A-ha moments for writers

Someone on my writing group asked for a list of a-ha moments for writers, so I compiled a short list.

Add your own in the comments. 🙂

1) queries area lot easier to write than finished pieces, and they hurt less when they’re rejected. Ergo: query an article before you write it

2) publishers want to make money. They really don’t care about art.
2A) most rejections boil down to “We can’t make a ton of money off this”

3) some writers would be better off if they put their thesaurus on a raft and pushed it out to sea. Big words do not necessarily make for bigger writing or bigger ideas.

4) sooner or later, you’ll wear the editors down

5) if your entire critique groups makes the same observation, it’s probably true.
5A) Don’t waste valuable critique time defending your manuscript. Unless you plan to stand beside each reader explaining what you wrote, listen with your mouth closed and take notes. Don’t explain your manuscript; instead, edit your manuscript so it explains itself.

6) When a professional says “Never do XYZ,” don’t immediately think, “But it works when I do it.” Wait until you’re the mega-professional and then you can lecture young writers on why they should break the rules. Until then, follow them.

7) Edit other people’s work. It will show you all the flaws in your own.

8 ) Your book is not your baby. I’ve had rejections and I’ve had a baby who died. I know the difference. Editing a manuscript makes it stronger. Hitting a manuscript harder in the early stages only makes it better. Don’t cringe when someone critiques, but do learn to tell the difference between well-meaning critique and outright criticism.

9) Write while you’re washing the dishes, vacuuming the carpets, cooking dinner, and folding laundry. Write while you’re driving, while you’re changing a diaper. Write in places where you cannot record these beautiful words you’re creating. Write without consciously thinking of the words because then when you do sit down to record your words, they’ll have percolated like strong coffee and what you set down will be awesome.


  1. Girl™

    About #1, how can you make sure that your idea isn’t stolen (and written by someone else – inside the company) after you’ve suggested it?

    1. philangelus

      You can’t be, but why would they? The reason they’re paying freelancers in the first place (magazines) is so as not to keep folks on staff. 🙂 It’s cheaper, easier and better for them to write it. Also, if you had connections to folks you wanted to interview, their writer might not have those.

      It’s easier for them just to pay you to write the article. 🙂

  2. Girl™

    Sure, it’s easier for them to pay me to write the article. But what if they already know about 3 very good freelance writers – and then take my idea and suggest this to one of them?

    I guess I’m still trying to figure out how to get my foot in the door.

    1. philangelus

      Magazines are always looking for good freelancers. If they already have three good freelance writers, what’s to say one of those isn’t so good she’s about to move up to writing for the dollar-a-word glossies? Right?

      They could also steal your article if you wrote the whole thing and didn’t like it.

      Have you gone to http://writing-world.com/ ? Moira Allen wrote “Starting Your Career As A Freelance Writer” and she discusses this in depth, and she has good tips for getting your foot in the door.

  3. Girl™

    Thanks for the link, I didn’t know about that site. I’ll check it out 🙂

  4. Jason Black

    Here’s mine:

    Almost nobody has sufficient skill in the craft of writing or in story structure analysis to actually give useful feedback as to how you can improve a book; anybody can tell you whether they liked it or not, but almost nobody can tell you _why_ such that you can do anything about it.

    1. philangelus

      I’ve been blessed with a dozen people who’ve been able to tell me why something was not working, why something *was* working, or what new areas I should be exploring. Not everyone, but many people.

      Most people will be able to raise issues, though, and you’ll be able to figure out how to fix the problem areas.

      And maybe people are lying to me, but I’ve edited manuscripts for folks who say that when I analyzed their material and made suggestions, it greatly improved the story.

      1. Jason Black

        You’re very fortunate. Don’t be surprised, though, if as you write more and your skill improves, the number of people who are able to provide you with meaningful, actionable critique shrinks to practically nothing. 🙂

        That’s been my experience, anyway: friends, family, and co-workers aren’t writers. They may enjoy the story, but they’re not the kind of people who read “Manuscript Makeover” or “Bird by Bird” in their spare time. I appreciate their opinions, but rare and golden is the friend who can actually tell me “Oh, this thing you wrote here struck me as a minor POV break because of such-and-such” or “I know your MC is adrift in a fish-out-of-water situation, but in the first several chapters, he doesn’t really _do_ anything. Try to have him drive the scenes more, even if his efforts fall flat on their face.”

        Even most of the people I know who _are_ writers, haven’t learned to be sufficiently analytical about the craft of writing to be able to do that. Good feedback is just damned hard to find…

        1. philangelus

          Ivy and Wendy are good for that, actually. If you want, you and I could swap short-piece critiques at some point and you could see if I measure up. 🙂

          The way you describe it, it sounds like St. Teresa of Avila trying to find a decent spiritual director. 🙂

    2. Ivy Reisner

      First level of feedback–does the language work? Are the words being used properly? Do the sentences vary in length, complexity, and structure and do so in synch with the emotions of the scene? Is anything confusing? Anyone can answer those.

      Can you picture things as they are described? Do you feel lost in a blank void or do you feel cluttered out by all the description?

      Does the pacing work? Do you feel bored at points, or that a scene is too fast to take in?

      In the original Doom, the penultimate boss, the cyber-demon lord is more powerful than the ultimate boss, that funny spider thing. Many players can tell you it felt anti-climactic, and that’s a clear response to an error in story (and game) structure that says the challenges have to get tougher until the end.

      Now, that’s not to say all critics are created equal. People read at different levels, or might not read in the genre you’re writing in, or might twist the story in a direction you never intended.

    3. Ken Rolph

      Um. There are these people called editors. They do that sort of thing. That’s what they do. They train for it. They practise it. They get good at it. You just need to find one.

      1. philangelus

        My novella’s editor was very good at spotting problem areas, and also awesome about not insisting I use her suggested solution when I fixed them. I was very thankful that she was so willing to work with me, and the novella is so much better now than it was a couple of months ago.

  5. cricketB

    Read the story out loud, with attention, as if you were performing it, and the audience has to follow. Also, scan a paragraph, then say it in your own words. If you used different words speaking than writing, why? These steps catch awkward wording and flow issues, pacing, grammar, sentence length, topic jumps, that sort of thing. It creates prose that can be enjoyed word-by-word, rather than requires scanning, allowing your exact choice of words to be more effective.

    Open characters’ heads and noodle around. My training is tech writing, not read for pleasure. Readers want to get it over with ASAP. As opposed to leisure reading, where they count hours of enjoyment. My latest pre-reader opened up my character’s skull and showed me how she’d do it. Seeing it done for my own character was much more useful than seeing it done on others’ characters didn’t.