Just Creative Writing

Wirters Conferences - Are They Important?

Yesterday I attended the Bay To Ocean (BTO) Writers Conference at Chesapeake College in Wye Maryland. It is a conference that has been occurring for over 20 years in Talbot County, Maryland, and for the last decade (or more!) at Chesapeake College.

This conference is rated as one of the best in the region, and I have been associated with it from the beginning. I am proud to say, I consider it one of the successes in my "word" life.

Yesterday I was, again, proud to be a presenter along with my friend, Michele Chynoweth - also an author, editor, and coach. We talked to a group of about 35 writers about the importance of editing and I'd like to share an overview of our discussion.


Once the First Sh1ttee Draft is completed, but before you're even close to submitting your work, there are three steps you should go through.

1. Self-Editing.- You've finished writing that all important story, and now you have to go back and start the clean-up. Not always a pretty task. If you're not sure how to do it, here are a few hints: a) Let it sit for a day or two and pick it up fresh. b).Print the manuscript and read it out loud. It's amazing how many things will pop up when you actually hear the words, not just read them. c) Look and listen for awkward words or phrases; eliminate passive verbs and find more active ones; get rid of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. d) Listen to your dialogue / what your characters say - does the dialogue drive the story? does it create character? does it describe setting? e) Do you hook your reader with the very first paragraph? You have up to 5 paragraphs in a novel-length story to grab that reader and make them want more. Does your first chapter do that? f) Tension and conflict - although not the same they relate to each other. You can not have conflict without tension, but you can have tension without conflict. If you don't understand that, learn about it. g) Viewpoint and Point-of-View are similar in that respect to tension and conflict...in that they are not the same, but they are sutured to one another's hips! Viewpoint is your narrator, and you have only 2 choices...authorial or character. Learn what makes them different. Point-of-view is how the narrator tells the story (and here I mean "relates" the story...not show vs tell). h) the story arc - do you stick to the story or do you have too much backstory? do you wander away from the basis of the story? During the self-edit, you may find yourself shredding things that you originally liked, and that's okay if it helps hold the story together and make it interesting. 

2. Beta-Readers. Beta-Readers are not editors...they are the first audience for your story. They might be friends, coworkers, book club acquaintances or any gathering of people who enjoy reading. Find anywhere from 4 to 7 people who will agree to help you. Be prepared, you will probably get 3 to 4 responses, and that's ok...life frequently gets in our way. Give them a deadline - perhaps 30 days; this helps keep them on track. You might develop a set of questions similar to the ones you asked yourself when you were doing your self-edit. If possible, try to avoid "yes/no" questions...make the Beta-Reader give you strong, solid feedback. When you get their responses, read them carefully and remember - these people are not editors. It is their job to be the audience; to read and let you know what worked for them and what did not. You will not, and should not, consider every comment as gospel. If more than one reader makes the same or similar comment about something - that's important and you should take a good look at it. Do not throw out any of the comments - you might find them useful at a later date. Once you have reviewed their comments and determined what is valid and what is not, it's time to get back into the self-edit mode! And an important thing to remember - there may be payback time. If someone does you the courtesy of being a Beta-Reader for you, be sure you are available if they come knocking. 

3. A Professional Editor. This is where the rubber meets the road. None of us, regardless of our experience, should consider that we are ready to submit just because a Beta-Reader likes our work. If you are satisfied with your revisions, roll up your sleeves and start looking for a Professional Editor. They can be found in porofessional organizations such as Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org); National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIEW.com), the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), Literary Marketplace (LMP) and more. Check with local libraries to see if they have a list of organizations; if you are not a member of a local writers organization (Mystery Writers of America; Eastern Shore Writers Association; Delaware Writers' Studio; or any such organization in your state or region), you should join them. These organizations are wonderful resources for writers.

Once you find a Professional Editor, make sure you interview him or her...ask the questions: How will they treat your work? What will they charge? How long will they take? What support do they provide? The relationship you develop with a Professional Editor can and should last throughout your writing career and will benefit both the writer and the editor.

The act of editing our work can be a real eye-opener. Remember, what you are transcribing from your own thoughts may not be what I am reading once you have put it down on paper. Writing is a wonderful activity for your brains; our stories are wonderful stories to share with others - but only if they are presented well.

BTO 2020 was another great experience with other writers and I recommend if you are in the area (DC, MD, DE, VA, NY and the further hinterlands!) that you make a point of attending next year. It is always the first Saturday in March...mark your calendar!