Back to Basics

Alright guys, I’m going back to basics here. Basis basics.

Around four years ago, I entered my first writing contest through an RWA chapter. I thought I had an amazing book. And even if the entire book wasn’t amazing, the first chapter was–because I’d polished that puppy until it wagged it’s fluffy little tail at me.

Mind you – I had not had anyone critique or beta read my entry. Not one person. Let me throw it out there and see what happens.

And you know when you love something and think it’s good, you think you’re gonna final, right? And if you don’t final, you’ll at least get amazing scores–even they weren’t amazing enough to final. Because that FIRST book with ZERO critique is gonna be a NYT Bestseller.

That was all sarcastic and poking fun at MYSELF four years ago. (P.S. I wasn’t that vain, but I did think it was a good book)

drama queenAnd then I get my scores and they were so bad…so so bad. So bad that I cried. Then I cursed out all the judges (in my head, of course) who didn’t know ANYTHING! Then I stepped back, because I quit writing after that. (draaaammmmmaaaa)

And then looked at the feedback again, and thought: Man, that does suck. It sucks monkeys. How could I ever turn that in for people to judge??

So here’s my advice – from someone who’s been there before. “STOP, DROP, shut ’em down open up shop…” No, wait, that’s the lyrics to the “Ruff Ryders Anthem” Get out of my head DMX!

For real, though – If you are totally new to writing or if you are writing for the first time in YEARS –

Review the BASICS: I’m talking mechanics, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, when to start a new paragraph, how to format dialogue. You need to review all of this before you even THINK about submitting your work to anyone (Including your Cps and betas). You need to know the absolute basics of writing.

PLOT or OUTLINE: I know pantsers are cursing at me write now, but one of the biggest things I see with new writers (including myself back in the day) is that the ideas are all over the place. And sometimes they aren’t fully fleshed out. Or finished. It’s just a jumble from scene to scene with no transition and no…where the hell is this going??? I’m not saying 50 page outlines. But do yourself a favor and write your ideas in short sentences or bullet points. Then you’ll know where you need to explain or add more depth.

ASK WHY: Do it now. Why? Why? Why? You should know the WHY of everything you are doing. And everything your characters are doing. One tiny question can bring out so much. Random Example (not from any of my work): Heroine went to Duke. Why? Because her parents made her. Why? Because they both went there. Why? Because Duke had the best medical program and both of her parents are Drs. <<<<Oh my Damn! Look how much info we just got about the heroine and her family and motivation?? Read between those lines. Lots of pressure. High powered jobs. You can go on and on with WHY.  Make a like a 2 year old and ask WHY! Why? Because I said so. (That answer doesn’t work here, either.)

DON’T RUSH: You have time!! Seriously, there’s no pressure. I know you may go to RWA meetings and conferences see friends and chapter mates who are at a certain stage in their career and IT’S EXCITING!! And you want that!! But there is no rush!! It took those people time to get there. TIME, CRAFT, EDITING (and then repeat those 50 million times). I can’t say it enough. Don’t rush!!

EDIT EDIT EDIT: You know this. You’ve heard this a million times. And there’s a reason for that.

I leave you with the “Ruff Ryders Anthem” because: 1.) Publishing is a Ruff Ride and 2.) I can’t get the song out of my head now. (sorry for any offensive lyrics. I tried to find the clean version)


Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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