Honorary Heartlette – Elizabeth Boyle

January 6, 2008 at 10:48 am | Posted in Elizabeth Boyle, Honorary Heartlette, writing | 12 Comments

I recently had an unpublished friend ask me for advice. I always stress over these situations since I feel this weight of obligation—as if I could actually offer (or even hold) some bit of advice that would help her realize her dream of being published. And she’s asking me?! I barely feel published myself.

Then after a few breaths, some joke about getting your butt in a chair and “write the damn thing,” I remember that I’ve been published for eleven years, am working on my 13th novel, and that perhaps I do have something to say about the subject of selling one book. And then another. And hopefully one more after that. After the obvious, aforementioned advice about just writing the book, I do have some thoughts on the subject. Three to be exact. Probably more, but these seem to be the three that strike me as important today. Read carefully and take them to heart. Make them your goals. Or consider me a pedantic fool and go seek your own path.

Whatever you choose, here are my three suggestions for 2008:

1) Writer know thyself. Or better yet, know your weaknesses and strengths. I put weaknesses first because those are the most troublesome and problematic to getting published. A writer’s weaknesses will hold them back from ever getting published unless they learn to either fix them or compensate for them. Do you know what your weaknesses are? If not, ferret them out and fix ‘em. Not an ace at plotting? Learn how. Motivation escape you? Corner it and learn its secrets. Ask your critique group for answers. Enter the same entry in as many contests as you can afford and then look for consistencies in the comments.

Once you figure this out, then do something about it. There are books and classes and online workshops all over. Your public library alone contains every book you could ever need on writing know how, and if it doesn’t have it, learn this valuable phrase: inter-library loan. Writing is an art, a craft. And no once comes to any art or craft with all the knowledge they need. A true craftsman always considers their art a work in progress, meaning they are always learning, always hunting down new ways to fine-tune their skills.

As for your strengths, make them shine. As you choose a story to write look for ways that you can capitalize on your writing strengths.

2) Learn to rewrite/self edit. I think this is one of the best skills you can have in your writer toolbox. If I had to offer only one piece of advice, I think this might be it: learn to edit. Ruthlessly. Without moaning. Always keeping your eye on how to build a better, tighter, richer, deeper story. Because a writer who can look at their own writing and discern what works and what doesn’t—and then takes the time to fix it—has a career ahead of them. It is not your future editor’s job to edit your book, it is yours and yours alone. Learn punctuation. How to discern if the timeline in your story is off. How to make sure your characters are moving not only forward in a logical plot, but that they are learning the lesson that your story is meant to teach them. Learn to examine each scene and even each paragraph to ensure that is moving your story forward, telling your story. And if not, learn how to trim or point it in the right direction. Being able to objectively look at one’s own work is not easy, fixing it isn’t much easier, but learning to do both will take you on the path to publication.

I’d like to say these are easy to learn, but they take time and some willingness to listen to criticism. The best lessons I learned in this were sitting at Darcy Carson’s dining room table for over five years as a varied group of us met for critique each week. From my fellow writers I began to see my own failings and from their suggestions and my own dogged determination, I discovered how to edit my own work. This plays hand in hand with #1. If you know your weaknesses, you will know what most likely needs to be fixed in your manuscript. Find a good group of positive friends, who share a collaborative spirit and then listen.

3) Read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Just do it. If you do nothing else, do this one thing. It will be the best money, time and effort you will put into your writing. I wish I could show you my dog-eared, well-thumbed and highlighted copy. His advice is great and his theories on writing work. Most of the books on writing are, well, excuse me for saying so, full of airy fairy advice about getting in touch with our inner creativity, and are a big waste of time IMHO. I was at one workshop by a very popular writing coach who wanted us all to hug. HUG? Excuse me, but no thank you. How is that going to sharpen my romantic conflict? Teach me to pick the right story write? How to draw a story through 385 pages of conflict and dialogue?

Writing is work. I don’t wake up each morning and beg my muse for her help. I don’t hug my UPS driver when he happens by with a package. I make a double latte, set my butt down, remember that I have a mortgage to pay and get my fingers flying. It is a job, and Maass’s advice is no-nonsense and useful—the kind of suggestions that you can actually use without any group hugs . . . Read his book, and you’ll see what I mean.

So there it is. My three suggestions for 2008. I hope they help. And if they do, a nice email will suffice over a group hug. Group hugs. Geez. Save yourself from that sort of path and get to work.




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  1. Elizabeth,
    For me, personally, this advice is so timely! Thank you for stopping by and sharing these top three tips with us. We’re so honored and excited to welcome you to the blog!

  2. […] Honorary Heartlette – Elizabeth Boyle […]

  3. Hear, hear, Elizabeth! Your advice is spot on.
    I especially liked that you put writer know thyself first. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is key. Not just your technical strengths and weaknesses, but your personal strengths and weaknesses as well. The last wall that stood between me and my dream of being published was finally believing in my writing ability enough to finish the damn book (yes, I have the t-shirt) and send it out.

    And OMIGOD, who told you to hug? I am with you Elizbeth, invest in Writing the Breakout Novel. Read it, learn it, live it.



  4. Spot on, Elizabeth! I re-read Donald Maas about every 6 months.

    I totally agree that we are responsible for editing and polishing our own work. My job is to make my editor’s job easier. If I do that, it makes it much more likely that she’ll take the next proposal.

    Like you, I’ve been blessed to sit at Darcy Carson’s table and benefit from the sharp minds gathered there to critique. It’s hard to over-estimate the value of a good group of first readers. Writing is a solitary activity. The gift of friendship around red-penciled manuscripts is a beautiful thing.
    Happy writing!

  5. Great three points!
    I may just get Donald Maas’ book, mine is Albert Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel”.

    My suggestion to writers in the ‘next phase’ is – once you’ve completed the first draft and typed THE END, put it aside and celebrate. Then read at least one book on craft and at least one book by a favorite author. Then begin the edits, do this craft/novel/revise process at least three times.

    Then start sending it out.

  6. Jessica, thanks for inviting me! It was my pleasure to come on by and rant share. 🙂

    Kathryn, you’ve got it exactly. Sometimes finishing is just having faith in the story and your writing. My first drafts look like Swiss Cheese, but I never worry about the holes. I KNOW I can plug them later.

    Diana, isn’t Darcy’s table magical? I love her dearly.

    Therese, I actually go through my drafts 3-4 times at the very least. Once to plug holes and get the first draft smoothed over. The second time to really get the romance nailed, the third to smooth it all over, and a final read with the book in galley format (so it looks like book pages) to read it like a reader would to make sure it is ready for the editor.

  7. Elizabeth – Thank you so much for sharing here at Purple Hearts!

    What great advice to kick off our new year with – Maas’ book was one of my Christmas presents to myself – and you just bumped it to the top of the pile.

    I’m loving learning to re-write and edit. I’ve fallen asleep thinking about a scene woken up in the middle of the night thinking “I KNOW exactly how that scene should have happened” and then tried to tighten and tighten and tighten. . .

    This post will definitely be touchstone for me in the coming process!

  8. Elizabeth, enjoyed your advice. Sometimes simplicity and common sense are enough to trigger a solution in the madness of writing. Thank you, Neringa

  9. Elizabeth, you nailed it! Writing is work, but it sure can be fun — especially the editing.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!


  10. Hey all, thanks for inviting me over. It helped kick start me back into my current WIP and I’ve been editing like mad. So thanks right back!

  11. Elizabeth-
    Thanks for the advice. Self editing is not my strength and I need to work on it. Thanks for the push! We’re so lucky to have you here.

  12. […] love Elizabeth Boyle (check out her visit to our very own Purple Hearts blog) and this week she posted an interesting promotional idea that a number of authors can easily do. […]

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