Aug 08

Giving Basic Writing Advice

A while ago, I was asked to look over a children’s fiction picture book manuscript. This was not a paying job, just a favor.

The ‘new to writing’ authors, who are both health care professionals, had already been calling major publishers to find out submission requirements. They were told their manuscript would not be looked at without an agent.

So, they went to the library to find a book on top agents.

While this is a worthy endeavor, there are some basic first steps to take before shooting for the stars.

Just glancing at the manuscript, I knew it needed a lot of work. And, interestingly, I was surprised to see so many errors in a simple 600-word story. It seems as we progress in learning the craft of writing, we forget that we didn’t know the very basics at one time either.

So then, I had to figure out what to say to the authors without alienating them or totally discouraging them.

When critiquing or giving writing advice, it’s important to begin with the positive aspects of the manuscript. If the errors are basic and there are a lot of them, you may also want to state them in generic terms, not to offend the author/s.

What does this mean?

Well, it’s not a good idea to say, “You shouldn’t have the children’s picture book manuscript formatted in lists, numbered, or in Australian Sunrise 10pt font.”

Instead, you might say, “Manuscripts are usually preferred typed in New Times Roman 12pt font, and are double spaced using a free form flow with the first sentence of each paragraph indented.

See the difference?

To help with clarity, you could include a first page example of a manuscript you have, or rewrite the 1st paragraph or two of the authors’ manuscript.

If there are just too many errors, for time’s sake you can make a list of proper manuscript formatting tips. This is the approach I took.

I started out with the ‘positive:’

This is a wonderful idea for a children’s book and has great potential, especially that both of you are professionals in the health field. Children will certainly benefit from the story’s information. It could use some tweaking, though.

Then I added the following:

Here are a few tips for writing and formatting a manuscript to help get it submission ready:

• Manuscripts should be formatted in 12 pt Times New Roman Font
• They should be double spaced
• They should be in free form without numbering for pages or in list form
• The first sentence of each paragraph should be indented
• Children love action – actions are better shown through ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’
• Notes for illustrations after each of your intended pages are usually frowned upon by publishers
• Most publishers, especially the major ones use their own illustrators
• Manuscripts are more likely to make it past the slush pile if they are polished
• Usually writers go through a process of one or two critique groups and writing groups. After rewrites and editing it gets to a point where it looks perfect. That’s when it needs to be professionally edited.

These tips are part of the advice I offered the authors and I kept it as generic as possible.

After you note the manuscript errors, you should end your advice on another positive note. You might say, “With rewriting and editing, you will have an engaging story that children will be sure to love, and it’ll be submission ready.”

I then provided several writing links about writing for children and editing.

Since every author’s personality is different it’s usually best to use the gentle approach when offering writing advice.

LIKE THIS POST? PLEASE SHARE!

Writing Help

Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

Articles on writing for children

3 Reasons Editing Should Come Before Self-Publishing

Opening Paragraphs

Writing Success – Do You Really Have the Power?



Jul 19

Writing Critique Groups – Dos and Don’ts

Critiques and Authors

Contributed by Linda Wilson

The purpose of a critique is to sift out what’s wrong. Showcased is your polished masterpiece, ready for publication. Explore your options until you find the most effective, longest lasting way to vet your work.

While working as a freelance writer, my family moved frequently. Luckily, through membership with organizations such as SCBWI, I found a writing group at each juncture. The information gathered here comes from my own membership in different types of groups.

Join a Critique Group or Start your Own. Gather interested prospective members. Make sure each writer is:

-Serious: willing to devote time studying her craft while practicing it.
Dependable: can be counted on to come to meetings and review members’ work.

-Honest: willing to let members know where she stands, as a beginner, intermediate or advanced writer.
Open: lets members know ahead of time what type of writing she would like to have reviewed.

-Communicative: gives her input on everything from critiquing to helping to run the group.

Establish a leader.

Decide how many members are desired.

Decide the type of writing preferred, if any. For example:

-Open Group: Allows all kinds of writing at any level. The advantages are many.

The variety of different types of writing gives the group widely varying points of view. One of the groups I belonged to had a poet, three article writers, and an adult novelist. The group expanded my world.

-Closed Group: Offers members who write only in your genre and are at about the same level. Advantages include powerful know-how in your genre. Potential for longer critiques is possible. Partnering among members is possible for more frequent and indepth critiques. Also, members can help each other stay abreast of conferences, webinars, informational books, etc.

When I wrote biosketches for Biography Today, I had deadlines which weren’t easy to keep because of my daughters’ activities. My writing partner spent one entire day helping me crank out one of my assignments so I could meet the deadline. Whew!

Agree on one of the following:

-No Homework: a writer brings a chapter, a section or a few pages of a work to be read on the spot. The writer can read her own work or ask another member to read it. During the reading, each member takes notes on a separate piece of paper. After the reading the members go round- robin to share their notes then give their note paper to the writer to take home.

-Homework: each piece of writing is emailed to members by an agreed-upon date, no exceptions. Members critique the work at home and share their results at the meeting. Members’ copies are then given to the writer to take home. Writer brings her own copy of her work so she can follow along during the critiques. Critiquer is given a specified amount of time to explain her critique and the writer is given a specific amount of time to ask questions or comments. I’ve belonged to both types of groups and really have no preference. I found both Open and Closed Groups effective as long as they were run productively.

-A timer: members agree on the amount of time given to each critiquer. Enough time is given so that no one feels rushed. There can be exceptions, along as everyone agrees, if a writer needs more time. However, this is an important rule, especially if the group is large. Everyone deserves a critique. There is nothing worse than having one person take up so much time that the meeting either lasts too long (and everyone gets exhausted, which can weaken enthusiasm), or there isn’t enough time for everyone to share their work.

-Cut the Chit Chat: be firm about saving chit chat for later because it’s easy to fall into this trap and lose the main purpose for meeting.
Food or No Food: meet at a public place, if possible, such as a room at the library. Meeting in people’s homes can be way too comfortable. These kinds of meetings can incur a serious loss of productivity. One of my favorite groups solved this by having two pot luck meetings a year, summer and winter, at lunchtime. We still worked but relaxed and visited. We even brought white elephant gifts for our winter get-together (in someone’s home) during the holidays.

-Show, don’t tell: spend one (or more) entire revision sit-downs combing your ms for “telling” statements. Turn those into “showing” your readers what’s going on.

-Nonfiction articles: one editor’s advice was simple. Answer the W’s in the first two (or three) paragraphs. Then the rest of your article is the How.

-Nonfiction articles and books: Before embarking on your idea (and spending time on it), make sure you have acquired the photos.

Write it plain, then make it pretty: I heard this during an editor’s talk and have followed it ever since. It’s a great tool. The first time(s) “getting it down” you can’t possibly expect your writing to shine. All you’re doing is pouring your soul onto paper. After you’re sure you’ve written everything you want to say, put your ms for a rest. When you pick it up again, make your writing more interesting; splather your personality all over the page; give it your all.

-Entertain your reader: Just like being a host at a party; if you’re having fun, your reader will have fun.

When in doubt, research: if you’re stuck (have writer’s block) it might mean that you need to do more research. Fiction and nonfiction alike both have to be accurate, so perhaps you need to spend some time looking something up to learn more about it. If you’re stuck on a non-research-type problem, then you might need to rest a bit and do a THINK. One of my writing instructors talked about BIG THINKS a lot. We all keep pen and paper with us at all times. Who knows, you might solve the problem by suggesting what you need before you go to sleep at night. The problem could be solved in the morning or in a few days, depending on the size of the problem. If you can identify the problem as a plot problem, a characterization problem, etc., then study the area in question. You might find your answer there. I think we all know, too, that often our answers come while we’re sewing, doing a flower arrangement, or on a walk. So sometimes it’s best to do something else that’s creative to relax your mind. It often kickstarts your imagination into doing wondrous things.

-Sit your reader down across the table: and talk to him. Tell him your story. You can try this out loud if you’ve come to a snag.

Write while sitting on the edge of your seat: that’s how you want your reader to be, so engrossed in your story that their eyes light up and their super excited about your story.

Remember this wisdom from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

This article was first published at:

http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/11/critique-groups-dos-and-donts.html

Author Linda Wilson

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney’s online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. Wilson’s first ghostly mystery chapter book is out! is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

This article was first published at: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/11/critique-groups-dos-and-donts.html

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Point of View and Children’s Storytelling

Storytelling – Don’t Let the Reader Become Disengaged

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction – Similarities and Differences

Writing – It’s Not Wise to Revise Too Soon

LIKE THIS ARTICLE? PLEASE SHARE!