Thursday, November 24, 2022

Common Writing Obstacles (Part 7): Taking Risks


by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

Write the Story

Writing is risky. And not just in the sense of facing physical danger. Although I’m sure many writers did face physical danger at one time that stimulated or inspired them to write their story.

There are other risks every writer faces. More mundane than climbing Mt. Everest, but just as real. The underlying source of these risks is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failing.

First, there is the risk of writing the book. Am I capable of writing a book? Can I even write? We risk ridicule from family and friends who think they know us better than we know ourselves. 

As we sit to write, maybe the words of our high school English teacher come to mind: “I gave this essay an F because the school won’t let me grade any lower. I suggest looking into a career as an auto mechanic. You’ll never make it as a writer of anything beyond grocery lists.” Or words to that effect. The sound you heard was the crashing of a dream to dust, or a tornado ripping the house of your confidence from its foundation and scattering it beyond recovery.

As your fingers hover over the keyboard, maybe a memory resurrects of being cut from the baseball team and the coach made it clear it was because you don’t have what it takes.

Let me say this right here: if you want to write, you have what it takes. It probably needs to be developed and refined. As I wrote in an earlier post, we can learn the craft of writing. What we need is the discipline to write and the courage to seek help to learn so we can make our story better.

The Critique Group

For many of us, the next huge risk is taking our work to a critique group. Maybe our story is finished. Maybe we’ve reached the point where we want feedback on how we’re doing and where we need to go from here. So, we join a critique group. 

Here we face the risk of rejection from other writers. We’re rookies moving into the realm of professionals. Some may be published. Others are probably much further down the road than we are. Unfortunately, a few others may be prima donnas who think they know all there is to know about writing and you simply need to write like they do. 

I think this is a risk we must take to grow as writers even though we face the risk of rejection, of embarrassment, of failing in front of a community we desperately want to be a part of. 

The critique group is where we learn to assess more than our writing. We also learn to discern valuable feedback from not so valuable feedback. Biblically, we learn to separate the wheat of feedback that helps from the chaff of feedback that doesn’t. And this takes a while to learn. 

We may not click with our first critique group. Personalities and styles rub the wrong way. We may test several groups before finding the best one for us. And it’s not the one that always praises our writing. We need a group that challenges us to grow and take chances. 

How to Edit

We’ve finished our manuscript. By this I mean we’ve written the equivalent of two drafts. Our first draft and then revised it with feedback from our critique group. Now what?

We have options. We can edit it ourselves. It is possible and feasible to edit ourselves. Our approach needs to be as an editor, not an author. We need to shift from right brain to left brain. There are resources available. Two I recommend are Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. The other is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell. I also wrote a series of blogs on self-editing. The links are at the end of this blog. 

Another risk here is doing it on our own or paying a freelance editor to do it for us. I recommend doing it yourself and then hiring an editor to do it. We’re too close to our work to give the honest appraisal it needs. If we’re diligent when we self-edit, it frequently makes the job of the hired editor easier. And it helps us prepare a polished product for when we take the risk of pitching to agents and publishers.

We can hire an outside editor. Or we can rely on the publisher to edit. The problem is at this point, we most likely do not have a publisher. Why? Because our manuscript is not the best it could be. It needs an edit and probably more drafts. My first published novel had eight drafts before it won its contest. Then we had one more edit with the publisher before it was released.

Or maybe we decide to self-publish. That’s great. But then we definitely need a professional editor. And a cover designer along with other professionals to help make a quality product. This is a subject for another blog. Because this one is already long enough.

What are some of the risks you’ve taken in your writing? What lessons did you learn? Would you do it again?

TWEETABLE

Don't Miss the Rest of the Posts in This Series!

Links to The Art of Self-Editing Blogs:

Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest.

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.

Connect with Henry on his BLOG, TWITTER and FACEBOOK.

3 comments:

  1. Henry,

    Thank you for detailing these risks we take as writers. After decades of publishing books, I can tell you the risks are real and never go away. They are still there with every new book--yet the opportunities are also there if you keep moving forward.

    Terry
    author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition)

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  2. Great article, Henry. Taking risks is uncomfortable, but you remind me of Biblical characters like David who was treated like a little kid, but fought and killed Goliath. And, of course, Jesus who was rejected by his own townspeople: "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" Good company to be in!

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  3. Probably the best lesson I've learned is to trust my gut feeling when a critique group member gives bad advice. They also give valuable advice. I just learn to distinguish between the two.

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