Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can you wring the life out of a manuscript?

One of the regular commenters on the blog said this recently about her novel:

The thing is the opening has already been workshopped to death. Seriously.
This is the result of the workshops, and agents', and editors' suggestions and now it's confusing.

This got me to thinking.

I spend a lot of time talking with and to writers about how to improve their query letters, and polish their novels, particularly the opening pages.

I recommend critique groups, beta readers, and classes. I'm a solid supporter of the importance of writing conferences.

What I've left off that list is confidence in your own work and your own voice.

Yet, the people most obdurate about how solid their work is are most often the ones who need the most work.

And, the people who have the least confidence, who keep showing their work in crit groups, and making changes based on those suggestions, are often the people who should leave well enough alone.

How do you know which group you fall into?

I don't know.

I do know that you should seriously consider if your lack of confidence is the problem, not the book itself.


JeffO said...

You make a great point here, Janet. Knowing when to say 'no' and when to swallow your pride and make changes is one of the most important things to learn as a writer.

I have been fortunate, I think. I'm one of those people who can see just about every side to an argument, can understand lots of different points of view, and that can lead to a lot of indecision on my part in everyday life. But in terms of writing, I've been largely able to look at someone's suggestion and think, "Yeah, they're actually right on" and "Nah, what I've got is better." It comes down to be able to think critically, both about your writing and about the advice you're getting.

Kitty said...

Great. Something new to worry about.

AJ Blythe said...

The problem with having too many reviews of your work (whether it's crits or beta reads or whatever) is that you can lose your voice with all the changes.

Sometimes you've just got to back yourself - have faith in your own ability.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Is it then time to set all versions of the manuscript aside for awhile (6 weeks? a month?) and then re-read just the beginning of all versions to see which one strikes the author as THE beginning?

It's helpful to have the beginning evaluated because that can point out potential issues that the rest of the novel can have--syntax issues, purple prose, emphasizing subplot rather than the plot. But when you've become a polished writer, then how do you know? After all, we're just woodland creatures.

I've been following the website, Flogging the Quill, which focuses on the first page of the novel. Today he has a column on the Writer Unboxed website called Flogging the Pro, looking at the beginning pages of a New York Times bestseller. His evaluations and the readers comments make for interesting reading, his evaluations and the commenters.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

aaack, sorry for that last sentence.

Unknown said...

I currently have two spectacular CP's. Despite having reworked their opening chapters to death, both of their chapter ones are not as good as the rest of their writing. And my chapter one, after tinkering on the damned thing forever, was not right (to me. The jury is still out on how an agent may view it). But, at some point the woodland creature must stop scurrying in response to every bit of stimuli, and concentrate on getting it right in his head and in relation to the context of the whole rest of the book. Only the woodland creature can do that. Only using his voice. A good CP or a workshop can only go so far.

I think what will help for me next time is to start writing before the exact right moment. I'll then, waste days trying to get that beginning right, then snip it right off onto the editing room floor, leaving an opening voice that actually sounds like me.

Sam Hawke said...

Spot on, Janet. I think all of us regular participants here know that particular woodland creature has the talent and has put the work in, and should definitely back herself. :)

Mark Anthony Songer said...

I know about self confidence. Depending on the day (or hour), I swing from "This is awesome! I'm holding the next Harry Potter in my hands." to "No one's going to want to read this." I have at least four unfinished books because the latter usually wins out.

This past weekend I attended a local book festival which included a "slush group" in which writers could get the first page of any work reviewed by a panel. Of the three panelists, one said the page was boring and a second said there was too much action, not enough setting (it opens en media res). Unless the one panelist found lack of setting in a fast paced escape scene boring, how can I take away anything constructive from that? In the end I took both with a grain of salt. I picked up considerably more listening to what they had to say about the other submissions.

Donnaeve said...

I imagine we all know who made that comment. Well, I know I do.

As to the confusion from the advice, if it's all over the place, with no consistent trend as to what's wrong then I wouldn't change a thing.


Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting topic. And I don't think it gets any easier later down the road.

Chuck Wendig had a pretty hilarious post about this. He mentioned how occasionally woodland creatures will come up to him with the expectation that he knows all, when really they're at the base of a mountain that he has climbed up, but he's just standing there with his buddies at the peak going "What's that over there? Gremlins? Flesh eating monsters? Shoot. How do we deal with those? Do we just go back down from here or cross the valley of death?"

His point was -- the little he has learned might be great for climbing mountains, but the moment he figures it out - the whole landscape has already changed. Like that terrible Sci-fi movie CUBE, where everyone's trapped in a rubix cube type structure and they try to map it only to find someone's moving the pieces.

Writing is as much a spiritual act as painting or creating music. So, as Plato would say, have a little faith that what you're doing is divinely inspired. And if that's not your cup of tea, remember this - There is no scientific evidence that keeping one sentence and cutting another will make you a best seller. ;)

REJourneys said...

If we listened to every single person, every single time, wouldn't our stories start to look and sound the same? Isn't it the individual's voice and ideas, reigned in by some thoughtful comments and edits, what makes stories so unique and interesting?

I know I have that problem. I assume everyone is right and I know nothing. And that may because I haven't been writing fiction that long, but I am a fast learner.

I've mentioned before, but since I have received even more feedback it warrants repeating, my voice is young for YA. My problem is I don't want my protagonists (different MS) to sound like the every other YA protag. I've always sounded young, that's just who I am.

But like Julie mentioned yesterday about people thinking your story is YA, I feel the content of my MS might not be suitable for MG (middle grade). What's a person to do?

And, Julie, about the same comment yesterday, I think your story could be YA. I don't know all the facts on what passes as YA (some people say it's finding yourself, but I feel like that's a lifelong journey for some) or all the details of your story and concern. There are some pretty intense YA novels out there, so it may work. (Again, only my opinion. Go with your gut on it).

S.D.King said...

I was at the point of barely remembering what I kept in and what I took out of my manuscript. I rewrote that first chapter so many times and it is still the weakest part of my book! So I set it aside for awhile.

Then I entered first 250 words (the achilles heel of my whole work!! Yikes)into MSFV Secret Agent which is going on right now (feel free to head over there and critique some of the 50 entries - I find it very, very helpful for my own work to see the work of others being critiqued. I can then recognize my own missteps and strengths)
My entry is receiving very positive feedback and I feel so empowered to go on!

So overall, I find the feedback of others to be invigorating. In fact the first time I ventured to this blog there was a Flash Fiction - which I won. It was like winning in Vegas - it got me hooked and made me feel like I could actually do this.

So, thanks, Janet. Now if I can just find an agent who is willing to take a chance on me. Even take the chance to request a full!

Dena Pawling said...

Then there's me. I've had a niggling that my first chapter started too slow. My CPs and freelance editor both said it worked fine, but that niggling didn't go away. Now I have a few more CPs and I asked them specifically, “does this first chapter start too slow?” They gave me their perspectives on that specific question, plus whatever else they saw. Now I have a good idea of what's been niggling at me, and oddly, it isn't that the chapter started too slow. I'm currently revising that first chapter and will pass it around to them at the end of this weekend and see if they think it starts better.

Sometimes you know something's not right, and you THINK you know why, but it turns out to be something else. What I've learned from all this is (1) good CPs really are essential, (2) have at least one CP who writes your genre, and (3) have at least one CP who is the exact opposite of your style and genre.

One of my new CPs is a man, and after a LOT of teasing along the lines of “well, you do know, don't you, that I write WOMEN'S FICTION?” he read my first few chapters and was able to articulate, in actual words, exactly WHAT my voice was. I can't tell you how helpful that was.

I don't agree with every comment my CPs have made, especially if I think it changes my voice, but even if I disagree with a comment, it's helpful because it makes me learn WHY I like the way I wrote it better [this is especially helpful if two CPs give the exact opposite comments]. And every CP has made at least one comment that really resonates with me and improves the manuscript.

I know my story's good. Now I know how to make it better.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

You (or at least I) get caught up in the publishing process. Your agent has a couple of ideas, and you revise because he thinks he can sell it. Then an editor has some thoughts, and you revise it because she might buy it. Then another editor, or a publisher's reader, offers thoughts, and you try to incorporate them because you want to sell it.
Two weeks ago I took a look at my WIP that went through 18 submissions before my agent and I agreed it wasn't going to sell. It seemed a little lifeless, overworked.
Then I looked through an earlier draft. I liked it SO MUCH better that I've decided (with my agent's blessing) to self-pub it, because the story – MY story, the one I originally set out to tell, was really good. So much better than the "improved" versions.
At some point you have to trust yourself. I'm going to take a gamble on ME, because I'm the one who cares about the story, who knows what I'm trying to say and how to say it.

Beth H. said...

CPs are essential, but there's a real art in knowing when to take their advice, and when to trust your own gut. Sadly, in my experience, the strongest writers are the first to question their own writing. I wish I had a magic serum to instill confidence. I think I could use a good dose of it, myself.

I was particularly struck by Janet's comment on how writers who insist that their work is solid often need the most work. In my younger days, I had a few friends who bragged about the quality of their writing. When I was talking about revisions, two of them said, "I never revise anything! I figure I can never make it better than the way I wrote it the first time." Strangely, neither one is writing now.

Mister Furkles said...

Evil Editor said to pay attention when several critics say the same thing. If one of ten says “You must change this.” Well, you don't. If all ten say it, then you should do something different from what you have. If four in ten say the same thing, give that serious consideration.

It is important to know if the critic/reader likes the genre and story idea. If s/he does not, then the comments will be wrong. I participate in an online critique group. If a story idea doesn't appeal to me, then I know my comments will be off-base. In that case, I don't offer a critique. This week I had to apologize to a fellow participant who had helped me. I like fantasy and he'd written fantasy but it had fairies and angels. I don't get fairies or angels and had to pass.

Stream of Consciousness does not appeal to me. I wouldn't know good from bad. So, if the style is SoC, I must pass. Beware of the critic/reader who doesn't like or understand your literary style.

One of our writers wrote an intriguing FPPOV novel. An agent told her to change it to third person. That would wreck the voice and most of the suspense, which was internal to the MC. Even editors and agents can be dead wrong.

LynnRodz said...

IMHO I think it's important to know when to get CPs. Too many writers start asking for input before they themselves know how or what they want to say. If you haven't gone over your story and revised countless numbers of times, I think it's too soon to ask others what they think.

I've only been asked twice to prove I'm not a robot and each time it's been about wines. I think that robot knows me a little too well.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Donnaeve, I remember who.

Obdurate, wonderful new word in my vocab.

That's not me but I do KNOW what I want to say.

When that comes across and CPs agree, leave it, when it doesn't revise.

Then there will be the future agent's revision requests.

I know from painting that some works will never be the way I imagined. I could work on them for eternity and they will suck from the first brushstroke. At least in my mind. But sometimes those are the first to sell. I finish them, just quit at some point. Others just paint themselves.

Anonymous said...

I was on the girl's basketball team when I was in high school, but the coach usually didn't put me in until we were losing because I tended to be a bit aggressive. I know, who would have guessed. So, when the ref whistle blew, I usually just raised my hand whether I had done anything or not from reflex reaction.

However, we also played some Indian teams that were worse than me. A whole team of worse than me. During those games, the refs gave up and just turned their backs and pretended they know nothing.

The Indian girls were so vicious they would often send our girls back to the locker room. In one game, Shirley, one of our tallest girls had the ball. Another girl grabbed her by the bra strap elbowed her several times and sent her to the locker room puking her guts up. Time for Julie to come in the game.

So, reflexively, I would raise my hand on this one, except this really was me. I'm the one who committed the foul on the opening statement.

My opening really has been workshopped to death and I love it.

A well known and respected agent had recently made some suggestions. The crew made some comments. I made appropriate changes and it was better for the fiddling. I wasn't going to put it up in the class because honestly, I don't want to change anything about it. Then I thought that sounds pretty danged arrogant. Put it up, nod politely and ignore it.

Then I start getting these comments about how to improve it. The opening makes no sense, it's confusing. How can someone ride a dead horse? Just say it's a ghost, you're trying to be cutesy.

You should add more words so it isn't so bare.

No, I like those lean, hit you in the gut first lines.

Well, yes, except it isn't a ghost. He's dead, but he's corporeal.

Then in the comments here someone said, if you're getting the same comments from people you know you've got a problem.


I went back and looked, and, not trying to be arrogant, but I think it was mainly, "We're supposed to make suggestions and Jane's sound good, so I'll just agree with her."

Looking back, I should have just pretended I was busy and skipped the opening lesson. I like my opening. I think it's strong. I think it will get an agent's attention and I danged well don't care if someone doesn't know what a courser is. Look it up if you can't figure out from the context that it's a horse.

Jenz said...

If you do enough critiquing, I think you start to get a feel for interpreting feedback. Everyone makes the same complaint: change that thing. Mixed complaints but little enthusiasm: something is wrong, but probably not what any individual complaint is about (i.e., there's a bigger problem and people are either having trouble identifying it or are reluctant to simply say "it's just not that good"). Some enthusiasm mixed with a few mehs: you're good to go.

But critters will almost never stop coming up with things to fix, so don't even try for universal approval.

brianrschwarz, re yesterday's comments: No, Austin, Texas, the big one! I didn't even know there was an Austin in Minnesota. ;)

The Paramount Theater.

Anonymous said...


I spoke to Brenda Drake last night about FAR RIDER. She felt due to the graphic content. The free willy scenes, attempted rapes, plus the word count, I should keep it in adult.

Obviously, I could remove the penisectomy scenes and the lore that goes behind the custom. "No rapers in the nethers."

I'm still dealing with 151,000 words. I've been told some editors will accept longer YA, but it's getting it to those editors.

I think as writers at some point in time we need to become another Mad Jack Churchill and just forge on.

Julie said...

I have two things to say about this, and one of them goes particularly to @Mark. And, just, boy, I wish I could do links. As I can't, here are the addy's, and I'll try to put the links in afterwards. :)

(My attempt at the link should be here --> About changes in how we see our own work... And, yet, it didn't turn blue, so I guess it won't work. Maybe because it's https? I don't know.


(Again, my attempt: link text


Badger Urchin Eating Captcha Ice Cream

Julie said...


That's almost as good as getting an Agent!

Well. Back to the draft. Send me good vibes - my characters mutinied yesterday and threw four thousand random words in that I hadn't planned, and now they're in a mess that I have to dig them out of.


Captcha Cake Cod

Anonymous said...

In other news from KORN, a lady I haven't heard from in years emailed me. She's sold her book. She's terribly grateful for the help I gave her when I read over some horsey bits in her manuscript and made corrections. She'd like to put me in the acknowledgments. I'm thrilled for her. She's very sweet.

This is a testament not to give up.

Yay, I'm going to be published...kind of.

Julie said...

Congratulations, Julie! (Power Clap!)

Captcha Clam Chowder
(And apparently, should the question arise, yes, Chicken 'n Dumplings counts as soup.)

Julie said...

Oh, and one other thing about Janet's post and everyone's comments above.

How to know you've reached The End (of editing):

(When you are doing THIS to your computer.)

And, yes. I've come very, very, close.

I'm so proud that I can put links in!!!

Feed me, Seymour!
Sushi. Is sushi in soup still sushi? Captcha's getting tricky. It's like there are various levels. Beginner Captcha, Intermediate Captcha, Expert Captcha...

Tuna Roll

Anonymous said...


I'm very excited for her. She's a very nice lady. I read this manuscript in 2009, so she has been diligently trying. Glory to her. I wish her nothing but the best.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@ Julie Forge on, I look forward to reading Far Rider. Congrats to your friend.

@Lynn I agree.

Donnaeve said...

Julie - I started to add in that part about "riding in on a dead horse," b/c guess what?

I REMEMBERED it. Doesn't that count for something?

Wow. On CAPTCHA, I had too choose cakes and, almost ALL of them were...cakes! I feel loved.

Lizzie said...

Mister Furkles: I disagree slightly. I don't know the specifics of the online group, but if the general rule is reciprocity then I feel like you should read and crit their work regardless of your tastes, trying to read it the way a fan of the genre would. Even if you feel like you can't contribute the quality comments you want to, there's often a small observation that a fresh pair of eyes can spot. And a lot of times writers turn to groups just to get noticed. To get the benefit of their crits but deny them theirs feels a little cruel. I've been on the receiving end of "sorry I don't do fairies or Angels" only it was harsher and I'd been helping the writer for years. That experience made me realize that crit groups really are support groups that point out plot holes, and if you're getting support from someone you should certainly give it back.

Anonymous said...


YES! That counts. OMgosh yes, that counts.

Lawsy, there has been so much controversy about that and I am sticking to my guns. I may defenestrate the next commenter who says that isn't possible. Hello! Fantasy!

I build worlds, destroy gods, create creatures, and weave legends.

Craig F said...

If you paint in something like watercolor you know when to quit on a painting that isn't quite there. The colors get muddy. When that happens the more you screw with it the worse it gets.

The same thing can happen to a writing. Dialogue gets stilted and details get so much attention they turn fuzzy.

It is still a much harder thing to spot than muddy colors.

This is because there is always something that isn't polished to a high gloss in every manuscript. That same flat spot is in every book I have ever read.

The object is not to know when a manuscript is polished but when it is polished enough. Then query it.

If the pacing and concept shine through it might work. There is a reason for an R&R. There is also a reason for editors.

Sometimes it is best to let your publisher's editor work through those dull spots (like the plot hole in chapter 14) with you.

Good luck on figuring out the when. If you get it to a science and can build a formula for it you will make a fortune.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've reworked the opening on both of my finished novels, several times. And I'm still not sure if my werewolf novel has started in the right place. I mean, I'm convinced it is, but I think between the opening and the larger action kickoff, there needs to be more something. But, my readers have loved it. So there's that. I've also had a reader say "So when are these two going to kiss" and the answer is "never". So there's that.

I haven't queried it because werewolves are "a dead genre" right now, and allow me to express my feelings on that phrase here

Anonymous said...


That makes more sense. I think Austin, MN wanted to be clever because they too have a "Historic Paramount Theatre" and I'd certainly call it historic. It's the oldest standing building in the city.

Julie said...

@Jennifer - that's how I felt when I got home last night.

Oh, for goodness' sake.
Putting cappuccino in a mug that's so big that it looks like soup is elevating Captcha to a whole new Expert level.

It's like every time I do Captcha, it thinks, "Oh, good! It's Julie! Let's see if she'll get THIS one!"

Julie said...

Colin & Karen are sincerely going to regret teaching me to do this.

I, on the other hand, think visually much of the time, and this helps me get back to writing. So I'm psyched. :)

Anyway, this textoccurs to me.

Another clue about when to stop. But a more sincere one.

I have my rescue team out of the chopper. Moving right along...

Oo! Bread! That's Easy!

DeadSpiderEye said...

My experience of on-line critique is limited, I gave it up as a wast of time and effort, after bumping into the resident queen bee. Trouble was he (I think it was a he) had absolute assurance in his own insight and unfortunately, his literary skill, examples of which I persistently flooded the board with.

What I did learn, is that people who're serious about trying to offer help are explicit, qualify their opinion and the really good ones, are capable of easily assimilating style or genre. I'm sure someone's pointed out here already, that a collective analysis will tend to flatten out prose, it may end up more polished but could end up lacking in individuality. In fact, I would go as far as saying that unfocused negative reaction could be a good sign. The essential problem is that writing, is intrinsically concerned with communication, and communication is -always- a two way process, even if you're just asking: message understood?

Kurt Dinan said...

I revise, revise, revise, but try to heed the advice of my friend (and great writer) Daryl Gregory (name drop!), who always warns against "over-carving the pumpkin." I just love that phrase.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have a lot to say on this topic (is anyone surprised?), and I'm going to be arrogant and include all of it - in three separate posts.

The first few pages of your novel are so important. It's necessary to start well, because chances are, if the beginning is solid, then the agent/editor will be immersed in the story enough to forgive small flaws here and there in the rest of the novel.

And so we write and revise and rewrite and revise and revise and polish it to a sheen.

The novel begins in the wrong place? Rewrite. The beginning is boring? Revise. The characters... the tension... the... something isn't working.

And so we write and revise and rewrite and revise and revise and polish it to a sheen.

And then the rejections come in. And the rejections, when they give a reason, say something about the beginning - it's slow, or they can't get into the character, or... or... or... And it's all in the beginning. So you write, revise, write, revise, polish it to a sheen...

Bradbury once said that you only rewrite for an agent or editor. Of course, he was writing in a different time, and really - it's Bradbury. The man was a genius.

But I do think there comes a time when you just have to decide, "Okay. I've done my best. Any more rewrites will have to wait until I've got professional guidance from an agent or editor, or until my craft improves to such an extent I can see what's really wrong with it, or even *if* there's something wrong with it."

Yes, there is definitely the chance that the beginning will become totally generic... but only if you let it. And if you realize it's getting to that point... you know, there's a darn good chance that you're beginning in the wrong place.

When I get frustrated because my beginning just doesn't seem to be working, yet no one can suggest anything besides a wording change here or there, I'll sometimes just set that beginning aside and rewrite. From scratch. And from a slightly (or very) different time point. Maybe the real story starts three minutes, three hours, three days earlier, or two minutes, four hours, or one day later.

Anonymous said...

Talking about YA voice (as REJourneys and Julie were)... You know, this wouldn't have been as much of a problem 20 years ago. Yes, there were stories for teens back then, but they weren't so popular with adults that there would be any confusion between whether they would be for teens or adults. You wrote a teen story, with a teen protagonist, facing teen issues. Adult stories, on the other hand, could feature protagonists of any age, facing any issues. 'Coming of age' was not necessarily a young person's concern - because seriously, it's not. Some people don't 'come of age' until they're deep into adulthood, perhaps even reaching middle or old age.

And, really. Adults will read YA. Teens will read adult novels. I think YA has as many definitions as it has readers - which is a lot. No novel will fit all those definitions.

So, since I don't know the current difference between YA and adult, my only advice is this: When you write it, who do you see enjoying your novel? Young people or adults? Women, girls, men, boys, or just plain everyone? Who are you writing the story for? That person - even if it's yourself (and all others who have similar tastes) - is your audience. And that is your genre.

Karen McCoy said...

Julia: HUZZAH! Those are great links, too.

I read a quote from a 95-year-old that said, "I've learned that I'm still learning." And my grandfather also had a saying that I try to live by: "When you stop getting better, you stop being good." However, I've also erred too much on the side of "I suck" rather than "I'm going to rock this."

This post offers a beautiful reminder that I don't have to worry so much. That the writing will come if I loosen up enough to let it.

And the timing couldn't be more perfect, as I just reached 109 pages in edits, and the last chapter was feeling particularly crap-tastic.

There was a great article(though I'm forgetting who wrote it--maybe you guys can help me out?) about a guy who thought his writing sucked compared to his MFA classmates...and then he realized that if he thought it was bad, that was good, because he had an ear for how it needed to improve.

He gave a great example of American Idol--how the people who declare "I'm the next Mariah" end up being tone deaf. Because they don't have an ear for it. But those who do are the ones who want to improve. And usually do as a result.

So thank you all for helping me out today. I heart this blog, and I heart this community!

Anonymous said...

Mister Furkles:

You are SO RIGHT. I have had my work critiqued by so many people - many of whom really have no idea.

I do, however, politely disagree that changing a POV from first to third would change anything that happened internally for the MC. A very close third can be as - and sometimes even more - internal as first person POV. But I don't know the writer you're talking about or her work, so I'm not giving advice here. I'm just talking generalities here.

As for Lizzie's comment... I neither agree nor disagree (how's that for hedging?) I agree that it's important to help others who have helped us, and I also know that critiquing genres and styles we don't know can teach us a lot. But I've seen critiques by people who really don't have a clue, and they can often hurt. I mean, seriously HURT.

And I've critiqued genres and styles that aren't my specialty, and been dismissed with 'well, you don't understand literary fiction or Romance'... Even though I have most of a degree in English, which requires a lot of literary knowledge, and I'm pretty sure that even Romance needs to make sense.

Maybe, when critiquing an unfamiliar genre, it's best to know what your relationship with the author is, first.

Craig: By the time someone figures out the 'when', they already have an agent or editor, which means they have professional guidance to help them figure out when...

Sorry for taking up so much space. There's just so much to address here!

And even after three posts, one right after the other, I'm still just getting the checkmark.

Anonymous said...


Every trend started with someone who wrote a book people didn't know they wanted. Vampires are dead. Twilight.

Yes, I know. You see agents on twitter all the time saying, "I'm so over vampires and werewolves. Pass"

Someone is going to write a great vampire or werewolf book and the hunt will be on again. My theory is, I want to be the one to start the feeding frenzy.

One of my critters commented she liked the way I handled my zombie and thought agents would overlook their zombie fatigue. I thought, "Hmm, what zombie?" Then I remembered the scene. Yep, he's a zombie, but I didn't have him shambling around looking for brains. He was a dead man on a mission.

What is the story besides being a werewolf? He's a bionic scientist in love with a Russian spy, oh, and he just happens to be a werewolf with a flea problem.

Be the trend setter. If all else fails, everything cycles. My clothes the boys ridicule are oddly coming back in style. Who knew?

Karen McCoy said...

bjmuntain: "But I do think there comes a time when you just have to decide, 'Okay. I've done my best.'"

Yes. This is the part I've struggled with. I'm a recovering perfectionist, and learning to let things lie has been an uphill battle (though I think it's a battle I'm finally winning).

Anonymous said...


Great phrase! "Over-carving the pumpkin" is a visual that really makes sense.

As is Craig's watercolour analogy.

It can be so clear - from a distance. For the author, though, sometimes there are just too many voices they're trying to hear in a crowded room.

(Yes, after three days without internet, I can't seem to shut up. I apologize.)

Donnaeve said...

I love that ya'll love to link, but you know what happens when I click on that link b/c your "intro" is so enticing and I can't stop myself? I can't go back to the comment box.

I.e., there is no back arrow. I then shut the window down and click on "XX Comments" in Janet's post, and then scroll through the again to find where I was reading to begin with. Not so bad if there's like..., five comments. A PITA (pain in the ass) when there are 40 or more.

Anywho. Bitch, bitch, bitch, and yeah, I know. #First world problems.

Julie! I totally got the sentence. Some of the critiques may have been coming from an envy standpoint. To me, it simply showed voice.

REJourneys said...

Julie: maybe my lack of understanding of some of those terms is what confused me (please no one define them. Really, I'm ok). But, if Adult feels right for you, go for it!

I'm going for YA, because I believe cutting scenes might diminish the story, and in turn hurt character development. The funny thing is, the scene, a mercy killing, wasn't even supposed to be in there. I was writing the scene and those are the words that came out. It was the only logical direction.

I just need to attack the voice now.

Hoping to go to the WD conference. New experience, new people, it could only help. (I just need to verify I will have a job past next week).

Julia, you're right about reCAPTCHA. I must be level 0 because it asked me to select "All the Food." Now it asked me for "pasta and noodles." You can't have it both ways Captcha!

Anonymous said...


I am also a recovering perfectionist. I've decided this is a good thing. I'm no longer paralyzed by perfectionism... but I do know when I can do better.

You'll get there. You're already doing a great job. Just turn around and give that perfectionism fairy hovering over your shoulder a blow to the snout. Soon she'll learn her manners.

Yay! Finally got pictures. Now I can stop vommenting (like that will happen)...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I like what Craig said about water colors.
I started out as an artist in water color. Over worked and muddy is spot on. When my painting would get like that, starting over was the only way to save the original intent. It’s that fresh piece of paper which holds the most promise. Knowing when to use a wet brush or a dry brush and knowing when to stop is key.
Critics are of many brains, it is essential that you listen to your own.

Great post Janet.
It's important to remind ourselves that sometimes we know what's best. Like Donna said, "GUT INSTINCT".

Anonymous said...


Well, I'm about to get on that horse again. I won a critique of my query in a contest. The lady, a YA author gave me some suggestions that helped, but overall loved it.

I asked her about the YA thing and she said, "It's all about voice and I think you've got a YA.'

That the day after another well known YA author said, nope, you've got adult.

I laughed.

I think I have a book with strong crossover appeal and that's not a bad thing.

Anonymous said...


If you right-click on the link, you can choose to open it in a new tab. That will solve your problem going back.

As for scrolling down the window - sometimes it's just easier to click on the Jump to Comment Form link, then scroll up.

I hate choosing sushi. There are so many kinds, and I am a sushi newbie.

Anonymous said...

Julie: not a bad thing at all. Those are the books that go viral bestseller.

Voice is so subjective, really. Whether it's YA/adult or any other dichotomy, there are no absolutes with voice.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Okay. I think those were noodles underneath all the other toppings, and Captcha accepted it. But I really wish it would let us shoose the example. I'd get that right every time!

Anonymous said...

Or even let us *choose* the example. Although 'shoosing' can work...

Karen McCoy said...

bjmuntain: Thank you so much! You're doing a great job too--I constantly learn from all your posts.

And I'll definitely be taping this to my wall:

"You'll get there. You're already doing a great job. Just turn around and give that perfectionism fairy hovering over your shoulder a blow to the snout. Soon she'll learn her manners."

Anonymous said...


"I'm going for YA, because I believe cutting scenes might diminish the story, and in turn hurt character development."

Yep. I had some suggestions to cut scenes which would save word count. I did so without thinking about it. Then on a read through later, other scenes didn't make sense because the setup was missing.

Even a scene in the sequel if that even gets written won't make sense.

A good writer, I think writes everything like a mystery. Clues are dropped all along the way and then at the right time the reader gets an aha moment. They feel clever that they remembered that odd flower or perfume and they get to solve the puzzle too. And for me, the story is a puzzle or an elaborate tapestry that is carefully woven. The threads may disappear from the front for a while, but they are still being twisted along to reappear at the right time.

Me blathering when I should be working. bah

Julie said...

@Karen - "Crap-tastic" has just become my favorite term. And another friend gave me my new favorite phrase: "Delusions of adequacy." That's what I'm suffering from right now. Delusions of adequacy.


Yes, those beginning pages. As in, "PM," (my top beta), "Did you like that last version? The one with the "Die Hard" beginning?"

"Was that the one with the showdown in the school?"

"No, no, that was the one meant to show everyone's main strengths right off. The "Die Hard" beginning was the one I wrote for the Agents after so-and-so told me that I needed a first 50 pages just for them. Did you get that one?"

"Ummm... no. I just finished the deep, contemplative beginning that shows who the characters actually are, to be honest. Frankly, I like that one best."

"So do I, but I don't think it'll sell, and it's not as great a hook. It's not hook-ish. Not a hook-er. If you know what I mean."

"Hm. So you went for a Lamborghini."

"Chase scene. Yeah. And a fire."

"Okay, I'll read that next."

"Well... all right, but then I also have one where the kid actually gets into a fight after school and we pick up from there."


"Sort of a compromise between a hook and a sympathetic understanding of the characters."

"Have you gotten past the beginning in your editing?"

"No... and I'm starting to hate the whole thing, really... but all they really care about is the first 10, or 25, or 50... I miss the rest of my manuscript, PM."

And so. That's how it goes. At least for me. And we never DID decide which one was the best, but I'm sending out the ran-away-from-school beginning, because Die-Hard, although exciting, didn't have enough buy-in into the characters. :)

Captcha: "Select all the FOOD ." Sounds easy, right? NO. It is NOT.

Craig F said...

Damn, is it a full moon or something? I feel it coming on again. That thing that got me into this screwy boat in the first place.

Here it comes; another analogy.

Writing is the easiest part of the writing experience but it is still a battle. It is a battle every writer enters every time they write.

Think of the outline as a battle plan. Like all battle plans it falls apart with first contact of the enemy. You adjust your plan and work out the rough spots. The genius is knowing when to pack it up and send it off.

Chuck Wendig said that not writer really knows what they are doing. Any writer worth their salt will tell you that no novel is ever really finished there just comes a time to send it off.

That is the mark of an experienced writer. Knowing when it is time to close it up and mail it off. There is no 'easy' button and you can not polish it forever. There are always a spot or two that will not shine.

Knowing when it is ready for others to read is the true magic of writing.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Julie: If nothing else, then if EVERY trend is dead (zombies [get it?], steampunk, dystopia, werewolves, vampires) then that means they're ALL fair game, right? Right.

My werewolf novel (and planned sequels) are to do with werewolf life in modern times, families (because aren't they always a tangled skein?), moonshine, and medical ethics. Great mixup, right? ^^ Some if it's just a matter of finding the right person at the right time. I wrote the werewolves first but am querying my modern mythological rewrite first. Maybe I'm hoping for foot-in-the-door syndrome?

And the YA vs. Adult question came up with my werewolves, actually. I think of them as books for grownups. Sure, they're probably YA accessible, but I don't feel like I'm writing YA. But at my library, I think more adults read YA than teens do. And more and more MG kids read YA. So it's interesting to see the age/demographic/taste shift.

KC said...

Hey crew, I usually lurk, but wanted to weigh in on this.

I think as writers we're most vulnerable when we are eager for feedback (and encouragement) and show things too soon.

If we ourselves don't know what we're trying to do then it's hard to know which input is useful...

Anonymous said...


Chuck Wendig said that not writer really knows what they are doing. Any writer worth their salt will tell you that no novel is ever really finished there just comes a time to send it off.--

Yep. I'm fiddling with FR again, but I'm focusing on the Civil War story and that's where my heart is. I've about dragged that FR field all I want.

Years ago we were plowing up a a new hayfield. You first plow it to break it up. Then disc it to break down the bigger clods. Then you drag it with a harrow to get it as smooth as a table top so you can plant. My brother had been out in the day time. Since I had riding duty in the day time, I took night shift in the field and went out in the late afternoon after I finished riding. I was jouncing along on the old, non-air conditioned John Deere, unless you consider driving fast air conditioning. I noticed the biggest rattler I'd ever seen out in the middle. I made another pass. Yup. Huge rattler and he wasn't moving.

He was probably dead. My next pass took me over top him. He stayed all laid out like he was and didn't move. I kept an eye on him. Lo and behold I got close to the treeline and he decided to wake up and started twining up through the drag. Here he comes, his beady little eyes on the tractor.

I decided right then and there, if he got to the hitch that field had been dragged enough and I hoped Mr. Snake knew how to drive a tractor because I was going to give it to him.

I know some writers who are giddy beyond belief because they just finished their novels and I am thrilled for them. I've suggested they let it sit for a while and then read through it again and revise. Then maybe ask for someone to read.

Nope they want readers right now.

I don't want to be an ass, but I am not reading a rough draft someone hasn't read themselves.

I have one person I read first draft for, but her stuff is polished to perfection before she moves on to the next sentence.

REJourneys said...

"A good writer, I think writes everything like a mystery. Clues are dropped all along the way and then at the right time the reader gets an aha moment. They feel clever that they remembered that odd flower or perfume and they get to solve the puzzle too. And for me, the story is a puzzle or an elaborate tapestry that is carefully woven. The threads may disappear from the front for a while, but they are still being twisted along to reappear at the right time."

The exact reason I love reading (especially clever books), and why I will fight, myself and others, to do my stories right.

Ardenwolfe said...

Always remember: You write your book. Not a committee of opinions. If you don't believe in your work, no one else will.

Amy Schaefer said...

Sixty comments already? I think this is the point where I officially retire. The time zone difference is just too big.

But since I'm here already, I had this issue when I was working on my query. I put it up on Absolute Write, and I got lots of advice. Lots of good advice, I should add. I put up a revised version. More advice. Revised x2. More. I tried so hard to make that query perfect, but soon the comments I got were less and less positive. It went from people saying, "This is really close," to "This is bland now, what happened?"

I am so glad I had that experience with a query instead of with my book. There is lots of good advice out there, but you have to decide when you have heard enough. I made the mistake of trying to write a query that all of those critiquers would love, and it killed the letter. But I learned a lesson: if you can't build a consensus for a 250 word letter, you'll never get it for a full manuscript. Consensus shouldn't be the goal.

So I took a step back, thought about the advice that really resonated with me, wrote a new query and got requests. But I'm glad I went through the workshopping process; it was eye-opening.

Donnaeve said...

BJ - oh! Definitely the right click thing is sublime. Thank you for sharing that.

"Jump to comment form" is good only if I want to blab some more. I did know about that one, my FWP (first world problem) was more about finding the place I stopped reading in the comments after I'd clicked a link and had to shut down. Solved with right clicky thingy. Whoop!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Craig: well, the full moon happened on Monday but remember there's also retrograde Mercury.

I'm blaming Mercury for the weird s**t happening elsewhere in my life.

How to tell the difference between confidence and overconfidence? I like one person's take earlier--overconfident wouldn't even be asking the question.

Julie said...

Lisa - then Mercury is buried under my bed.

And I'm changing my name to Badger for clarity's sake. Or maybe "a robot," just to annoy Captcha.


a robot

Anonymous said...

There's a quote (or saying) that goes around from time to time and I'm too lazy to find the exact wording, but something along the lines of there's no compulsion stronger than that of one writer to "fix" another writer's work. I know I've been guilty of it and I now try very very hard not to do that when I'm giving feedback.

It's really damned difficult to find a CP or even beta readers who know what they're doing and who work well with you. And who will be honest. It helps to find readers who are smart and who love to read and do a LOT of it, especially in your genre.

That said, it's your responsibility to tell them what you want in terms of feedback. Probably the worst thing you can do is say, "Read it and tell me what you think." I ask my delta readers ("beta" just sounds wimpy, so I have delta readers) to tell me which parts are confusing, or which parts they skim or skip. I ask them to tell me if a character's speech or actions seem out of character. And so on. I specifically ask them NOT to suggest a way to fix it. The way *I* fix something might be to delete it or re-write it completely or just to change or add a word or two.

When you start letting other people (ESPECIALLY OTHER WRITERS) insert their words or "fixes" into your story is when you lose your voice. But you've got to be specific, I think, and ask them not to do it. Or they will. And if you're not feeling confident, or even if you're just being lazy, you'll be tempted to use their words. Don't.

As for confidence or lack thereof and whether that's a bigger problem than the actual writing . . . I have no idea. I struggle with both. This video from Ira Glass says it well. You just know it's not right. I LOVE that video.

Julie, for what it's worth, I remember reading your opening and it made perfect sense to me. I wasn't confused in the least. I also remember wanting to read the rest of it. And I'm not overly fond of fantasy. So. Just saying.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

My intuition is one of the most powerful things I possess. And the real bonus is that as I get older, it's one of the few things that becomes better.

Sam H is right. The particular woodland creature not mentioned is talented, she's proven it time and time again here. It's a tough route we've chosen, there are only a few lucky ones. It's also frustrating because some of the lucky ones - who have been published - don't seem to have much talent. You have to believe in yourself and take the next step, and the next one. Or the next option. If you believe you're talented, and you are, weathered woodland creature (lol), don't question yourself. :)

Karen McCoy said...

Julia: I've been in that same boat! I completely changed an opening based on what a CP said, only to find it didn't work at all, and I had to revert (thank goodness for previous drafts).

And thanks! Making up words is fun. :)

Anonymous said...

I forgot to give you all an update on The Great Raccoon Exodus. Ooops. The past two nights have been mostly quiet on the attic front, with just a few stealthy thumps. The Critter Guy said the mother raccoon would most likely come back for the next two or three nights to double-check that she got all her babies, "because raccoons cain't count and they're OCD." This explanation totally cracked me up. But I'm weird.

Also, what Karen implied above: BEFORE you start "fixing" your ms, make sure you have it backed up and saved as a "version not to be messed with," so you can go back to the original if things don't work out the way others planned. Or in case they do, but you hate it.

Julie said...

KD - Me, Badger, Julie? Or the other Julie, Julie?

Donnaeve said...

What "lurker" KC said has a lot of truth to it too - although we know the lil woodland creature we are discussing in our comments today isn't a newbie.

(Don't lurk anymore, KC - join in!)

Still, for those fresh out of the forest, it is a tendency to seek validation in the beginning. I know when I first started writing, I'd pester Mom, Daughter, MIL, snippets off to co-workers here and there..., all of it in order to hear, "I like this!"

Uhuh. Well. What else were they going to say?

Now? NOBODY "gets" reads my stuff unless I want them too, and only beta's, CP, and then, agent.

Anonymous said...

Julia, I was talking about the opening the "other" Julie posted of her FR (don't know what that stands for) story. With the "dead" horse that wasn't dead. People told her it was confusing. I disagree.

Anonymous said...

I'm always happy to help. Let me know if I'm going too far...

I'm a stubborn so-and-so. I come from a long line of stubborn so-and-sos. I absolutely refuse to use anything someone else has rewritten of mine. I'll make major changes rather than use someone else's 'fixes'.

I'm starting to learn not to give alternate wordings, myself. I try to only use alternate wordings to show what I'm trying to get across, such as passive vs active construction, and even then I'll try to make the wordings clear, but not nearly as good as they could do themselves. And I tell them they can do a better job on the wording than my example. Because anything they write in their voice is better than any example I can come up with.

It hasn't been easy for me, I'm afraid. I'm a nit-picker extraordinaire, with grammar nazi thrown in there. I've been told I'm pretty good at suggesting changes that fit the voice of the original author. That would be a handy skill to have, if I were an editor. But as an critiquer, I have to learn to let the author figure out their own fix.

Choosing ice cream this time. It's actually warm in my house (thanks to the lovely weather we've had the last few days). Ice cream is okay.

Open ID hiccuped, so I had to do it again. Sandwiches this time. It tried to trick me with an open-face burger, but I got it!

Anonymous said...

KDJames: I love that description of raccoons! Of course, I've never seen one, and they're not much of a problem where I live, but I can just see a raccoon being OCD and yet unable to count. That would make for a lot of anxiety - and a lot of trips back to make sure one hasn't been left behind.

That sounds like a loving - if OCD - mother...

Captcha tried to trick me - it said pasta and noodles, and one of the things I clicked on looked like dumplings of some sort. But Captcha took it.

Katie Loves Coffee said...

I'm relatively new to the reef, but for what it's worth, this issue is near and dear to my heart.

I recently tried rewriting the first several chapters based on one critique intended to be helpful and wasn't very happy with the result. I sent the new version off to my most supportive beta reader who holds nothing back (because she cares, I assure you all). She didn't like it one bit and didn't mince words about the changes. It was the best feedback I have received thus far and confirmed my gut feel that I was making the book worse. I deleted that version immediately.

I've solved the problem for the time being by tucking my finished book into a folder on my computer and starting something in a completely different genre. I realized I was so wrapped up in trying to make my book even better that I was tripping over my own feet and I needed some distance from the pages. And what better to set me back on the right path than stretching my brain doing something different and then coming back to it with fresh eyes?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Katie loves coffee, I love what you said.
Distance is a very good thing.

Julie said...

So. It's 8:15. I am an hour overdue at home. And I have 90K words. On the good side, I'm writing 7-10K a day. On the bad side... yeah. And the blankety blank MS is not done yet.


Tomorrow is Friday. Tomorrow is my internal deadline. IT WILL BE DONE TOMORROW.

Jenz said...

brianrschwarz, I did look up Austin, MN's Paramount. It's cute! There's got to be a story behind the fact that both Austins have a Paramount.

Anonymous said...

Katie - that's the kind of beta reader / critique partner everyone needs. She's a keeper.

Sandra Parshall said...

Excellent advice, and I wish more unpublished writers would heed it. At some point you have to stop tinkering and start showing it to professionals. Even then, it's crazy to rewrite the ms every time an agent rejects it. If they're all rejecting it and pointing out the same flaws, then pay attention, but if they're like a bunch of blind men examining different parts of an elephant, and you try to please all of them (Why, for heaven's sake? They've already turned it down.), you're going to end up with a grotesquely misshapen book. Stay true to your vision.

Megan V said...

A few months before my grandmother passed, I had to give a speech and I was terrified of public speaking because I KNEW I sucked and OMG how was I going to survive my freshman year of college. I asked my grandmother how the heck she remained so confident about everything she did.

Her answer: "Self-doubt is a ball and chain, and I hooked up with so many of them in my younger days, I figured out there were two options when it came time to shed the pounds. Option 1: Stop fretting about everything that was wrong with me and mine, and Option 2: Take a shot of vodka.
...Eventually, I ran out of vodka"

Anonymous said...


FR stands for Far Rider.

Glad to hear about the raccoon mama. Hopefully she finds a safe new home for her babies.

Honestly, I've been blessed with a great inner circle of writing partners. We do make suggestions to each other. We have enough confidence to know to know what works and what doesn't.

You just have to learn what to sift through. Like the woman telling the fantasy writer in the workshop, "Those people don't use flutes, they use drums"

All righty. So glad you've been in her fantasy world to know what kind of music they play.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Oh yes, "Analysis by Paralysis," the never-ending feedback loop in your head.

It can be deadly.

I, OF COURSE, have never fallen prey to it. (My story and I am sticking to it.)

Stephen King, in On Writing discusses betas a bit and says you can't take specifics too seriously (unless it is structural, "he had brown eyes in the second chapter, not blue, you idiot,) instead you look for trends and revise to the trends, not the specifics.

My last beta round revealed something surprising to me that I'd never anticipated. I changed how I introduce it.

Then there's someone who challenges you on the spelling or your made-up word . . .