With Harlequin’s huge international So YouThink You Can Write Contest launched, everyone will be looking for ways of learning their craft, improving their writing and polishing their submission ready to enter. So where can you find the best help ? There are the posts Harlequin is putting up, of course – and lots of craft books. But what are the advantages of the more person to person choices? July/ August is conference time. I was at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference in Penrith at the beginning of the month.(I ran a session on putting emotion into your book and I’ll be posting some notes on that on my blog soon.) The RWA national conference has just ended in California. And the Romance writers of Australia conference starts on August 16th with RW New Zealand on August 24th.
It’s also the time when a lot of conventions and courses run – Swanwick Summer School for example, or I’ve just come back from the wonderful Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon where I taught the Complete Introduction to Writing Romance course along with a dozen other courses running that week. And again for the RNA the New Writers’ Scheme is gathering in the entries which will be sent out to be read and critiqued by professionals. There are other critique services – Hilary Johnson,Cornerstones. And there are lots of Writers’ Groups available too. Look in your local paper or ask at the library to find ones near you. The RNA and RWA have local Chapters where you can attend meetings and get to know fellow writers.
So which one will suit you best? Of course to go to a conference you need to be a member of the association. Conferences are a great way to mix with writers at all levels – beginners, newly published multi published. You can find yourself in the queue for lunch – or the bar – or the ladies! - with someone who has just got her first contract, or you favourite ever writer of women’s fiction. Everyone mixes in and there is so much to talk about. There is the possibility of one to ones with editors, agents. Workshops and talks are on a range of subjects, some high powered and intense others more relaxed and fun. And of course there are the evenings to relax in and maybe drink a little wine. It’s a wonderful way to meet new friends connect up with old ones. And to learn a lot.
Courses can be one day workshops, five sessions spread out over 3 days, like Caerleon, a weekend’s intensive study like Fishguard or a week long session in a setting like Tuscany. Sadly, my course in Italy has been cancelled this year – but they do run others. From a teacher’s point of view a course is a great way to discuss writing. Personally, I get a real thrill from seeing that ‘light bulb’ go on over someone’s head when they ‘get’ something. We can talk over tricky points, have a one to one on a chapter and synopsis submission, thrash out points that are causing problems. And everyone gets to contribute. I usually come home reinvigorated and revitalised ready to write. As you read this, I will be beside the sea in Bridlington, talking to a library writing group about writing romance and I’m really looking forward to it.
Like a conference you find that a course will show you different ways to approach things. Talking with others you find you’re not alone, that everyone else goers through the ‘my writing sucks’ moments when the crows of doubt attack viciously. Group discussions can help you find possible ways to rework something or get through the knots. And by learning how others approach it you get positive evidence that there are no ‘rules’. If someone teaches you that there are rules in romance writing, with a list of dos and don’ts, then don’t book – run in the opposite direction. The only ‘rule’ is that you write the best possible book you can in the way that makes it the best for you.
I don’t know much about correspondence course – but you need to be sure that who you’re working with knows what they’re talking about. It’s perfectly possible – with any sort of course – to set up as a tutor when you know nothing about writing category romance. I have seen more myths about series romance created or perpetuated by ‘tutors’ who haven’t done their research properly or kept up to date.
Ditto with critiques. And one of the hardest - and the best things about correspondence and critiques is the fact that the comments get put down in writing. This does mean that because they’re there in black and white, with no moderating tone of smile, the criticisms can sting – but then one of the things that we as writers have to learn to do is to take criticism/to be edited and learn to take on board those comments apply them to our work and hope to improve as a result. Every published author has been through that – and we still have to go through the procedure with almost every new story we submit. And when the notes are there to read and reread – once we’ve got over the sting of them – they are able to be better absorbed. So read what the critique has to say and give it a while to sink in. Shout, cry if you need to - and come back to look at the comments again later when things have had a chance to be absorbed. It probably isn’t as critical as you think – there should be things in there that you can work on.
Writers’ Groups and critique partners can be a good way of working with an objective reader. Having someone read your work can be a way of highlighting any continuity errors, or things that just don’t make sense. An objective reader questioning your heroine’s motivation doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s completely wrong – just perhaps that you haven’t made it clear enough. But do make sure that you’re working with someone who knows something about writing romance.
And always remember that these are just the comments of one person. I always try to point this out when I’m doing a one to one or a critique. I do my very best to be objective, fair and as open minded as I can be. But I am just one person and in the end the only person who can make a final decision, direct you into revisions and ultimately buy your book is a trained editor. One who has experience and knows exactly what the market is looking for right now. You don’t have to slavishly follow any critique if it really doesn’t feel right for you. So take on board any comments, add a pinch of salt if you need to look at the spirit of them and work on your own way of improving your work on the lines of the suggestions.
Of course you can always use craft books – as the author of the 12 Point Guide I’d have to say that! I wrote this book as a help for those who can’t get to any of my workshops or courses – but it was designed as a workbook, not just to be read but to do the exercises as well. Again if you use a how to book, find one by someone who knows what the current market wants – Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance or Leslie Wainger’s Writing A Romance Novel for Dummies are good places to start.
Of course you can do all the preparation, discussion, reading you like but in the end you have to take your courage in both hands, nerve yourself and sit down at the keyboard. At Caerleon, I was asked to give the best piece of writing advice I could think of and the answer has to be – Just do it. Tell the story. BIC HOK - Bum in chair, hands on keyboard.
I’ll be running a series of occasional craft posts over on my personal blog – so if you have any questions you’d like me to answer there, please post them in the comments and I’ll hope to help as best I can. And I have one copy of the 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance to give away to one lucky poster to help you get down to preparing that best possible submission for SYTYCW
Good luck with your entries!