A couple of months ago, through my blog The Reading Bud, I had the pleasure of reading his book and I was totally spellbound by it’s fascinating plot.
Visit his blog Creativity From Chaos to know more about him.
Presenting R. M. Ridley…
When Heena asked me to do a guest blog post I was honored, delighted, and completely at a loss. What did I know about writing? What made me an expert in any way? How could I claim to hold profound knowledge previously untold?
The answer is that I don’t.
What I do have is a smattering of experience backed up by a lot of support. And maybe that is the key. Maybe that is what I should share—support.
With the help of McKeena Gardener, my editor at Xchyler Publishing, I am putting together a collection of my short stories set in my White Dragon Black world, for an anthology titled ‘Blondes, Books,& Bourbon’ (April release).
I sent over all the short stories I had that, I thought, were good enough, and chronologically fit to be read before my second novel gets published. Things were going well, until she messaged me to say she had come across one of my earlier works, and could really see how much my writing had improved.
The problem—it wasn’t one of my earlier works.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have come a long way over the years in my writing technique. Unfortunately, the base from which I started was far below par. Terrible at spelling, with essentially no grammar schooling at all, my writing left much to be desired…including clarity. I have slowly crawled out of the pit, but I have certainly not reached the heavens.
So how was it that one of my newer pieces of writing came across as something from years ago? Support.
First off, over the years I have had contact with other writers of various degrees of competence. I have worked with these people and got feedback from them on my style, word use, grammar … everything. I also took the opportunity, whenever it was presented, to edit other peoples work. Not just the writers better than myself to see how it should be done, but those not yet as skilled as I, to spot the errors that I still made. By seeing these flaws in other peoples writing, I find I’m more efficiently able to train myself to not make them in my own.
So this technique helped me claw out of the pit, but how is it I’m able to submit work that comes across as more professional, and better written—Support.
I write my story and then do a quick edit to catch the most obvious mistakes and plot problems. Once that is done, I put it aside if I can. I like to wait at least three weeks before doing a real serious edit on my work. Setting it aside allows my brain distance and a better perspective. Now sometimes submission deadlines don’t allow for this and so I have to skip this time away and just get right to the edits. If you can take the time away, I highly suggest you do – write the first draft of the next story.
Once I have completed my round of serious edits, I send it to my personal editor. Now I’m not saying here that you should hire someone. As a starting author, where would you get the money? If you are serious about getting your work published, about presenting the best possible work you can, and want nothing more in this world than to be an author—then maybe you will decide it’s worth it. I am certainly not telling you to spend money you most likely don’t have. I am sharing what works for me and that am fortuitous enough to have someone in my life that is willing to give her time and has the skills necessary.
I write speculative fiction. Currently my stories are urban fantasy/paranormal and based around a paranormal P.I. named Jonathan Alvey. My personal editor… she doesn’t read that genre (or any like it). This, for me, is a huge plus. Her view of the story is more skeptical and questioning. She doesn’t come to the tale with preconditioned understanding and acceptance, so her insight is quite different than mine. Her edits make me see my writing in an entirely different light, which provides me with the chance to be clear, and makes sure I don’t fall on assumptions to carry the story.
The other thing my personal editor offers for me as a writer is a no nonsense approach to writing. She is an English major, a teacher, and yes, a ‘grammar Nazi’ and she approaches my stories with all those hats firmly on her head.
Finally, she never lets me rest on my laurels. Once I have reached a plateau in my ability, and proved I’ve mastered it, she pushes. She calls me out and says I can do better. It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to write ‘the great North American novel’ or that my goals are not for awards in literary greatness, what matters to her is that I am ever improving. ‘You can only break the rules once you’ve mastered them’ is a motto to hold to.
So this level of scrutiny is applied to my story and then sent back to me, not with rewrites, not with changes in place (well, except for some spelling and grammar, and even these are made with ‘track changes’ on so I can see each mistake), not with the work done—but with flaws and weakness pointed out, and questions asked about meaning, intent, and clarity.
It is my job to take all this and use it to guide me into crafting the story stronger and sleeker. To revisit the work and make revisions I feel have to be made to make the story truly work. My support isn’t in someone else doing the work, but making me question my own.
After I have gone over the story and made changes, cuts, and improvements, I move on to the next stage in my support network—my beta readers.
I rely on them to spot grammar and spelling errors as well, especially after the rewrites I have just made. I also rely on them for content, style, and voice. I use the same beta readers every time. These are people who are fans of my world. They know my work almost better than I do. But they are also people who are not afraid to point out every time I fail, stumble, or don’t follow my own rules. This combination leads to strong technical corrections as well as solid character and plot guidance.
There it is—my system. It’s both eloquently simple and deceptively complicated. You create alone but you craft and complete with support.
Read my review of Tomorrow Wendell here.