Join a writing group, they said when I was starting out.
I was skeptical.
Now, here I am a year and a half into writing groups. My friend Karl, himself an exciting writer, has helped me restructure the beginning of my first novel and suggested an important twist that will carry into my second. Miranda, an editor, has ever-so-nicely restructured my query letter to be shorter and better.
Those are the obvious and wonderful advantages. The more subtle part is that I have heard many different voices speaking from different points of view … short story, YA, romance, science fiction. I have sampled good (and, as valuable, bad) examples of the craft of writing. I have seen other people’s characters jump off the page. I have become a better writer with a lot of help from my friends.
Another reason for my dilatory behavior with respect to this blog is that been polishing my query letter for Hack the Yak and have come to realize that style is all. For instance, ‘dilatory behavior’ probably doesn’t belong in my query, given its soporific effect on a 21st century reader. While good writing is thought to be timeless, style changes pretty dramatically over time. Here’s the equivalent of a query letter from 1706:
I HAVE put into thy hands what has been the diversion of some of my idle and heavy hours. If it has the good luck to prove so of any of thine, and thou hast but half so much pleasure in reading as I had in writing it, thou wilt as little think thy money, as I do my pains, ill bestowed. Mistake not this for a commendation of my work; nor conclude, because I was pleased with the doing of it, that therefore I am fondly taken with it now it is done. This, Reader, is the entertainment of those who let loose their thoughts, and follow them in writing; which thou oughtest not to envy them, since they afford thee an opportunity of the like diversion. (John Locke, a letter accompanying An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and addressed to: the Right Honourable Lord Thomas, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, Barron Herbert of Cardiff, Lord Ross, of Kendal, Par, Fitzhugh, Marmion, St. Quintin, and Shurland;
Lord President of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council;
And Lord Lieutenant of the County of Wilts, and of South Wales.)