At the 1 May SkillBuild in High Point, NC, bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver cited three principles that guide his writing. Last week, I discussed his first principle: Don't write something that readers don't want to read. Remember the liver-flavored toothpaste analogy?
That first principle of Deaver's seems simple enough and logical. But most writers, especially at the beginning, write what they want, never mind that it doesn't hit the spot with anyone else. That's the best way I know to create a product that will appeal to no one except your mother.
Deaver's other two guiding principles embody the same logic
and simplicity. Beginning writers often ignore these principles, too.
Write what you enjoy reading. In genre fiction, romance accounts for the largest percentage of sales. You might be tempted by these impressive sales figures to try your hand at romance. But if you're a science fiction fan, and you've never been able to finish reading a romance because the heroes and heroines always aggravate you, what makes you believe you're going to complete the first draft of a romance?
Each genre has its own rules. The rules by which a work of
science fiction is deemed acceptable by its readers differ greatly from the
rules in romance. One way you learn rules of writing within a genre is by
reading many books within that genre, informally studying what makes the
stories work. An added benefit of writing what you enjoy reading is that it
sustains you during the slump times of your career. So many factors that
determine your professional success in publishing are out of your direct
control. Make no mistake. This job is difficult.
Know your craft. Here Deaver refers to grammar, punctuation, and spelling, plus basic rules for plotting and characterization. Many beginning writers let these basics slide. They're under the mistaken impression that editors at New York City presses are standing by with red pens, waiting to correct errors that writers themselves could have and should have corrected. Sixty years ago, publishers' editors might have made these sorts of large-scale line edits. But in the 21st century, it's up to the writer to ensure that his or her craft is polished by the time the manuscript undergoes the submissions process.
Since this task can almost never be undertaken without assistance, Deaver recommends investing in titles like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Woe Is I, and The Chicago Manual of Style for your personal reference library. You do have a personal reference library, don't you?
I also recommend the following aids to polishing your
Online workshops and conference workshops that deal with craft can be enlightening. During the years that I've been blogging, here are the online craft workshops that I've taken:
- Mary Buckham: "Plotting With the Mythic Structure"
- Margie Lawson: "Empowering Characters' Emotions"
- Kris Neri: "Mystery & Thriller Structure"
- Mary Buckham: "Body Language on the Page"
You can derive insight into the trouble spots in your manuscript from interactions with the members of online and in-person critique groups. But when your critique group members cease to be able to spot errors in your work, it's time to move on — either to a more advanced group or to an editor that you hire.
More and more writers whose works are close to being publishable have opted to hire a professional editor like Chris Roerden. Professional editors can be pricey, but if your goal is to lock down a publishing contract, it's worth paying an editor to help you find the little things that are throwing off first readers in publishing houses.
Here are Deaver's three principles again:
- Don't write something that readers don't want to read.
- Write what you enjoy reading.
- Know your craft.
What'll it be for you? Ignore the principles and carry on with your writing as a hobby? Or adopt a professional approach to your writing and apply these principles?