Monday, March 25, 2013

Was the worksho you last attended too much like beginner stuff?

Unless you're a NYT bestseller, in which case you don't want to tamper with perfection, you should never judge a workshop as having too much "beginner" information.


Well, the obvious answer is there may be beginners in the room and they might be eager for information you shun. :)

But...Here's a little something you might not realize. One "tidbit" of "beginner" information (that somehow slid past you when you were a beginner) might be the very tidbit that's keeping you from being published...and that one tiny tidbit might be in the workshop you just judged having too much "beginner" information.

If you're published, but not getting anywhere in your career, that might also be true.

Now...before you e-stone me...LOL...Hear me out. (And also remember that I'm a nice person who truly has your best interests at heart!)

Let's take the case of a friend of mine (back in the days before email) who constantly got her big, bulky manuscripts returned with the one small comment...Your book is episodic.

How did this get by her wonderful critique group? They never read her entire book, only the beautiful, beautiful chapters that won her praise and raves. Yet when I (and the editors) read her book, we always felt adrift. Her beautiful chapters didn't connect. Sure, by the end of the book, you "saw" the story...but it was like connect the dots. Chapter one might have been better off being next to Chapter 7 and Chapter 4 might have connected to Chapter 10.

The fix for episodic writing is very simple. Use the Action/Reaction/Decision formula. When I say that, lots of you groan because you've been using this forever...But is there one of you out there who has been getting the "episodic" rejection who suddenly sees she doesn't start her book with action and follow up with a reaction which results in a decision which results in new action?

I'll bet there is. Actually, I'll bet there are more of you than one.

I'll also bet there are authors who have written 400-page category romances and submitted them as single titles. They believe they have a single title because of length...but what separates a category romance from a single title is the depth of story...and the addition of a bigger, broader story, usually in the form of the external conflict.

That's beginner stuff. It's also something that lots of speakers don't talk about in workshops because they're afraid of having people walk out because "they already know all that" and if they walk out they will miss the other more important stuff we plan to teach. So lots of workshop presenters skip over beginner stuff...much to a lot of your detriment.

And to me, that's sad. It's awful to have 80% of the knowledge you need, to be pronounced good by your friends and critique partners and maybe even to be published ... only to just sort of miss the boat in terms of connecting to readers.

And how do I know so much about this...Because 20 years ago, that was me.

What? Twenty years ago, you'd written at least 10 books! How could you have missed some of the basics?

Because you never know what you don't know.

At book 10, when my editor told me I wasn't growing as a writer, I set out on a decades-long journey to learn everything I could about storytelling. And I've learned a lot! Because even though I'd already written ten books, I had missed a lot. Even after I'd written 20, I was still learning. And thirty. And forty. Even now I still study techniques for making "words" disappear so your readers only see story.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking, "This is a beginner's workshop. I should leave..." Pause. Ask yourself: Do I really know everything I need to know? Am I published? Are my sales kicking ass...or are they just average? Could I be missing a "tidbit"?

It should be none of our goal to be average. We should always want to be the best. Yet, we miss the chance to take our stories over the moon because we don't know what we don't know.

You're never too old, too smart, too experienced to learn something.

Happy Monday!

susan meier

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