hadn’t noticed the punctuation or font attributes or other “writing preferences” at all.

Hope this clarifies things. 🙂

‘Til next time, happy (clear) writing.

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

A Revised Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Traits of a Professional Writer

Hi Folks,

I’m sending this out a little early because, darn it, it’s the Christmas season and I wanna give you a few presents. I’ll slip in an appropriate post on the 21st just to keep the routine of every ten days going. That’s when this one would have gone if I’d left it to its own devices.

First, Merry Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have an enjoyable holiday season. Also, I hope you will accept the contents of this post as a small token of my appreciation, a minor gift for your attention over the years.

Here are thirteen traits of a professional writer.

The first five are a true gift to anyone who wants to be a professional writer. They are what Robert Heinlein called his “business habits.”

Note that these five rules have nothing to do with whether or not you like Heinlien’s work or want to write science fiction (or any other particular genre). If you want to write fiction, period, and if you follow these five rules, you will be a professional writer:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite.
  4. You must put your work on the market (submit your work so publishers can buy it or publish it so readers can buy it).
  5. You must keep your work on the market (keep it in the mail until a publisher buys it or keep it published so more readers can buy it).

To get my annotated paper on Heinlein’s Rules (it’s free) Click Here. (Clicking on the link will open a new window and enable a PDF download. When the file opens, click File in the upper left corner of your browser and then click Save Page As and save it to your desktop.)

There are more free things in PDF format at the Free Stuff tab above, including The Rise of a Warrior, Book 1 of the Wes Crowley series. It’s available here for download in PDF, but you can also Get it free at Smashwords in Kindle (.mobi) or Nook/Apple (.epub) format. Enjoy!

The other traits of a professional writer are in no particular sequence:

  • You are an avid reader in the genre(s) in which you want to write.
  • Writing is high on your list of priorities, and it’s Great Fun! not d-r-u-d-g-e-r-y. Seriously, don’t torture yourself. If ANYthing you’re doing 1) is drudgery and 2) is not your money-making job, for goodness’ sake stop doing that and find something else to do. Duh.
  • You hunger to continue learning the art of storytelling, and you actively seek instruction from successful long-term professional writers (a few novels does not a career make). You take criticism from those with less experience with a MASSIVE grain of salt. Or not at all.
  • You are a professional. You check your manuscript for typos, punctuation gaffes and wrong-word usages (e.g., waste for waist or solder for soldier) before even thinking of sending it to a publisher (or indie publishing).
  • You look at writing as a vocation, not something you do for therapy or because it’s a “calling.”
  • You understand that style manuals, making sure your grammar and syntax are perfect, and political correctness have absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G to do with creative writing. (The subconscious creative mind creates; the conscious, critical mind destroys.)
  • Holidays and other interruptions are incidents during which you slap on a fake smile and “get through it” so you can get back to your writing.
  • You are vaguely aware of the occasional presence of other people in your life. You believe they might even live in your house as they seem to be there with some regularity.

As Algis Budrys wrote in his book Writing to the Point, “Your writing cannot be done by anybody else but you. Also, when you are not actually doing it, you are doing something other than writing. … Many people who call themselves writers spend very little time doing writing. … That very rare person, the real writer, in effect just writes. When they’re not actually writing, they’re resting from writing, and they get back to it as soon as they can.”

You can get Writing to the Point and several other great writing books in a bundle for next to nothing. But only through December 27. To see the bundle, Click Here. I strongly recommend this, and no, I don’t get anything out of it if you buy a bundle. But you will get a great deal out of it.

Researching is not writing. Rewriting is not writing. Reading or learning, though valuable pursuits, are not writing. Attending writers groups is not writing. Writing is putting new words on the page, period. By extension, a writer is a person who does just that.

Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

To sign up for my diary of a professional writer’s journey and learn by osmosis, click The Daily Journal.

To receive a free short story every week in your email, click Story of the Week.

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out or just click paypal.me/harveystanbrough. If you’ve already contributed, thanks so much. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. (grin) Again, thank you.