Learning from Vacations and Evaluations

Thank you to everyone for hanging in there while I went off on my blogging vacation. I missed you all. I wish I could say I visited exotic lands, but in a way I did just because of the power of reading, writing, and imagination.

slow turtle crawl to publishing

Remember this guy? He’s my symbol for writing, revising, and publishing. But hey, at least he’s smiling?

Mostly, my blogging vacation gave me the chance to concentrate on my book. I’ve lost count of how many drafts it’s gone through but now it’s at least a few turtle steps closer. Three agents have evaluated the first few chapters. Their advice has been invaluable and I’ve kept their suggestions in mind while making revisions throughout the novel.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

Everyone is going to have a different opinion. One agent loved certain paragraphs while another marked the same paragraphs up and changed them all around. This just shows there is no secret formula. There is no “best way” to write. There’s only writing and the love of writing.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. If someone suggests adding in a zombie, try throwing one in and see what happens. You can always change it back if it doesn’t work. (I haven’t gotten a zombie suggestion….yet. But some pretty crazy suggestions have come through and I’ve even used a few.)

Know the rules, but also know that if you follow all of the rules all of the time your writing just might end up sounding too stilted and devoid of life. It’s more important to develop your own writing style than to follow all the rules.

The more revisions a book goes through, the better it will be. At least that better be true. I thought my book was done years ago but that was only the beginning.

Even if your book never gets published, it’s still a success. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. It was a learning experience and I had a lot of fun along the way.

Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t go insane. I have a sneaking suspicion that one has to do with the other.

Have fun. If you’re not having fun while writing and revising and revising, try reading for a while. Reading can only help and it’s a chance to get away from it all while visiting that exotic land.

How was your summer (or winter)? Do you agree or disagree with any of this? Any advice to add?

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55 thoughts on “Learning from Vacations and Evaluations

  1. I particularly like your comment that it’s more important to find your own style than to follow the rules. I think it also holds true with following suggestions if it affects your writing style. Welcome back! We’ve missed you!!

  2. Well, congratulations on making progress with your book and gathering valuable feedback. Books are like everything else, some people will love some stories, while others hate them. You can’t please everyone and shouldn’t aim at that. You’re reminding me that now that my kids are back in school, I need to focus on the few book ideas I have. Unfortunately, I have a good amount of work projects that come first, and I also want to focus on my photos first and my 2014 photo calendar. I guess that’s where a daily to-do list comes in handy!

    • It’s amazing to see the range of opinions when it comes to something like books. I’ll look up a book that I absolutely love on Goodreads and see that some people have given it one or two stars. So I’m learning how true it is that we can’t please everyone – though it would be nice if we could! Another thing that’s really true is how often life gets in the way of writing. Good luck with all those projects!

      • Well,I think it’s good we all have different tastes. The key is to identify the specific audience who will most likely like your book the most, so you focus on promoting to them. Haha, sorry, I’ll take my marketing hat off now. That’s what happens when I spend a whole day doing that.

      • That’s true – this whole thing has made me realize how important marketing is too. Feel free to wear that marketing hat any time! 🙂

  3. I agree with your tips! And it’s great that you received agent feedback you could use to help you with revisions. Although, isn’t the conflicting advice fun to work through? 😉

    Much of the summer was spent on the day job, which I believe helped me past the block I’d been facing since early spring. So when my characters piped up one Monday morning on the way to work, I was taken by surprise. But I’ve been rebuilding one of the WIPs ever since, and that does feel good.

    Glad to see you back blogging! 🙂 (And if you rely on email notifications like I do, I hope you’re still receiving your daily and weekly digests—I’m one of many who is not. 😦 )

    • Thanks JM! The conflicting advice is pretty funny, and I guess that’s when we just have to throw our hands up and go with our gut. Otherwise, it just might be too easy. 🙂 I’m glad to hear you’ve gotten back to one of your WIPs and that you’re hearing those voices again. I never could get those email notifications to work for some reason. It would be nice if they did though!

  4. “know that if you follow all of the rules all of the time your writing just might end up sounding too stilted and devoid of life”—-This is so true. I’ve allowed myself more slack with my current manuscript. For example, sometimes you just have to use the verb ‘was’ because anything else makes the sentence sound weird. I think the main thing is to be aware of the rules, try to stick to them as much as possible, but don’t think your manuscript will suffer if you break an occasional one. Or two…

    Good luck with the rest of your drafting. And with the agents. 🙂

    • That’s so funny – I really tried not to use “was” or “were” and I think that messed me up a bit. 🙂 Usually while reading, I’ll highlight any sentences that strike me and at some point I realized a lot of those sentences had “was” or “were” in there. It’s so much better to give ourselves the freedom to really write.

  5. Well said, Sheila, and welcome back! My summer plans to work on my novel have been thrown topsy-turvy by health issues, tests and numerous doctor’s appointments … sigh. Unlike most people, I’m just not able to work by deadlines because of this, and it’s a fact of my life that has been very difficult to accept – but like a herd of turtles, I just keep plugging away when I’m able to! Have a wonderful day! ~ Julie 🙂

    • Sorry to hear that. So much gets in the way of writing, especially when health issues are involved. I’m glad you’re still plugging away though too. Those turtles can be very inspiring!

  6. Welcome back. It’s good to get opinions from three agents just to see how much they differ with their opinions just like our readers do. There’s just no accounting for taste. What would be interesting is to see what points all three of them agreed on as regards rules and then we know maybe those are rules we should apply. At the end of the day we have to please ourselves as much as anybody since it’s for our own pleasure we write.but that’s not to say we ignore valuable advice from the experts, just temper it with a bit of self interest since theirs is just an opinion after all. A publisher will know what kind of work they’re interested in and make the appropriate suggestions before taking the final steps. xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Hugs to you! Their suggestions really did help a lot and each agent made me think of the novel in ways that I hadn’t before. They were all excited about it so that gave me some hope. I used their suggestions whenever I could, but I couldn’t use all of them because they didn’t all agree. 🙂

  7. That’s true – in creative pursuits like writing, sticking to the rules is a waste of time. In fact, I think ‘the rules’ are just an illusion. What they really are are the norms, or the conventions, that other writers seem to follow. It’s always good to break away from those norms and experiment with something new!

    • Some of the rules have helped me, but others have done the opposite. I think they can be used as tools, just not heavily relied on tools. Following them all of the time can really mess up a person’s writing style. Then there are so many novels that don’t follow the rules and people love them for the unique writing style. 🙂

  8. Welcome back, Sheila, and you give us all such valuable advice…I think I like the “write in your own style” line because I really have no idea what style I write in! 🙂 I just write from the heart (is that a style? 🙂 ) I am publishing my first poetry book, though, which I’ve been working on and it will be out next month. It will be one more thing to check off the bucket list and I’m doing also for my Dad, In Memory of Mom…it’s been fun and like you said, fun is important! Congrats also on more progress with your book; very exciting! xxx

    • Thanks Lauren! That’s really exciting about your book – I can’t wait to read your poems in book form! You write from the heart and it speaks to the heart so that must be a style. 🙂

  9. Hello, nice to have you back! I’ve discovered I found novel writing impossible over the summer with our routine up in the air and older kids coming and going. Hoping to get down to a revision of my children’s novel this autumn 🙂

  10. Welcome back, Sheila. Even though I was away too, I did miss your posts. It’s funny how certain bloggers stay with you based on what you expect to read from them. With you, I always come away feeling positive and upbeat about the pursuit of writing and, especially, querying.

    I’m happy for you that you were able to get agent feedback. I have never had an agent offer me any advice after I have queried them. It’s one of the problems with the query philosophy that I need to work through.

    What I love about this post is that you turned what could have been a negative, crummy outcome into a spirited, positive one. It’s really true that we need to write from our hearts and instincts as much as possible while still heeding “some” of the writing advice. Ack. No wonder writers are loony.

    • Thanks so much Kate! I’m really glad we’ve met this way. Your posts make me feel like it’s all possible too. We’ll just have to keep convincing ourselves of that! I probably should have mentioned the evaluations came from Cape Cod Writers Center conferences and another one was from an agent that was offering evaluations for charity. I’ll send you the info. So I paid for the evaluations, but they were really worth it. They helped with that feeling of insanity that comes from not knowing what’s wrong or what should be changed. I’m always thinking that too – no wonder writers are crazy! At least we can be crazy together.

      • I wanted to tell you that I received your email with the info. Thanks for sending that. What a lovely gesture. I once went to the Cape Cod conference, with my mom, about 10 years ago. It was the first time I ever read a piece of my writing out loud to strangers. My voice was shaking so hard!

        I’ve heard of the charity submissions. Those are a really great idea and I’m sure well worth the cost. I’ll keep it in mind!

    • Thank you – I’ve missed you and your inspirational words. Sometimes it feels like I’m turning into clay that’s being stretched and pulled but hopefully something good will come out of it someday! 🙂

    • Yes, I keep trying to tell myself that! They’re probably all things that we already know but they’re easy to forget. So I’m trying to brainwash myself with these posts too. I still think it’s funny that your husband keeps trying to add zombies into your WIPs!

  11. OMW, you sound like I feel! I’m glad your vacation went well and so pleased that you’ve decided to follow The Brass Rag. Come see us often; we’d love to hear from you!

  12. I am so thrilled you had a productive summer with your book. One editor told me that writing is nothing but rewriting. I hope that no matter what happens, zombies, ufos, etc., that you stay true to your voice. You have always been a favorite writer of mine, xo LMA

  13. Just my thought, but I would take the how to fix advice with a grain of salt. Readers usually are on to something in the what isn’t working for them. It’s the writer’s job to get at the why so they can figure out if it’s a reader quirk or an actual area that needs work and determine how to address the issue. 🙂

      • I had one publisher offer on my manuscript and another rip it apart–same exact manuscript. This business is very subjective. So listen to what people say, but don’t feel like you have to act on everything. Let it sit with you. Sometimes 2 weeks later the brilliance hits you or the wrongness becomes clear. 😉

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