Three months later, my fledgling novel had progressed slowly. Then my wife saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for a writer’s conference in Asheville, N.C.
Not knowing what to expect, I loaded my raw, unfinished manuscript in the car and headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains for five days. The Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference provided a plethora of classes on subjects such as character development, dialogue, and novel-writing. But one of the best opportunities was the chance to meet new friends and make contacts.
There, I met a literary agent who liked my storyline. Then he asked to see my work. I was nervous. I didn’t really want to show it to him. “It’s not ready,” I protested. But at his insistence, I acquiesced. He thumbed through the draft, and then gave me some excellent advice which I will pass to you now.
“When you’ve finished your manuscript, have it professionally edited,” he said. I followed that advice, found the name of a good professional editor, and spent about four hundred dollars for an edit and professional evaluation. The money spent was worth every dime. The editor opened my eyes to issues that as a novice writer, I had never considered. For example, structure. My manuscript was strengthened by rearranging the order of several chapters. I made all the changes that my editor suggested.
One year later, I took the manuscript back to the same writer’s conference. This time, following the professional edit, the manuscript was solid enough to catch the eyes of some of the faculty members on staff. One thing led to another, and nine months later, by the Grace of God, I had a two-book contract.
Writing is a craft. An accomplished New York Times bestselling author can write whatever he/she wants, however he/she wants to write it. But as rookie writers, we can’t afford to make certain mistakes in our writing and be competitive. We cannot afford, for example, to write scenes that have multiple point-of-view shifts with no breaks. Such mistakes will get our manuscripts torpedoed.
So here’s another pointer. Read good books on how to write. Three come to mind that I recommend. Though I’m not a Stephen King fan, his book On Writing is primarily a “how-to” book that I found helpful. My friend and fellow author Robert Whitlow recommended to me Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by, Renni Browne and Dave King. From it, I learned about techniques such as internal monologue, speaker attribution and beats. Finally, take a look at Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. This book is great for ideas on how to “word things.”
Finally, author Davis Bunn said at my first writer’s conference that you aren’t a writer unless you write every day. Here’s my last pointer. Take his advice to heart and write, write, write. Whether it is playing basketball, playing chess, playing the trumpet, or writing books, there is no substitute for practice as a means of improvement.
So there you have it. Here again, are my four pointers. (1) Go to a writer’s conference, where you will network and learn. (2) Have your manuscript edited by a professional editor before submitting it. (3) Read good “how-to” books on the craft. (4) Write, write, and write. You’ll be glad you did.
Good luck, God bless, and I hope we can meet someday.