Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Learning Curve

Over 5 years ago, while still waiting tables, I met Lizzie. She was having breakfast with her editor, going over her manuscript and I stopped to talk to her about her writing. Once I told her I always wanted to write a book, well, that became the beginning of a road I am still traveling.

Lizzie took me under her wing, so to speak, and guided me in the right direction, only I didn't know it at the time that it was the right way to go. After meeting with me for coffee and I purchased one of her books, which she signed, she suggested to me the path I should travel in order to fulfill my dream of one day becoming an author, instead of a person who just talks about it.

I didn't take Lizzie's suggestions seriously, at first anyway, and it led to a longer path to fruition. I wish I would have listened to her because I would probably be published by now. Oh well, live in learn. 

I finally came to my senses after several meetings over coffee, a trip to the library with Lizzie, my first attempt, and then second at writing a novel, to take her advice and learn how to write. 

What do I mean, learn how to write? I am talking about the rules, the proper way to take a story and turn it into a novel. Not a journal type writing, but a novel type. What does that entail exactly? First, it means to understand what POV shifts and head hopping mean. Where you put your tags, and when. What are the different tags? Do you put a period after dialog or a comma? Where do you put a comma? The list goes on and on.

Now, I am sure to most of you, (that aren't writers) are saying to yourself, "What is she talking about? I know how to do all those things." But you would be surprised. Creative writing is different than journalistic writing, or business writing. In a few of my classes there have been people who were journalists, and they were amazed that the rules are not the same.

Maybe there are those of you that don't believe that is a big deal. Well, it most certainly is if you are attempting to write a novel that is tight, flowing, and brings you into the story. So, why am I bringing this up? The reason is simple. I have now been introduced to a new writer, who's first chapter I am critiquing, reminds me of the early days. The days of learning not only the 'rules', but also to either go to the library and check out books on writing, or buy them. To join classes, either at a community college, or on Meetup. Maybe even hire a writing coach, like I did. To join a group with other writer's for support and advice.

Now, how do I tell this new writer that she needs to do these things? Will it encourage her, or leave her feeling that her writing is hopeless. I pray that doesn't happen. Even though she has a long way to go, I want her to continue. See, she has the heart of a writer and the last thing I want to do is stifle that passion.

As I critique her chapter and find mistake after mistake, I began to feel bad and unsure if I should continue to tag each and every mishap, as it were. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but at the same time, I appreciated it when I was shown the correct way. (My first chapter was critiqued by Lizzie and she tagged every sentence!) Will she be as appreciative? Or, will she think I am a know-it-all? 

I am so far from knowing it all, and I don't think I am ready to teach writing, so I am not really sure what to do. I will be meeting with her for the first time on Saturday and have to face which way I need to approach her. I want her to continue, but she needs to go down that path, the learning curve path. The same path I had no choice but to go down if I ever wanted to publish a novel. 

What would you do in this situation? I really do need some advice on this one. I want to be honest and I want to lead her, just as Lizzie led me. Please leave me a comment and suggest how I should handle this, because it is weighing heavily on my mind.

Thanks for all you do! Lisa 


  1. I think you continue to tag whatever you feel needs attention. If she is a serious writer, she will appreciate it and take all of the suggestions to heart knowing that it will make her work better.

    Tell her your story, even preface your critique with it. Use pieces of this blog because it's heartfelt and it certainly would make anyone understand how important is is to learn the craft.

    Especially tell her that you truly believe she has the heart of a writer and that you don't want her to be discouraged. You are a sincere person and she will see that.

    Keep in mind that you're not the only person critiquing, there will be others there to support both you and her. I think it would be a disservice to her if you didn't continue your mark up. If she's determined, it will just make her strive to be better.

    I hope everything goes well. You've said it all beautifully in your blog.


  2. That's a beautiful blog post, Lisa. I fully agree with what Robin said, with one addition. I would ask her just how much critiquing she wants done. If she says, "Go for it," then you have the green light to mark her work up as much as you need to. If she says, "Just give me your quick opinion," then that's what you'll do. Just ask her and go from there, letting her know the potential you think she has.

  3. Thanks Robin and Linda. I am going to email her and ask her what she wants, that way I know a head of time! I appreciate your comments and advice!

  4. Lisa, you're such a caring, intelligent, well-read person, I think if you just be yourself, she'll have no trouble accepting your suggestions; & I'd be willing to bet that you have far more great advice to giver her than you realize---just start talking, I'm sure it will be fine, & benefit you both :-).

  5. Thanks Becky, yeah it worked out fine. Of course I worried unnecessarily! Anyway, now I am helping her through each page as she re-writes her first few chapters!