Nancy: The Fine Art of Receiving a Critique

Last week, Jeanne discussed critiquing manuscripts for newbie writers, and yesterday Justine talked about revising (and revising, and revising!) the opening chapters of the first book in her historical romance series. With both of these posts on my mind and no less than three (three!) revisions of my own to complete, from minor tweaks in one story to major revisions in another to something in between on the third, today I’m thinking about the best way to bridge the gap between getting back comments from a trusted critiquer and putting a revision plan into action.

We’ve discussed a lot of the steps I’m going to suggest here at 8LW in the past, and much of the way the Ladies approach critique work is based on the guidance Jenny Crusie* gave us while we studied with her in our McDaniel writing program. But with so many of us knee deep (or eyeballs deep) in the critique and revision process, let’s revisit some of the basics, ICYMI (or ICYNAR – in case you need a refresher). Continue reading

Jilly: Brainstorm Ahead

Hope you’re having a lovely summer’s weekend, especially if you’re in the US, celebrating independence from we pesky Brits. Enjoy! 😀

There’s no time to party at Casa Jilly. We’ve now survived three weeks of building repair work, complete with regulation noise and mess. Many of the bathroom fittings are in the garden, looking like postmodern statuary. Everything inside the house is coated in plaster particles, including us. I have to clean the sofa each day before I sit on it.

I’d love to take a few days off until the dust settles (ha!), but there are only three weeks left until I fly to Orlando for RWA National, and I’m already behind schedule. I have to get my draft finished, and I want to spend some time planning how best to use my brainstorming session with Jeanne, Kay, Elizabeth, Kat and Michille.

Continue reading

Nancy: Today’s Word is Theme

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

Judging by my posts this month, it seems I’ve spent most of January thinking about keywords that apply to my writing life and process, including intention, patience, and empathy. This past week, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about theme as a result of the confluence of disparate elements.

First, a quick definition of theme as I’m using it here, from “The theme of a novel or story is the major message that organizes the entire work…The theme of a work is distinct from its subject, which is what the story is ostensibly “about.” The theme is an expression of the writer’s views on that subject.”

On Wednesday, Elizabeth wrote about defining what you stand for, as well as what your characters stand for, to help uncover potential conflicts, arcs, and growth opportunities. In the comments section, Jeanne and Elizabeth wrote about the way an author’s view of the meaning of a work can change through the writing process. With this in mind, it makes sense that many writers get their first (or second or fifth) draft on the page, then step back and analyze the work to uncover the theme. Why look for the theme? Continue reading

Nancy: A Diamond in the Rough: Opening Scene

rough_diamondThis past week, I’ve been struggling with a side project, which is actually yet another revision of an old project, the Women’s Fiction manuscript I wrote during our McDaniel classes. The book is complete. It’s been through beta readers and revisions. It even made the rounds to a few agents and was roundly rejected. There was a lot of positive feedback in those rejections, but some negative comments as well. And the kicker was that story aspects some readers saw as positives and even loved, others saw as negatives.

Over the months of those rejections, I slowly (and painfully) made peace with the possibility that this book just wasn’t going to connect with publishing gatekeepers. Maybe someday I’d self-publish it, maybe not, but either way, other projects and deadlines and career choices called.

While I was finally ready to pack that old story into a drawer, my brain had other plans. I’d be happily immersed in 1870’s London with my new cast of characters when the three modern women from a rural Virginia town would take over my mind’s limited bandwidth. I’d be catching up with writing friends and discussing current projects, and my conversation would drift back to that old manuscript and we’d ponder what its fatal flaw might be.

The final straw came when I dreamed about the book. I spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming about my characters and plot lines. I also tend to have vivid dreams. But rarely do these two things intertwine. I almost never dream about my writing projects. This story was different. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t quit it.

To end the constant interruptions, I decided to carve out a few hours of each day’s writing time to reread that old story in an attempt to figure out where it went wrong and whether I could rescue it. What better place to start than at the beginning? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Back to Basics – The Conflict

Stories Yet To Be WrittenIn last week’s Back-to-Basics post I talked about the characters in the new contemporary romance, tentatively titled Second Chances, that I’ve been working on (when I need a break from working on revisions to The Traitor).

Thanks to a variety of character worksheets, some free-writing, and a fair amount of staring off into space, I have a (reasonably) good idea about who my characters are and what makes them tick. So, to continue with my plan to put a strong foundation in place before starting to write, rather than just winging it and hoping everything will work itself out by the end of the book, it’s time to move on to the next story element.

This week my focus is on: Conflict Continue reading

Nancy: The 7 C’s of Entrepreneurial Writers

Fun fact: Swarthmore College's campus is also the Scott Arboretum. Every tree and flower has a plaque with its Latin name on it.

Fun fact: Swarthmore College’s campus is also the Scott Arboretum. Every tree and flower has a plaque with its Latin name on it.

Like all the ladies here at 8LW, and probably most of our followers, I wear many hats in the course of a month, week, sometimes even day. While I’d like to be a hardcore ‘pen monkey’, as Chuck Wendig calls writers, a lot more of the time, there are times when I have to put on my Responsible Adult/Woman in Industry/Small Business Owner hat. (It seems even my hats wear hats!)

This past week was light on writing and heavy on day-job business for me. As proof, I even spent Saturday at an entrepreneur’s conference at Swarthmore College, alma mater of both my husband and my daughter. The college prides itself on having a culture of diversity, inclusiveness, and social consciousness, so even this business-centric conference was slanted toward what entrepreneurs in the dog-eat-dog business world could do to make the world a better place. That got me thinking about us writers, out here in the cold cruel world, and what we, in our own small way, can do to make the world a more diverse, inclusive, and socially conscious place. Continue reading

Nancy: Reading Like a Student of Writing

Nancy's Favorites Bookshelf

If there’s one thing we discuss here at 8LW nearly as much as writing books, it’s reading books. And why wouldn’t we? One of the things all of us ladies have in common is that before we were writers, we were avid readers. We continue to read fiction and to use what it teaches us to apply to our own writing. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

While being a good reader is essential to being a good writer, I try to keep the time dedicated to those activities separate. This is necessary to getting words on the page. But if I’m having a bad day/week/month of writing, I’ve been known to allow myself extra reading time. It keeps my head in the fiction game, I tell myself. If I’m not spending my writing time writing, at least I’m using the hours to study craft, I say. And that’s fine when it’s true.

Unfortunately, sometimes my claims that I’m reading instead of writing because I’m learning is as fictional as the books I write. Continue reading

Nancy: On Gratitude

Season of Gratitude

Those of you living in the States know that this coming Thursday is the day we Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. For many, this is a day of hectic traveling and imprudent overeating. But it’s also a day of gathering together with loved ones and reflecting on the things in our lives for which we’re grateful.

It shouldn’t take a special holiday to make us realize the wonderful things in our lives and show gratitude for them. But speaking for myself, I get busy, caught up in life, and don’t always take time to acknowledge how fortunate I am. So, in the spirit of the season Continue reading

Nancy: My Story in Pictures


If you’ve visited Jenny Crusie’s ArghInk recently, you’ve seen the most recent collage she’s been creating for a new writing project. If you haven’t seen it, you really should go take a look. It involves carpentry, painting, pictures. It’s a 3-dimensional peek into the story world she and collaborators are creating.

Collage was one of the story discovery tools we discussed during our McDaniel coursework. This is a picture of the collage I did for My Girls during our discovery module. Note that it’s in 2-D. It isn’t fabulous or beautiful or awe-inspiring. It involves simple cut-out pictures and phrases arranged in groupings. But that collage hangs in my office to this day, and even though I’ve revised the story and not the collage, it provides a touchstone when I need to recapture a particular mood or element of the story. Continue reading

Nancy: Characters: Do Looks Matter?

Casting Call for Your Novel

When is the last time you stopped to think about the physical appearance of your characters? And how have you conveyed that appearance to your readers, especially that of your 1st or deep 3rd POV characters? I’ve been pondering the best way to do this in my current WIP after realizing that nowhere in the first (and second) draft did I describe Ellen, the main protagonist.

Part of the problem might be that I don’t consciously visualize a character when I’m developing or writing her (or him). I tend to have a very general, nebulous image of the character which only becomes clearer to me as I write her story. By the time I’ve gotten through a few chapters, I have a really clear image of each character. By then, I’m past the point of character introductions. Dropping in a physical description that late in the game is likely to pull the reader out of the experience, especially if she’s been envisioning the character entirely differently. Continue reading