Thursday, 28 June 2012

How Much Have You Forgotten YOU Had To Learn?

My first two novels
During the last few years as time has permitted me, I have been privileged to have opportunities to try and help other writers attempting their first novel. Some of the mistakes in some of the manuscripts really made me blink. After reading the first few chapters of one I even groaned and muttered, “Where do I even start with this one?”

What actually decided me to mention that in today’s blog was the prayer of our delightful grandson last night. His Dad, our own precious son, had just left very early in the morning to catch a flight on the first leg of a long trip overseas. Our grandson is now just over ten years old. He thrilled Ray and I with his maturity and faith as he asked God to keep the traveller safe and watch over himself and the rest of the family. As he prayed, I have to confess having to remind myself he is still only ten years old!

I was dwelling on this again today and my thoughts went back many, many years ago to another ten year old. I suddenly remembered how I used to pray too to the Lord I knew without a doubt loved me. Certainly since then I have been learning more and more about that same Lord, more about how He wants us to pray in intimate fellowship with Himself. Even when the answers are not always what I want, I am even more sure He is listening, is always faithful to His word, and yet have I forgotten just how much I have had to learn over the years about God and His ways?

My first novel I started writing over twenty years ago. There had been a fairly brief course about writing fiction, including setting, plotting, characters and other basic elements of a novel. Even though I did buy “How to Write” books as well over the years, learning the theory and then trying to put it into practice are often two different things. Now I look back and realise just how much I gradually learnt – and not only with that very first attempt. Fortunately for that first novel I had one editor who pointed out what we now call “head-hopping” or my bad use of Point of View. For many years I did not even know the technical term for that problem. I won’t even attempt to mention the grammar I had to learn and still get wrong sometimes!

Today I am very aware that even after having written seventeen stories I am still learning how to improve my writing to try and give my readers an enjoyable “Emotional Experience”.

One problem I have noticed writers need help with I am presenting in a workshop at The Word Writers Getaway in October – “The Structure of the Novel”. It is still not too late to register so do check out the session topics available. There just might be one to help you or a writer friend you know.

There is danger in taking for granted beginners know things we have had to learn ourselves over years and now are very familiar with – even if we still fail sometimes to put them into practice properly. Now I am trying to pass on writing techniques to others, it is important to never forget just what I had to learn – and too many times the hard way from editor requests for revisions.

I would love to have comments about specific things you remember you had to learn about while writing your manuscripts.
Perhaps there are mistakes (besides typos) you see in published books you wish the writer had known about?


  1. Yes, head-hopping was one of the first things I learnt about. When it was first mentioned to me, I didn't even know what POV meant! LOL So much to learn ...

  2. Show, don't tell! I had to a complete re-write because I had 'told' my story. You, Mary, helped me learn how to show. What patience and determination you showed. It transformed so many scenes in my book, bringing in the get-wrenching emotion that my readers talk about now. Thanks again Mary for your abundance.

  3. Amanda, ss many of us are aware who read and love older books, POV has become as increasing "no-no" in the last few years. However, I still think some "purist POVers" go a bit too far when they demand only one POV a scene (unless a very brief one) and some even a chapter. POV can be changed in a long scene but has to be skillfully done so the reader knows immediately in the first few words the POV has been switched. However, I think most of us would agree that mainly best-selling, very experienced authors can get away with it as it seems most editors would also reject it.

  4. Had to smile at the memories, Jo. And I did want you to know it was not your manuscript I was thinking of when I wrote that first paragraph in this blog. It was in fact someone I mentored back in the 90s in the then Romance Writers of Australia Isolated Writers Scheme. Like you, she was so responsive to my suggestions and I am thrilled that now she is a multi-published Mills and Boon author.

  5. I don't think as writers we ever stopping learning how to get better at our craft , the same as in the Christian life we never stop learning.

  6. I know that to be so very, very true over more than twenty years too now, Dale.