Tagged: book doctoring

York Festival of Writing 2015

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I returned last night from the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York, which as usual leaves me tired yet simultaneously full of inspiration and energy. So many books, so many writers, so much gossip, so many friends old and new, so many dog-lovers sharing pics of their hounds on their iPhones. So much passion, so much love.

Agents, editors, and book doctors noted not only an improvement in the quality of the writing that we were reading, but also what seemed to be a shift in expectation. Events such as York can hold out to writers the prospect of snagging a book deal (agents, publishers), but we all know that much depends on taste and luck, and we also know that in many ways writing is often not quite ready yet (those snotty book doctors).

This year it seemed notable that many of the writers (probably all of the ones I spoke to) possessed realistic self-knowledge in greater abundance than unrealistic ambition. We might have a good central idea, and maybe a strong opening chapter, and perhaps a whole first draft complete, but there is still room for the work to grow: aspects of craft to refine the telling of a story, ways to strengthen the voice or build the emotional core of the work. Writers seemed more immediately interested in improving their writing than in getting published, though of course that remains a long-term goal.

It was also noticeable that this patient approach *does* lead to results. People who’ve been working on their writing for some years are now getting manuscripts called in by agents and editors, and acquired for publication. You know who you are!

Many of the delegate writers were already agented or published (both publisher-published and self-published), but came along to York as they feel they still have things to learn: about the craft, about the business of publishing. An event such as York, along with some self-study and writing classes, can be an effective – and more affordable – way to build your own writing programme (see my earlier post on Learning And Studying And Writing: A DIY MA In Creative Writing for further ideas on this).

And all of us surely have things to learn every day – I gained so many insights and inspirations this weekend too.

I always leave York feeling there is so much left unsaid – things I could have added to our discussion of readings, for example – but these workshops are more than anything points of departure, offering ideas to take away and experiment with in our writing.

Here, however, are a few links and notes for following up or revisiting:

Everyday Magic: The Four Elements of Creativity
Someone who came along tweeted that he might not have done so had he known that he’d be doing a guided meditation! Haha, that’s why I keep that bit (and the tarot cards) quiet. But apparently it helped him unlock the right mindset for the rest of the weekend (thanks for oversharing – something I’m good at, and a quality I commend in others: please make sure I’m there in the audience).

We talked about the left brain and the right brain as we explored ways to expand our process of writing beyond simply thinking about it: clearing our minds (that meditation exercise), getting fired up, creating emotional connections, introducing the full range of sensory experiences into our work, then bringing clarity back into our writing through a powerful central idea. We had some fruitful discussions along the way.

Here is the video of the amazing Lynda Barry describing how creativity gets stunted by self-consciousness, and here is the audio recording of Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Colonel’.

A couple of further things. First, I hope I did not seem rude about NaNoWriMo, but I really would love to see writers apply themselves in equal measure to aspects of craft such as voice and narration as they do to composing a stream of 50,000 words. It’s often important to carry out such work away from your master (or mistress) project, so that you can develop these skills on the side then return to your book equipped as a stronger writer. (I post many writing exercises here.)

A good editor/teacher also, when the writer seems ready, needs to be a bit of a bully. Perhaps about things such as writers not apologising for the genre they’re working in: be authentic, and own your genre. Sometimes writers also need prodding into doing things that they say they can’t do. Gentle bullying does not hurt. As Miss Rosenberg said to us in primary school, ‘There’s no such word as can’t in my vocabulary.’

(And is it just me, or are many British writers just a bit uptight about some things?! I use the word uptight in a gentle way too … I say that as a Briton myself, albeit one from the Midlands, where I suspect people are often too laid back to be uptight. That is a good birthright to enjoy.)

Trusting Your Voice
Find your voice: that was the first myth to bust this weekend. Instead, trust the voice you have already, and ‘Tell it fast, honey, tell it fast’ (Bobbie Louise Hawkins). Write with ‘density and speed’ (Donna Tartt). We looked briefly at samples of writing (academic, business, sales) that have other purposes (investigating, analysing, selling), and discussed the purposes of creative writing (telling a story, establishing mood).

I used an audio selection from Nina Stibbe’s Love, Nina. I backed this up with a hearty recommendation to read Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have A Family, and played a selection from this excellent recording from his publisher, in which he describes how he created the novel: he didn’t start with a plot, but writing in the different voices of his characters led him to the story he needed to tell. (If I had had my wits about me, I could have related this to the way in which Stephen King in On Writing compares the writing of fiction to the hunting of fossils: we don’t always know exactly what’s there yet, but have to dig it out.)

Reading aloud is both fun and instructive, and we read aloud Joe Brainard’s I Remember to show how we can trust our natural speaking voices as the foundations for our writing (something I’ve blogged about here, and maybe I’ll post my version for 2015 later this week: some really choice memories, eh?!). I also recommended listening to audiobooks, perhaps of favourite books: experience some of your influences via a different sensory mode.

Here is more on voice from an earlier workshop, where we looked at some different examples.

After the workshop, someone asked me about practical ways to adapt the natural speaking voice, e.g., for other characters. In discussion that person (whose name I never caught) said maybe it was like having a particular type of substrata in geology: many different types of plants can grow upon chalky soil. A good analogy. I don’t think your speaking voice has to be the only voice in your writing, but it can be a strong foundation at the start. Get fancy later.

Someone also directed me to this *excellent* interview with Annabel Pitcher that was recommended in another workshop: ‘Me, Myself and I: The Secrets Of Writing In First Person’. Really useful tips on how to make tweaks and shifts to your natural voice.

Showing & Telling & Storytelling
A second exercise in myth busting: let’s tell, don’t show.

I don’t wish to downplay the importance of showing, in the right measure (which might be 99% of a piece of writing), but in this workshop I make a strong case for the special telling that comes from having a strong narrator at the heart of your book: the storyteller. It might only be a sentence or two of narrating at the right point within the story, but it can arrest and guide the reader in a very efficient way.

I used examples from the openings of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to illustrate both showing and telling. And examples of info dumps can be found in this clip from Acorn Antiques (try around 0:55-1:36). My blog post Tell Me A Story also looks at some of these ideas.

Book Doctoring
Lovely people in the 1-to-1s, and some of the same things coming up:

* Voice
* Tightening of syntax (is every verb needed in a sentence?)
* More mood, please!
* Pacing
* Are you absolutely sure this needs to be present tense? Past often gives the writer great freedom
* Not everything needs explaining: gaps and edges are often what make writing interesting
* Voice, voice
* What is revealed when (among characters; to readers) for best effect?
* Psychic distance (discussed over at Emma Darwin’s blog)
* Motivate your characters
* What are the dramatic stakes?
* A novel is not a movie (a point driven home in Hal Duncan’s workshop on point of view, which had an excellent analysis of the pros and cons of different POVs – thanks, Hal!)
* Might there need to be a trade-off in the writing in order to make what’s really important work?
* Voice, voice, voice

And in case feedback left you feeling a bit frazzled, here’s a post from last year:

* Working With Feedback On Your Writing

Books I recommended included:

* Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax
* Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft (finally back in print in a new edition, as of last week)
* Stephen King, On Writing
* Patricia Highsmith, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
* Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey;
* Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots
* Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, How Not To Write A Novel
Turkey City Lexicon from the SFWA
* the Self-Editing course taught by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin for the Writers’ Workshop

And finally
* A very thoughtful writeup of the weekend: ‘Nine Lessons In Writing From The FoW15 Conference by Jo Hogan (to whom I give thanks for mentioning the Annabel Pitcher interview above)

* York reports from Emma Darwin and Debi Alper

* And some clips from Naropa University, which I mentioned a few times (I studied and taught there, and it changed my life)

Thanks to the good people of the Writers’ Workshop for asking me along, and to everyone I met there who made it such a pleasure. York really is a highlight of my year.

See you next time, I hope!

Getting Published Day 2015: Voice Workshop And Book Doctoring

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On Saturday I took part in the Getting Published Day at Regents College, London. As always, with Writers’ Workshop events, it was a lot of fun: meeting writers, making friends, talking books, having a laugh. Good spirits all round. I led a seminar on voice and also did some book doctoring, and I’m posting some follow-up notes on both below.

Book Doctoring

I read some good samples this time, and made various editorial suggestions for further drafts: tightening and brightening the prose style and voice; avoiding too much explanation that gets in the way; worrying not so much about fashions in writing but instead writing a book so good that it stands out as a timeless story (though some agents or editors might tell you otherwise); thinking about the narrative focus and the dramatic stakes (and the dramatic focus and the narrative stakes); not being too subtle; considering the single outstanding thing that this book might be, and trying to make that thing stand out on every page, every line (an impossible feat, I know, but it’s the striving that matters).

Oh, and importantly: paginate your manuscripts, even for short submissions such as the ones we used on Saturday. Do follow any specific guidelines, of course. But page numbers are probably essential for any reader – pages get printed, dropped, jumbled, need referring to consistently (there were a few places where I wanted to refer to something on, e.g., page 3, but I had to write in the page numbers myself first). A lack of pagination can seem a bit sloppy or thoughtless. And hey, if it’s your unpaginated manuscript that gets knocked off the edge of a desk, maybe it won’t get read.

In short: be professional by making life easy for your readers.

Reading recommendations included 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias, Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale, On Writing by Stephen King, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. I also recommended the Writers’ Workshop online course on self-editing your novel taught by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin several times a year; it could be a structured and informative way to guide your book through another draft.

And if a book doctor session leaves you a bit confused or frazzled, you might find it useful to read an earlier post on working with feedback on your writing.

Voice Workshop

Find Your Voice is one of the great myths of creative writing; you have a voice already, so let’s find ways to turn it into writing. That’s the idea – I’ve put some notes into another post: Voice Workshop.

Till the next time?

Thanks again to the lovely people of the Writers’ Workshop for inviting me along (yes, that is a plug too, but I like and trust them a lot). And also thanks to all the writers I met – it’s a real pleasure to share in other people’s inspiration and creativity, and to listen to their stories.

And maybe I’ll see some of you at one of the London Literary Salons run by the Writers’ Workshop at Waterstones Piccadilly over the coming months? I’m co-teaching one on revising and editing with Debi Alper on 31 July.

 

York Festival of Writing 2014

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Just back from the York Festival of Writing. Well, I came back on Sunday, but I’m still decompressing on Thursday, all afizz with emails and Twitter and words and ideas.

The only thing that I really don’t like about York is the fact that you don’t get chance to spend time with the dozens of wonderful souls you meet. A fleeting hello to Ruby whom I met two years ago and now see daily on Twitter, someone else who told me her sentences had improved, a fantasy writer with a very rich new landscape, a few shy people I’m sorry I had no chance to speak to, lots and lots and lots of new faces and voices and writing. A dirndl, Buzz Lightyear, many dogs, survivors, and heroes. I need Hermione Granger’s time-turner, except I want it for socialising rather than swotting.

I did meet Matt Haig (and very much look forward to reading his forthcoming memoir), and it was fantastic to hear Antonia Hodgson’s keynote speech, full of daydreams and resilience, both of which writers need in abundance (far too many of the former and not enough of the latter, as far as my own writing is concerned, I realise). Antonia’s tale about a prison guard (involving one of her authors, not her …) brought pricks of tears to my eyes.

The best story of the festival though involved the racism directed towards blue vibrators by sex professionals. It’s one of those real-world tales that proves that truth is stranger.

Lots more, but there’s only so much a mind and a blog post can hold. What I can remember of links and the things I failed to squeeze into various workshops are described below.

But before I go: thanks SO much to Writers’ Workshop and all who dwell there. They really care, and given the scale of the event I never fail to be impressed by their organisation and friendliness, and their ability to attract participants who’re both practical and inspiring whether they’re presenting or coming along as delegates. The Writers’ Workshop really is the best at what it does, and it is an honour to be asked to take part in their events. Thank you.

 

TELL ME A STORY: THE ART OF NARRATING: MINI-COURSE

It’s all about the voice, darlings. Take any dull material and wrap a sexy voice around it, and that’s going to be an improvement.

This was a great group that really warmed up (I think I was rambling a bit at the start – sorry). A lot to cover, and I didn’t get through it all, but the room was smart and responded to the readings in meaningful ways, and I also ended up talking some about plotting (not plot), which is a particular passion of mine.

The exercise on voice began with Elaine Kingett’s ‘How To Be A Writer’, which was in turn inspired by Lorrie Moore’s ‘How To Become A Writer’. In another screen, I am penning my own (it might be a bit TMI and ranty, but I might post it once I’m done).

I also used the opening of Zoë Heller’s Notes On A Scandal.

And thank you, peeps, for allowing me to indulge my inner Julie Walters via my outer Alan Bennett. Put another bar on.

And here is the original blog post that was a starting point for this workshop: Tell Me A Story.

 

SHOWING AND TELLING AND STORYTELLING: WORKSHOP

We have to show as well as tell in our writing, but Show Don’t Tell is a myth that needs busting; we need to storytell.

Here is a link to Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’. In all our discussion of what takes place in the opening (nothing, but lots too), we never got round to mentioning that the story expands into a particular dramatic situation – one that also never gets explicitly discussed within that story. Showing, not telling.

We listened to the start of ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which as far as I am concerned is one of *the* great pieces of fiction, and (note) only takes 10,000 words or so to work its magic. Showing and telling and storytelling.

While we are on the subject, let me share Annie Proulx’s splendidly hatering write-up of the Oscars the year that Crash (a film I really hater too) won Best Motion Picture over Brokeback Mountain. Fantastic example of voice and tone.

 

HISTORICAL FICTION: GENRE PANEL

Emma Darwin, who chaired this panel, is remarkably eloquent and inspiring and brainy, but unlike many other brainy people I know she can translate brainy into words the rest of us understand and relate to. She really has such a wide range of knowledge too.

Some things that came up: it’s still all about the voice. And character. No such thing as rules. Legal matters aren’t always clear-cut but involve degrees of risk. Have you thought of writing nonfiction? And we all love Sarah Waters (my fave is Fingersmith). I also recommended Kate Grenville’s Searching For The Secret River (to read after The Secret River). I perhaps should have made my recommended read Game Of Thrones.

A question I wish I’d myself asked the editor (Sophie Orme) and agent (Jamie Coleman) – who both seem very bright and brainy too, but I’ve just spent less time in their company so can’t gush so much – is perhaps a question that could be posed to other agents and in-house editors, and booksellers too. Fashions come and go within genres and without, and a few things I read as book doctor this year felt very much in the vein of historical blockbusters I read in my youth such as Gone With The Wind or The Far Pavilions or the blockbusters of Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford. And I wondered if my points of reference were old-fashioned? Whither the historical blockbuster? Where or how does that sort of book get placed in the market and with readers now, relative to, e.g., reading group fiction (which, I know, is quite a vague name for a wide-reaching description). I think I need to do a bit more research myself, and maybe I’ll blog on that one day.

Perhaps too that is an answer for writers to find themselves, for sometimes it is in making something new that something successful and exciting is created.

 

THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF CREATIVITY

This is the third time I’ve run a workshop on this topic at York, and this year I actually passed my tarot cards around for the first time. I have fun with this topic, stretching ourselves beyond words and the conscious mind. For it is in reaching towards the ineffable and delving into the unconscious that we make writing not only instinctive as a process but whole as an outcome.

I never got the name of the writer who cleverly identified the characters of The Wind in the Willows with the four elements: Mole as earth, Rat as water, Toad as fire, Badger as air (think I got that right – but correct me if I’m wrong). Yes, we can draw on the four elements for archetypes too.

The piece I used in class to illustrate the use of the elements is ‘The Colonel’ by Carolyn Forché. I did register a few doubts in the room when I said that writing (probably all writing) has a purpose, even a political purpose, relating that to Fire. Entertainment is a purpose, and that can be – perhaps even emphatically is – political (think carnival, think subversive). Is there a piece of writing that isn’t political? If you’re not changing the world with your writing, are you just reinforcing the status quo? ‘Discuss.’ No answers to that one, but exploring that matter in the work can make the writing bold.

Also, we listened to the piece first, without reading the words. For writing is a bodily experience in that way too: it might be invisible, but the spoken word is a material thing (Earth), and generating spoken words is a somatic practice too.

 

BOOK DOCTOR ONE-TO-ONES

A few common things that came up this year:

* I found myself suggesting to several people who were writing fiction that they might try nonfiction for their content, and vice-versa. Oh dear – I hope I’ve not derailed anyone. But usually projects were at early stages, and in that case I assume most anything is available for discussion, and there were reasons to put these ideas out there. But don’t blame the editor! There are any number of complications in this area (legal, ethical, aesthetic), and it’s something you have to tussle with sometimes.

* And you can’t have it all.

* Prose style and voice are often what define literary fiction. It’s all about the voice. It’s all in the telling.

* Less can be more.

* In fiction (and narrative nonfiction), establishing a mood and impression is often more important than explaining things. (Less can be more.)

The books on writing I recommended most are: On Writing, by Stephen King; Steering The Craft, by Ursula Le Guin (which is going for silly prices online in the UK, suddenly – are my recommendations outstripping the supply?! we need a British publisher!); and Sin And Syntax, by Constance Hale.

 

AND

Lots of other things to say and follow up, but they need separate posts. Look out for: integrating feedback (especially when it seems contradictory); agents, and how to address them (however you like?), and whether they need photos (no); different types of editing; when is a poem not a poem; the small press option. Etc., etc., etc.

I’m also thinking of starting a regular/weekly agony uncle/problem page about writing and publishing: watch this space (or the menu above).

Thanks again to the Writers’ Workshop, and it was lovely to spend time with everyone there.

Cheers!
Andrew

Getting Published Day

Last Saturday I took part in this year’s Getting Published day, run here in London by the good people of the Writers’ Workshop. I did some book doctoring, and also ran a workshop on How To Write A Sentence (sorry about the tech failure, but maybe winging it with a handout isn’t so bad). It was a lot of fun. There were some really interesting projects (one of them was very exciting and right up my street), and some lovely people in attendance.

Even when people explained that the writing sample I’d read was perhaps a little undercooked/out-of-date/in need of more editing, this often led to a fruitful conversation. E.g., about NaNoWriMo novels usually being rushed and in need of greater emotional depth or layering. Or ways in which a novel with a rather conventional storyline could be given a more interesting twist if translated into a science fiction setting (especially relevant given that writer was a big science fiction fan). Or how, if you are an active and successful blogger, you can use your blogging voice and a blog/diary format to spice up the story you have to tell.

A handful of random observations about common ‘areas of improvement’ in writing, for what they’re worth:

* Fiction that sells (particularly genre fiction) usually needs a clear narrative focus that can be summed up with some sort of hook. This can be as much an editorial consideration as a commercial one.

* Writing usually needs an edge or some spark. It needs to work in the telling. A great high concept or plot twist is rarely enough. Consider how point of view, or withheld information ,or bringing forward a plot reveal, or some other trick of the trade can make the telling of your tale even more compelling.

* If ‘that’s coming in Chapter 2’ (or Chapter 3, or Chapter 12), at least give us something in Chapter 1 that makes us want to read Chapter 2 (and Chapter 3, and 12, right the way to the end).

* Or maybe just drop Chapter 1. You can always restore it for the uncut edition when you become an established bestseller.

* Comic writing is a tough one. It has to be funny. Funny is subjective. Good luck.

* Get some training in writing. You can learn, and you can improve your writing – whatever some experts say. (And here’s a great response to that, and maybe some Kingston University students should be asking for their money back.) More on that another time, perhaps, but thinking practically I’ve detailed elsewhere various ways in which you can construct your own course of studies in creative writing, and you could also, e.g., take a class such as the online course on self-editing your manuscript run by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin for the Writers’ Workshop.

* If you want to be published, think about your writing in terms of what you are giving to a reader.

* Don’t just change something because an agent/editor/friend/I told you to. Make changes that you believe in.

In any creative field the advice given by the professionals on a day like Saturday, which explores a rich range of possibilities, will inevitably present contradictions. We are there to help, and we usually offer suggestions or points of departures, not prescriptions or hard-and-fast solutions. As fellow book doctor Debi Alper says, you have to sift through the feedback and knowledge you gather, and then Accept, or Reject, or Adapt. Make it your own, make it new. Don’t be too literal, and don’t get too grasping after that book deal. But use your imagination.

Stun us with the powers of your imagination!

 

 

Getting Published Day, 2 March 2013: Follow-up Notes

I was at the Writers’ Workshop Getting Published day as a book doctor on Saturday. I met a number of writers to give them feedback on sample material for their proposed submissions to agents, and I also led a workshop on voice, in which I talked about the value of the natural speaking voice. It was a lot of fun, as it always is when you get to meet writers directly. And as ever the Writers’ Workshop people were fun and well organised and direct in addressing the needs of writers: thanks to Harry, Laura, Nikki, Deborah, Lydia, John, and everyone else involved, and it was great to meet the other book doctors again or for the first time.

Here are a few notes to follow up, including some of the resources mentioned during the day.

The workshop
* To start, we discussed the idea of trusting the natural speaking VOICE as a vehicle for your writing, and considered how TONE in writing particularly concerns itself with introducing an emotional quality.

* We looked at some examples of professional writing for the structures and patterns we often use in business or academic contexts (e.g., an objective tone; lots of subordinating clauses). Such voices often lack personality, and intentionally. But in fiction or more creative forms, a neutral voice can feel colourless, and fiction can start to feel cluttered by certain forms of syntax that let us pack in or even bury information when we need it. Yet very often, these have become the ways we write – our natural way of writing.

* By contrast, thinking about the NATURAL SPEAKING VOICE (and thinking and remembering voice), we read a selection from Joe Brainard’s ‘I Remember’, and wrote our own versions and then read them aloud. This form is natural and easy to use, and it is notable how it relies on simple sentence structures (okay, we’re going to introduce sentence variety later). It also has the strength of instinctively focusing our writing on concrete and specific words, especially nouns and verbs (adjectives and adverbs are so rarely needed, even if they do add a certain something).

* I read aloud the opening from Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, and noted not only its gossipy quality, but how every sentence in that first paragraph is directed towards the idea of STORYTELLING or NARRATION. (And what is gossip, if not storytelling?!) We also noted that the voice and tone here belong to a specific PERSONA (in this case, judgemental and even bitchy), and this can enrich the CHARACTERISATION in our work (this being the persona, not the bitchiness – though maybe that too!).

* We also looked at and listened to Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ as an example of writing that takes a particular tone, again a judgemental one. I wish I’d had a bit more time to discuss tone, so I’ll mention it briefly here: there are specific ways we can vary the tone in terms of not only form (e.g., word choices, using different parts of speech, sentence lengths, modes of address), but also content (the narrative ingredients selected for observation and inclusion).

Something I did not mention in the workshop was this great statement on simplicity in writing from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well:

the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.

That might sound a bit extreme, especially if you’re working in a more literary mode. But this emphasis on simplicity – the simplicity found in the natural speaking voice – is perhaps one of the best foundations for most good writing.

Book doctoring
It was interesting that the writer whose voice I thought most striking and fresh from her submission turned out not to be a native speaker of English. Which perhaps accounted for the number of slips in spelling! But even those sorts of slips just go to show that a good voice shines through anyway. And also that there are differing definitions of perfection – after all, we need to keep some work for the copyeditors. Anyway, I’d never have guessed she was not a native English speaker; a particular name, in fact, made me think she was an English woman of a certain age, and that was what I was expecting. Wow. To do that in a language you weren’t born into; puts most of us native English speakers to shame.

In addition, this writer comes from a part of the world that might bring a fresh perspective to an established genre, and I encouraged her to think about introducing more of that into the writing too. Good luck to her!

Some of the things that came up in other samples: writing that packs too much in too soon; various other issues of pacing; developing a narrative focus, and letting unfolding action tell the story; overwriting, especially overexplaining (fiction can suggest, be allusive); using point of view to give a story an edge; prose style needing more life, texture, and colour (specific and concrete imagery often add a spike of energy, as do well-selected verbs and nouns).

It’s also a good idea to know your genre, and what might be expected of it – everything from conventions you can use, to trends, to word lengths. This knowledge can grow your own instinct in writing. It’s worth paying a visit to a larger or specialist bookshop, maybe during the morning when you might be able to chat with a bookseller about trends and popular writers. Pick up some recommended books, if you have not read them already, and sample them for what you can bring to your own work.

And beyond the writing, writers often need to think about the profile and platform that might help an agent or publisher promote your work. Even in fiction. In fact, personal experience can often inform the writing in good, instinctive ways, lending it depth and authority. Though of course we must always allow for flights of fancy and imagination, too.

Finally, don’t forget that publishing is something of a lottery. I tend to think that the best books eventually find a home, though whether they sell once published is another matter. And of course some not so great books get published and become roaring successes – but that is usually because they connect with something or other among a readership. What is that thing in your writing that might connect?

Recommended reading
Regardless of the genre you’re working in, these are some of the most useful books on writing. And yes, you probably can gain from doing a bit of studying of this sort, either on your own or in a creative writing class. Understanding techniques in writing will just add depth to your work.

Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale
Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin
The Making of a Story, by Alice LaPlante
How to Write, by Harry Bingham
On Writing, by Stephen King
The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner
The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler
20 Master Plots, by Ronald Tobias

Memoirists might also find useful:

Old Friend From Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg
The Arvon Book of Life Writing, by Sally Cline and Carole Angier
my own notes on writing a nonfiction book proposal

And for revising your work:

The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell

Thanks again to the Writers’ Workshop, and it was great to meet everyone else there too.