Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dedicated to Your Craft

Some years ago I learned of a writers group that held monthly meetings not far from where I then lived. I rejoiced! For years I had been writing and selling articles and short stories, but mine had always been a Lone Ranger writing adventure. In other words, I worked on my own, with little objective feedback from others in the business. I didn't know any other published authors in my area who could give and take helpful criticism to improve manuscripts. "At last," I thought, "some fellow writers within driving distance."

However, although I attended two of that group's meetings, what I found was disappointing. The fact that none of them were published would not have bothered me if they were at least serious about studying their craft and polishing manuscripts to make them acceptable for editors. Unfortunately that particular group was not interested in improving. One after the other, they would take turns reading mediocre samples of what they had penned, and then the listeners clapped when each reader finished. No one asked, "How can I strengthen this? What would make it better?" And no one offered constructive suggestions. Rather, each person simply waited for his chance to read, and then to receive polite applause. Concerning getting their work into print, they began to discuss taking up donations among themselves to print their own material, which they would then offer for free at the checkout desk of a local library. I was appalled.

The fact is, anybody with a keyboard and a functional set of fingers can sit down and tap out letters, words, and sentences. The trick is combining words and sentences that captivate the mind of the reader for page after page. Will the manuscript be so engaging that an editor will say, "We like this submission. We'll buy it"? At least one person in the group that I twice visited expressed jealousy that I was earning money from my freelance writing, but none of them was willing to work at their craft in order to raise the quality of their own work to do likewise. (Instead, they offered flimsy excuses for why their writing was not better. For example, that they had goofed off in high school many years earlier.) Evidently they viewed getting a manuscript accepted for publication the same as they viewed finding money on the sidewalk: it might happen to you if you got lucky.

Of course, everyone likes to receive praise. But a serious writer focuses first on his craft. He learns correct grammar. He masters punctuation. He searches for vivid, picture nouns and vibrant verbs that will breathe life into his stories and make them come alive. He studies successful novels, dissecting them to see how published authors evoke emotions, develop scenes, and develop dialogue. A tenacious writer willing to do all these things raises his work out of the vast sea of mediocrity and has a good shot at selling manuscripts. But the uncommitted writer who is willing to skip these steps in favor of a few seconds of applause by friends or family will likely remain unpublished.

If you're reading this Hoosier Ink blog right now, chances are you are one of the motivated minority who seriously seeks to improve and succeed at writing. For you, what part of the writing biz has proven  challenging? Realistic dialogue? Point of view? Research? The loneliness of life at the keyboard? Or...?
Rick Barry


  1. I tried two different groups. One helped me grow to a certain point plus I learned people write for reasons other than publication. The other group desired to be published,but had become a social club. Knowing when to move on was an important challenge for me. Another was accepting who I am and what I am trying to do. I have found more personal support since I treat my writing without excuse and with seriousness. Good post.

  2. I have the opposite problem. I'm in a good group where the members want to improve, critique is welcomed and given, and people get published. Unfortunately, the group is shrinking and we have trouble attracting new members. So a group that works may end up dying because not enough people recognize its value.

  3. I am blessed with an online crit group that refines me like fire. It's been the best thing for my writing. I'd love to find a face to face group that does the same!

  4. I LOVE my crit group and those soulmates who still read every one of my novels pre-agent and editor.

    Yes, my pages look like the ones above. I CRAVE every mark!!!

    Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating! But I'd rather hear it from them than from my higher-ups...and then my readers...
    Great post!!!