As I approach my sixth year as a published author, I’ve thought a lot about the things I’ve learned and the growing pains of being a newbie. And yes, I was president of the club.
We all feed from the same trough in the beginning, until we learn to eat from the table of knowledge.
The first draft we think is epic is, six years in, trash. I shudder when I recently read back over those unpublished writings from the early days. I couldn’t write for beans, but I had ideas, stories, and the will to sit down and pound them out, no matter how many technical errors.
Prior to writing, I gorged on 1980s and ’90s romance novels. In attempting to emulate the craft of those authors, I greeted head hopping straight on. Yep, it used to be in style. How enlightening when I met an editor who showed me a better way.
Passive voice, filters, adverbs where there is no need, weak verbs, and the ever present quickly, suddenly, immediately, whiplashy wordy sentences, like this one. The “I started to run,” instead of “I ran,” the endless descriptions of dresses and rooms. Yes, all new writers make the same mistakes. It’s in the DNA of a writer.
Clunky dialogue with the characters names and ridiculous dialogue tags. “That’s right, Joseph. I am fine today, what about you?” Frank inquired. Rinse and repeat with boomed, whispered, demanded, ordered, etc.
Everyone had a POV, including the dog, though I’m pretty sure I never had a dog in any story. The maids, butler, and every town’s person, because we can’t tell a story in less than a dozen or more POVs–otherwise known as omniscient. I will say, I enjoy omniscient and I’m not in favor of changing the style of writing to accommodate some trend, but that ship sailed years ago, so we have to play along.
Part of the Newbie Blues is the idea that we have invented a new way of writing that is so unique, that if we can only get it out there, it will catch on and become a rage. A little research shows that isn’t so and that what might appear new and unique, is unrefined at best.
Now, bad writing has been around forever and proliferates our virtual shelves. If you have a DNF folder on your Kindle, you know what I’m talking about. Why use ten words to say the same thing fifty words can say? My bike was stolen by the neighbor’s son who hid it in his garage and painted it black because he was going through a Goth phase, or so said his mother when my mother confronted her about the stolen bike.
Or – The neighbor’s boy stole my bike.
Passive voice eats brains, of both the reader and the writer. It’s a proven, scientific fact.
The sin isn’t in committing the crimes against the English language. No, it is in doing it repeatedly without a thought to correcting what editor after editor tells us. Sometimes we hold on to our phrasing because we’ve fallen in love with our words. That is the worst thing an author can do.
And then, we have the dreaded edits. The reckoning, if the book accepted and gets as far as edits. This will happen if the pub sees something in the story.
There are stages of editing acceptance, but as there is in the grieving process, for editing is a grieving process, if we’ve invested ourselves in every word, or if we can’t accept criticism, a necessary evil if we want to become an author.
How many of these steps do you recognize?
- I had this story in my head and only I know how to tell it.
- They can edit all they want, but I’m going to reject all. No one is going to tell me how to write.
- No way. They aren’t going to screw around with my baby.
- The editor is trying to edit out my author voice and then the story will be hers.
- I concede on commas. Accept all.
- WHAT!!!!!?????? No exaggerated punctuation??? How in the world am I going to tell the reader that my hero is screaming!!!??? Or that the heroine is screaming and asking a question at the same time????!!!!
- Why are there a hundred and fifty comment bubbles with passive voice written in them?
- Dangling modifier. Wow. Dear editor, you must have written that, because I wouldn’t have. Here, let me look. Oh, wow. Forgive the ring. Well, okay, that is a valid point, but the other eight hundred, no way.
- TAKE OUT A WHOLE SCENE????!!!!!! No way! I’ll never do it. That means I’d have to rearrange things and, wait, that scene is pivotal to the story. What do you mean it doesn’t relate to the story at all? Sure it does. Well maybe it isn’t important that he bought a new suit, but the reader should know that, because that makes the character more real. Doesn’t it?
- What does the editor mean by episodic chapters? Are they all supposed to be about one story? But each character is so unique, never has anyone written more unique characters, and I need to tell all their stories. I don’t know how to weave their stories with the core story and this episode thing is easier.
- Present tense, past tense. Tomato, tomatoe. I concede I might not be up on tenses. Accept all.
- Eliminate a chapter? Why? No way. I refuse. It does to relate to the story? I promise. You’ll see. What do you mean you read the whole book and you don’t see where a weekend at the beach had anything to do with the hero’s vision quest? I beg to differ. Really, I’m begging. Don’t make me take that out. That brings my word count down by twenty-five hundred words. That’s a whole day’s work.
- Write this chapter from the other main character’s POV? Yeah, I guess that would work.
- Now here’s something new. Filter words. You’re picking on me. Never heard of them. What do you mean I’ve heard of ALL of them? Look here. He felt his heart beat wildly. Isn’t that a nice sentence? Emotional. Heartfelt. Okay, bad joke. It isn’t a big duh. Don’t say that. Okay, smarty pants, how else should I say it? His heart beat wildly? Well, yeah, that’s more concise. Yes, it does say what I intended.
- Oh, damn, that reader hated that I didn’t change that scene, like the editor suggested. Oops. Maybe six POVs wasn’t such a unique idea. What does she mean I shouldn’t give this character a POV? She’s the maid. She has to see things the heroine or hero can’t, so she can bloviate about it to the rest of the staff, out of earshot of the main characters. That’ll take up at least two chapters all told. Yay. Up to 40k.
- Oh, that reader liked how the editor had me change that scene. Cool.
- This reviewer likes my author voice. Even after all the editor’s changes.
- Okay, editor. You didn’t catch this misspelled word. Gotcha!!!!!
About Brita Addams: Brita Addams was born in the wrong century, though she couldn’t live without her air conditioning.
Her travels have taken her all over the world, but she enjoys nothing more than time at home with her husband and family.
Brita’s Tarnished Gold has won a Rainbow Award for best historical and readers in the Goodreads M/M Romance group chose the same book as a finalist for best historical and best book of the year.
On a trip to Hollywood, California, Brita stood in the footprints of some of her favorite actors—Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power, and many others—at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and she has even kissed Mickey Rooney.
A bit of trivia—Brita pronounces her name, Bree-ta, and not Brit-a, like the famous water filter.
Look for Beloved Unmasked, third book in the Tarnished series, in October, from Dreamspinner Press.