Meet Kassandra Lamb
I have a special guest poster for you today. I’m always looking for books I can recommend to newer writers, and so I bought her book Someday Is Here!: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. As you might have guessed by the fact that I then asked her here to guest post, I found a book I’ll be recommending in the future to writers who are starting out. She takes the time to define a lot of terms, recommend additional resources, and walk burgeoning writers through what to expect. And she does it all in the voice of a friend. Her book is on sale through the weekend for 99 cents.
So let me introduce you to her, and then I’ll turn the blog over to her capable hands.
Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer who now spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The portal to that universe (i.e., her computer) is located in northern Florida where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
She has two series out, the Kate Huntington mysteries and the Kate on Vacation novellas and is a about to release the first book in a new series, To Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery. She has also written a short guidebook for new authors, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. You can connect with her at http://kassandralamb.com. (Sign up for her newsletter there and she’ll send you the first Kate on Vacation novella for free.) She also blogs on psychology, writing and other random topics at http://misteriopress.com.
Take it away, Kass!
The Fine Line between Confidence and Arrogance
By Kassandra Lamb
One of the hardest things that writers deal with is a lack of confidence in our writing. Frequently (sometimes daily), we do battle with that niggling doubt that maybe our words are not all that great. We refer to this doubting part of ourselves as the Inner Critic and view it as a detrimental roadblock to writing.
And it is, very much so, especially during the early drafts of a work when we need to forge ahead with great confidence (even if it’s fake-til-ya-make-it confidence). We have to get something down on paper. As the saying goes, “you can’t edit a blank page.”
But there comes a point when confidence can become detrimental.
I recently, quite foolishly, offered to proofread a family member’s manuscript. I assumed, because this author said it was so, that the manuscript was ready for publication, having been beta read, self-edited and tweaked to a fare-thee-well.
Ah, yeah. About that….
It was a good story, with interesting characters, but there were a lot of writing mistakes–ones that are common amongst new writers. Mistakes I myself made as a newbie.
Mistakes that back then–in my ignorant arrogance that I presumed was confidence–I firmly believed were not mistakes, just differences in writing styles. That is until enough experienced authors and editors told me they were indeed mistakes, and I finally got down off my high horse and listened.
Mistakes this writer/family member was convinced were not mistakes.
I was in quite a bind. I care about this person and their success as a writer. But I also knew that unsolicited criticism from me probably would not be well received. I debated with myself and finally just corrected the typos and sent the manuscript back, with a mild suggestion that it should be professionally edited before it was published. As I suspected it would be, that suggestion was blown off.
Two lessons learned from that experience:
- Never edit or proofread for a family member.
- As much as we struggle to maintain our confidence as writers, there is such a thing as too much of it.
Writing is so subjective! It is so hard to know when to take others’ feedback to heart, and when to trust that gut feeling that we’re right and they’re wrong.
Here are two perspectives that may help.
First, let’s separate out the concept of talent from that of expertise.
New writers who are confident that they’re talented often don’t realize that’s not the same thing as having expertise in writing. No matter how well you can craft a sentence or outline a plot, you don’t know as much about writing as an experienced author.
If you’ve loved to write since you were coordinated enough to hold a writing implement in your hand, then you probably have talent. If you’ve received far more positive than negative feedback about your writing through the years, then you probably have talent.
But you won’t have experience until you’ve written a lot of stuff and published a lot of stuff and made a bunch of mistakes.
I knew I had talent when I stepped into the world of fiction. I’d been writing non-fiction for years. I’d had editors rave about my work. The positive of this was that I didn’t struggle quite so much with the demon Inner Critic (although he still raises his ugly head at times).
The negative side of this confidence was that I didn’t listen when several people told me I was head-hopping. I thought they were criticizing the use of multiple POVs, because I didn’t know the difference between the two.
The problem with ignorance is that we don’t know it when we suffer from it.
(Hmm, I think I’ll make a Facebook meme out of that one.)
The second thing that may help is to realize that in writing, as in life in general, there are gray areas.
There are a lot of rules about writing fiction. And all too often those rules are presented as black and white. Never use prologues. Guess what… prologues are quite common and quite acceptable in the mystery genre.
When new writers encounter rules that don’t feel right to them, they tend to react with misplaced arrogance. “I have to be true to my art,” they say. And they proceed to break the rule with abandon (I speak from personal experience). And in the process, they may make mistakes that turn off readers and mark the author as an amateur.
The key to not making amateurish mistakes is not just to learn the rules but to learn the reasons behind the rules. Once you know those reasons, it will be a lot clearer which rules you can bend or break and which you can’t.
When I was a novice writer and had head-hopping and multiple POVs confused, I thought I was justified in breaking the rule against head-hopping. A lot of my readers had told me they loved knowing what was going on inside all of the important characters’ heads.
Then the reasons behind the rule were explained to me (by Marcy!)–that frequent shifts between POV in the same scene confuses the reader and actually distances them from the characters. Okay, that made sense!
There’s also a rule about writing dialogue in dialect. It’s a no-no. This is one of the rules that, in it’s black and white form, I think is dead wrong. Everywhere else we “show, don’t tell” but we’re supposed to always write dialogue in standard English and then tell the reader it was said in a Southern accent. Huh?
But wait, before you run back to your manuscript and make that Cajun character’s dialogue indecipherable, there’s a reason for that rule. Pure dialect is hard to read. And anything that’s hard to read tends to pull the reader out of the story. And that is the ultimate no-no!!
So here’s the gray area: Use a light touch. Give a hint of the dialect through word choice and the occasional change in spelling or truncated ending, and then identify it in the dialogue tag if need be.
“I been wantin’ to tell ya about that for a long while,” he said in a Southern drawl.
Here’s how it would look if it were more pure dialect:
“I bin wantin’ ta tell ya ’bout that fer a long while.” Waaaay too hard to read.
I’d like to say that it gets a lot easier to hit the right level of confidence in your own work once you’ve been writing and publishing for a while. It does get a little easier, but judging the quality of any writing is still subjective, and we’re often too close to our own to see it clearly.
That’s why it’s good to get feedback from multiple sources and listen to that feedback with an open mind. My philosophy is that all feedback is useful, even if we end up disagreeing with it. Because that feedback made us go back and reassess our words and determine if we really did want to say it in just that way.
Then we can move forward with more confidence that our work is good, and perhaps win at least most of our tussles with that blasted Inner Critic.
About Someday Is Here!
This easy-to-read, how-to guide is full of both practical advice and emotional support. Psychotherapist turned successful mystery writer, Kassandra Lamb takes novice writers by the hand and walks with them on their journey, pointing out pitfalls along the way, some of which she discovered through stumbled-head-first-into-them experience.
From the decisions to be made before setting pen to paper to whether to submit to agents or self-publish, from the basics of writing craft to the nuts and bolts of copyrighting and ISBNs, from promotion strategies to the perseverance needed to make your writing business a success, this overview of the writing and publishing process is a must-read for new authors who aren’t sure what they’re getting themselves into.
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