I have the absolute privilege of judging a number of romance writing contests throughout the year, and every time I feel like I gain insights into writing that help me with my own craft. (And hopefully help the entrants with their next draft. That would obviously be awesome, too.)
I’m going to put up a series of posts over the next couple of weeks that examine the common areas I see again and again where I feel some hard work and consideration will make the biggest difference to the next draft of a story. I won’t in any way reference specific competition entries, just elements of craft.
Everyone receives feedback differently. Some writers are hungry for it, some can’t bear it. I fall somewhere in the middle. For the first few days that a new work is out being read by others, I am unbearably sensitive. The slightest query or suggestion is excruciating. Then I get used to the sense of exposure; I start to be able to separate myself from the project.
And then, the truly magical part of the process: I start applying some of the feedback to my work and see the story immediately improve. Like, in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Then all I want is to make it even better.
So aside from the techniques I’ll be discussing in the coming posts, here’s probably the most important thing I take away from judging competitions:
Every single story, no matter how good, will be made better by having more thought and work put into it.
That can be hard to hear, especially when you feel like you’ve reworked it as much as you possibly can. (Seriously. I was certain there wasn’t a single thing I could do to Untamed without taking it into the next stage with an editor, and then a couple of months later I threw the whole thing out and started again. And again.)
We’re lucky as writers that the barrier to entry is low. We all have access to a computer, or a pen and paper. But where we don’t have to buy a suite of expensive equipment to practice our art, we sure do have to pay up with our time. Writing takes time. SO. MUCH. TIME. Even more time than we think. It really sucks.
(Yes, my last book was published six years ago. Why do you ask?)
We can certainly work on ways to make our processes more efficient, but I think it’s a false efficiency to avoid putting the time in. The posts in this series will outline some tools that I feel are useful when developing a first (second, third, fourth) draft into a more interesting, complex story.