Friday, April 16, 2010



A Friday morning should be positive, frenzied with excitement over the last day of the work week and ready to take a breather for the weekend. Although a Friday Freak-out isn't the most positive of ways to vent before the weekend, this one is in tall order. 

This morning I'd planned on posting a funnier and more personal post, giving you a little more insight into ME--the writer, mother, wife, and reader of all that's good-n-plenty. I suppose this will give you a look--personal but surely not as funny. I'll save that for next week--SCHOOL VACATION WEEK, just in case you didn't know.

I am seeking advice and insight from your experience.


Here's the thing: I wrote the first draft of my current WIP (which is desperately starting to feel more adequately labeled RIP), in four months. Put it away, worked on a few other projects, and studied to learn more about this craft we all call writing. Thought I had it all planned out. Picked up the manuscript, found a great critique partner, went through it top to bottom. Even had a group of local high school girls read it and two teachers. Pretty good reviews. A few breakages but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Most importantly, they all loved the story and made strong connections with my main characters. And that's where it's at, right? 

There. Done. Finished. Put it away for one final polishing. 


Remember I mentioned during those down months I did all that studying. Well, yeah...and one thing I learned was that most probably my opener was branded with too much backstory, had too many characters, and would probably never see the light of day until I altered it. So with a huge exhale, yet a smile, I started re-writing the beginning. Over, and over, and over....

Now, I have a larger critique group and am involved in two writing communities--which I highly recommend everyone doing. BUT...........this has given me conflicting opinions from intelligent writers, and now I'm waffling at what to do. I'm trying to find that *HAPPY PLACE* inside my gut, but the rest of me is brutally fighting it.

Finding the balance between advice and opinions is tough. Just because you may not agree, doesn't make them poor ones or wrong. But then again, some good advice and opinions that are helpful may apply to one manuscript but should not be applied to your particular work. 

How do you filter through all the opinions--whether personal or professional--about your work so you can finally complete it? Share. I'm starting to feel a tad desperate today. Don't want my WIP to end up like this:
(Oh, and if you have any major advice on the best way to start a novel, throw that in too...";-) Thanks.)


  1. Tough question. Did you read Stephen King's On Writing? He uses six people he trusts to read his manuscripts. If more than half don't like something, he knows a change is needed. If half say one thing and half say the other, it's a wash - he says to leave it.

    It's funny because I wrote a post on Wednesday, after getting feedback from April's Secret Agent Contest at Miss Snark's First Victim. Everyone agreed about not liking the second sentence, so I changed it. Then I took out a later sentence based on one opinion. When I mentioned this in my post, everyone disagreed, so I put it back.

    I think Stephen King is right.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing Sheri! That sounds incredibly similar to my situation. I have an agent critiquing my first 30 right now, but I also only have one beta reader. I intend to get more but I want to cut my novel as much as I can myself first since it is still WAY too long.

    I also open with an attempt to introduce too many characters at once. The novel has an ensemble cast if you will and I can really get rid of any of them, but my beta has pointed out that they don't all have to jump the reader in the first chapter. It also doesn't help that you don't really begin to connect to the MC until after these introductions ...

    So anyway, enough about my WIP.

    I think you have to take all the feedback you get as people's willingness to help. If they didn't honestly want to help you make your writing better they wouldn't spend all that time critiquing it. That being said, you know what fits and what doesn't, you just have to find the courage to act on it.

    Great point about King Theresa, loved his book on the craft.


    Today's guest blogger is Rachel Alpine!

  3. Wow Theresa, what a great idea. I'm a big Stephen King fan; have to be, living in Maine. I've read lots of his advice, but I missed that one. Thank you, and thanks for the visit.

    Matt, thanks for sharing your struggles too. I know this will sound either selfish or painfully vain, but hearing other writers struggles seems to give value to mine. It makes it seem like this WILL BE worth it in the end, seeing that shinny new cover with my name on it perched on the bookshelf of some store.

    I think I know what my guts says--stick to less characters at the beginning and focus on the two main characters plight. I just need to find that COURAGE to act on it like you mentioned.


  4. Oh my dear Sheri. We are on similar waves this week:/

    I just got a rejection saying my "character was completely likable..." so...uhh...yeah...if you find something to keep you from losing it, by all means. I'M ALL EARS!

  5. I know agents are busy--but aren't we all juggling a ton? You'd think a little more info is warranted here. Sorry, Candyland. Could just be one person's opinion. As my husband says...nope, can't write that here. I'll email you. ";-)

  6. I've definitely been there, Sheri! It can be hard to know which direction to go in when you're getting so much feedback. One thing I've found helpful is to write a short blurb about your book and refer back to it periodically. This helps you remember what YOUR goal for the story is. As you're sifting through the feedback, try to consider what will help you get closer to that goal.

    As for beginnings, there's a great little book called HOOKED by Les Edgerton that's all about how to write a good beginning. There's an excerpt from it at Writer's Digest:

    Good luck!

  7. Anna, thank you. I actually have Les' book. I plan on featuring it eventually here on my blog. Love it. He states everything so clearly. I'm a list-kind-of-a person. He does that.

    I really like posting MY goal for the story in front of me. Makes sense. Thanks.

  8. Hi Sheri, I was debating whether to post something here 'cause I know I'm one of those people driving you nuts...(LOL) I think its important to be very selective who you chose as beta readers. Though your audience is wide when the book is published, those that enjoy reading what you write and understand where you are coming from is important. I try to stick with 5 readers as well. Good luck!

  9. are not driving me nuts. ";-) It's all part of the writing process and finding out who we are, individually, as writers. I embrace the challenge.

    Yeah, so I'm a tad skittish at times. *SMILING*

  10. I've been there too and can definitely relate. I've been revising my manuscript for six years so there's been lots of differing critiques. My main critique group doesn't read fantasy, so like you I found an online partner who does. I tend to take her advice first. I also tend to follow the critique advice more if the majority says the same thing. But I've come to realize that everyone has differing opinions and they will always have new suggestions the more times I submit it. So at some point, I think you have to trust your gut as which is the right way to go. Good luck.

  11. Ah, I've been there. For a few months, I lived there.

    And then I gained the confidence in myself. I honestly think that's all it comes down to. You know your story better than anyone. You know what it's supposed to be. You know how to write.

    Listen to others, but TRUST YOURSELF.

    And the story should start at exactly where it's supposed to start, of course. My rule, according to my gut? If you don't know, you haven't started it in the right place. When you do, you'll know. Your gut will tell you.

    Because you believe in yourself that much.

  12. Conflicting feedback is THE WORST. This sounds awful, but when we have conflicting feedback we always take a look at the source. It sounds terrible, but oftentimes inexperienced writers give inexperienced critiques. And obviously, agents and editors will have an entirely different perspective and their opinions should be held in higher regard.

    Good luck and go with your gut!!!

  13. Sheri,
    How about some lists? Make a list of what people didn't like about your opener. You mentioned too much backstory, too many characters in first chapter, but list anything else they said, too. Then cross off the repeats, the picayune stuff, and the things that in your heart you don't believe.

    I know you've also had some suggestions on how to revise the opener. Make a list of all those -- and then do the same: cross off repeats, cross off suggestions that don't address the issues on your other list, cross off suggestions that don't fit your plan for the novel or you just don't like.

    Hopefully, what you will have left on your two lists are a simplified list of what needs to be done and a few possible ways to do it.

    Then ask Viktor which one suits him best. I'll bet he'll know. ;)

  14. Elana, such powerful words. Thank you. I'll definitely use those when I compile a list of advice on this subject I hope to post someday. Lila, you are right about source. Just because someone is genially trying to help doesn't mean it's the correct advice.

    Dianne, you hit it on the nose for me. Ask HIM--in this case Viktor. Of course you've met him. That was actually a thought that crossed my mind. What would he want and how does it gel with what I know needs to be told.

    Thank you all. You've been awesome and I hope I can be of help to someone like this. ";-) Enjoy your weekends.

  15. I'm a firm believer in getting the most advice from the people who are going to buy/read your book. You should ask maybe 10 young friends who ACTUALLY READ the genre you are writing (NOT kids in general) to give you their critique. Ask some SPECIFIC questions, too.
    In addition, you need AT LEAST 2 EXPERIENCED critique partners who again READ and BUY your genre, to give you their HONEST opnions.
    I have about 10 of my students who BUY everything in the genre I'm writing at the moment and they are TRULY amazing in giving their opinion about "what's hot and what's not"

    At the end of the day it's these kids and probably people like your experienced critique partners who will buy your book - right?

  16. As always Ann Marie, great comment! Marcy, you really do know me. That's cool. Thanks.

  17. Hi Sheri,

    First, I sympathize -- been there, worn the t-shirt. And I know I'll be wearing it again. I'm one of those people who believes every piece of criticism deserves to be listened to, sifted, and eventually decided according to your gut. If it resonates with you, then do it. If not, weigh who it is that is giving you the advice and why they are giving it. And as far as agents go, I would count myself fortunate to get any advice at all from an agent or editor. I know we are all busy, but they receive so many submissions every day that unless there is something really exceptional about a manuscript, they can't financially afford to comment. Even if they want to.

    Hang in there! Trust your instincts, too.

  18. As always, Adventures in Children's Publishing, your words resonate. Thank you. I plan on hanging in there--heck yeah--just a little relapse, questioning my abilities, you know--the universe. Thank you again for your comment. It means everything. ";-)

  19. Totally can relate. My writing instructor felt my characterization was unbelievable for my mc based on the little she had read (which was separated by over 100 pages!). Problem was she's wrong. I know this because I know teens who've gone through the same thing as my mc. They responded the same way my mc did (didn't tell their parents). So I decided to listen to my innner voice, you know, the one who did extensive research on the subject. That's what you need to do . . . after you give all your critters' comments time to sit. :D

  20. Sheri--late to the party, I know. But I just wanted to tell you that I am so HERE right now. Good luck! I think the only way out is through, and to find that which rings true inside you. It's tough, I know.

  21. Sheri--also, I heard some excellent advice from an author (maybe Cassandra Clare) who quoted Gaiman (yes, it's third hand!). Anyway, the gist of it was that when someone tells you that there is something wrong with your novel, they are 100% right, but when they tell you how to fix it, they are 100% wrong. I love this, because it allows me to see the warning signs, and decide what I'm going to do about it. When people suggest changes in my writing, I reply, "I can see that the beginning isn't working the way I want it to," and then I take the space to fix it, creatively, on my own, in my own way.

  22. What a way to put that, Heather. Thanks for the repeat visit. I appreciate the advice.


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