10 Minute Novelists, an online writing group held their first-ever face-to-face writing conference this past week in Cincinnati. Attendees interacted with incredible speakers like James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Janice Hardy. What a line-up!
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Like James Scott Bell
I’ve always said if you can walk away from a conference with one great idea or changed in one way, it has been a successful conference. I walked away from this experience with so much more. Though I hope to share tidbits of information gathered from the conference over time, I want to offer you words from James Scott Bell. These words resonated with me and reminded me of the roots of my writing.
“Write like you’re in love,”he said. If you are a writer, you’ve had those stories, posts, or ideas that captured your imagination. You poured yourself out on the page. You invested yourself in the story. You found yourself constantly thinking of that story or that character. You began to hear the character’s voice in your head. You wrote with abandon, void of formulas or rules. In fact, breaking the rules in this love relationship with words seemed right.
Smacks a little of a great love story, doesn’t it? But that’s how we get a good story on paper. And readers can tell when you own it. They ask if it is based on a true story. They want to know the backstory. They ask for a sequel. Because you fell in love with your story, you carried your readers along with you.
Jim Bell was right about that. When you are in love, joy oozes out of your soul and onto the page. You could stop there. You could file away your passionate story of good versus evil or love triumphing against all odds. You could never publish your historical fiction or capture the feeling of someone from the past in a vibrant biography.
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“Edit like you’re in charge,” Bell tells us. And this is what separates the amateur from the professional. Work. Writing is often fun and engaging. Many people I know write as a sort of self-induced therapy. But if you want to share the story; if you want to publish, you have to go into the story you love, rip it apart and take charge of it. You have to ask yourself tough questions about what you’ve written.
For example, the vignette of the little girl finding a puppy in the midst of chapter one may be cute and have sweet dialogue but if it doesn’t move your story forward, why is it there? Does it offer insight into the character of the little girl? Will the puppy play a role in rescuing her in the future? Is the dog a metaphor for another character in the story? If the scene is helpful to your reader, keep it. If it is not necessary, no matter how much you liked it when you wrote it, get rid of it. Use it somewhere else…in an alternate universe, so to speak.
Look at your story structure. Examine your words and phrases. Scrutinize your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And when you have it as close to perfect as possible, send it to a professional editor and beta readers for their recommendations. Then start the editing process all over again.
The story doesn’t change.
The good guys will still win in the end.
And so will you.
“Write like you’re in love. Edit like you’re in charge.”
Thank you, Mr. Bell.