Posts Tagged ‘Brenda Ueland’

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

I just finished another scene of Apprentice Cat. Wahoo!! Each day I get just a little closer to finishing the entire book. That makes me feel great.

There are days when I wondered if I was doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life. Have I chosen the right career for me? Those are the days when the words just don’t come or the days when it seems the Universe itself is trying to keep me from working.

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This blog, The Road to Writing, will be discontinued Dec. 31, 2011. If you would like to continue receiving great tips and inspirational posts please remember to subscribe to my new blog by RSS or email for LOL Mondays, Spirit Wednesdays and Toolbox Saturdays.

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You’ve been asked to read a friend’s manuscript. After dutifully plowing through 100 pages of less-than-perfect, sometimes entertaining, but often difficult to understand prose you’re left with one question: how do you tell your friend her manuscript needs a lot of work?

Unless you really don’t care about hurting your friend’s feelings and possibly losing a friend, this can be a very tricky situation. I know several writers who refuse to read other people’s unpublished works for just that reason. Yet, it seems crueler to me to let a friend send an unpolished manuscript out knowing you could have helped.

Enter the sandwich method. I don’t know who first came up with the idea, but I say, “God bless ’em,” because it makes giving (and receiving) constructive criticism a lot easier on the old ego. Simply put, the sandwich method gives the criticism “sandwiched” between bits of praise.

I can hear my husband saying, “So I can say ‘I like your hair. Your characters stink, but those jeans are really slimming on you.'”

Uh, no. The praise has to come from something in the manuscript.

“But, Virginia,” you may be whining, “it’s nothing but sentimental drivel and inane cliches!”

That may be; however, as Brenda Ueland says in If You Want to Write, even in the worst writing there is something of value. You may have to look hard, but it is there.

As for the actual criticism, it’s always best to be specific. Telling someone their story didn’t hold your attention doesn’t cut it. Why didn’t it “hold your attention?” Was there too much description? Were the characters two-dimensional and uninteresting? Perhaps the sentences were too long and rambling. Be specific.

Last of all, be sure to end with some more praise. I like to point out something good in the work I didn’t mention before. Sometimes all you can do, though, is reiterate the praise (using different words, of course) that you already gave. Either way, I tell the manuscript’s author that it has potential because I honestly believe everything has potential. Some things just need a lot (and I’m talking about a whole overhaul) of work.

It’s the process of growing one’s work from potential to published through the use of helpful constructive criticism that makes it worthwhile to travel The Road to Writing.

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I admit it. I’ve been slacking lately. Other than blogging, I’ve done very little work on my book or anything else of much value (except doing a bit of marketing stuff). Mostly I’ve been reading Gayle Greeno’s Ghatti books. They’re really good, but somewhat difficult to read (not exactly page turners like Erin Hunter’s Warrior books). You’d think I would be able to put them down easily enough, but I can’t. I wasn’t sure why until a couple days ago when my husband gave me a kick in the pants by asking me what he could do to help me get back on track with my writing. (That’s his way of begging for the next chapter to read. :D)

I began asking myself what, if anything, could my wonderful husband do for me. Suddenly I realized I had been hiding from the blank page, cowering in fear of what might come — nothing. It’s not a pretty thing to think of, yet it affects nearly every writer I’ve ever heard of. We fear the blank page. We fear we may not have anything “good” to put on it. If it’s not “good enough”, we wonder, should we even attempt sullying the page with ink?

Yes. We should. Let me repeat (again!) what Brenda Ueland says in her book If You Want to Write: it doesn’t matter.  She dares each of us to try to write the worst story we can because she believes even in the worst we can find great stuff.

On the bright side, I did discover something useful during my “goofing off” phase in Gayle’s books that I hope will help me write better. She has a wonderful efficiency in scene description. In a battle scene in the second book, Mind-Speaker’s Call, she doesn’t go into detail about how a ghatti was killed. She simply states that it’s skull was crushed and moves on to the next thing that happens. There’s no blood gushing, no screams of anguish, no minute descriptions of how a tail is severed. The battle just is. For me the scene felt a lot more shocking, disturbing, than if she had went into flowing detail. (Thanks, Gayle!)

It’s not a bad thing to stop and smell the wildflowers, so long as we’re not trying to hide from harmless shadows in the process, on The Road to Writing.

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In his book The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes tells us that every writer worth his or her salt has a fear of writing.  It’s not just a fear of being rejected by a traditional publisher, although fear of rejection often causes the would-be author to become what Ralph calls a “trunk writer” (someone who writes something, then puts it in a drawer or “trunk”).  There’s also the fear of the blank page (or blank screen).  We writers give it the nice euphemism of “writer’s block,” but more often it’s fear.  What if I can’t come up with anything?  What if I do and it’s crap?

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