One of the best things you can do for yourself is admit when you need help. Even an expert can use some kind of help at some point. I do not claim to be an expert writer, but it can be difficult to ask for help because it feels like denying an aspect of my personality. I have been labeled as many things and have explored many paths, but have most frequently been a writer. It is the underlying theme in everything I do. So it often gives my stomach a pinch when someone tries to lecture me on the basics, asks me if I am published, or questions whether I make money (as though these create some sort of legitimacy). I have to remember that progress does not come out of arrogance just as it does not come out of insecurity.
Someone once told me that sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forward. It is true. I needed a refresher. I have what sometimes seems like an innate ability to write, but do I know how to tell a story that will keep a reader reading? Do I know how to use words to make a reader feel how I want him or her to feel?
My friend, Andrea, and I took a trip up to Sacramento and spent Saturday at a workshop organized by the Sacramento branch of the California Writers Club. Nora Profit, founder of The Writing Loft, spoke about what writing needs in order to be publishable.
The first half of the workshop covered exactly what I needed. You may write clearly, be a great storyteller, your friends and family may love your work, but you could have an awful time trying to get published. What’s worse is how hard it is to get those details that explain why.
Nora provided a bulleted list of “Why your story may not be publishable” that I applied to one of my first stories that I am currently editing, but have been unsure of how to improve. Many of her points applied including: my character is not hated/liked enough, he doesn’t solve his own problems, and possibly even that his goal is not worthwhile or rather than I have not made it clear why it is worthwhile.
She also taught things I know very well and have been told many times, but that I often forget or ignore such as: “show, don’t tell” and to have a first line that will hook the reader and make him or her want to know more. She covered them in detail, gave examples, and had us work on exercises to make sure we understood. There was more that perhaps I will discuss in a future post.
There were times when the handouts seemed a bit disorganized and moments when many of us were confused as to which topic she was speaking. She did admit that, like many writers, she’s often disorganized. That gave us one of many chuckles. Her humor and willingness to answer questions at any point made it forgivable.
Overall, it gave me some practical and concrete guidelines to use as I edit what I have already written. I’m excited that I am finally getting in touch with good resources for writers because there is a lot out there which equals a lot of crap to wade through.