Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WRITING 411: What I learned about writing from day job

This originally appeared in the Heartbeat Newsletter in the spring of 2009.

I am a Real Estate Appraiser by day, and a romance writer all the time. I never considered the fact that the two had anything in common until recently. Someone recently made a comment about having a light bulb moment while judging a contest.

About that time I was doing what is known as a “Review Appraisal”. They are not my favorite things in the world, just like I know judging writing contest isn’t a favorite for many of us. But sometimes it’s doing things that take us a little out of our comfort zone that we need to do most. Let me say that again ~ sometimes it is what takes us out of our comfort zone that we need the most.

Why? Am I into self-torture? No! Let me try to explain. What I have discovered both by judging contest and by doing review appraisals is ~ sometimes it is so much easier to see a flaw in someone’s work. It’s easy to pick out things we might be guilty of in our own work.

I truly believe it is next to impossible to see and recognize certain things in our own writing… at times. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say ~ I know what it’s supposed to say. I know what it’s supposed to accomplish. I know why the scene is here and what it is supposed to do for the plot or pace. Do I see what I actually wrote? What it failed to accomplish? That I used the word ‘said’ or ‘that’ twenty times? In a word ~ No. Not easily, anyway.

But give me a contest entry that tells and fails to show? Wham, I’m all over it. Used ‘that’ twelve times in two pages? Got that too. Sharp change of pace/or scene? I’m giving them hell (well in my head I am). And the list could go on.
But let me read the same three pages I wrote twenty times - can I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ (if I am reading out loud) where I’m telling and not showing? No! I can’t. It’s hard for me to catch. But at times I can see flaws in my writing much more clearly after judging a contest or doing a critique.

As most are aware I recently signed a contract on a novella. What you might not know is… it’s something I wrote in 2002 (2nd manuscript I ever finished). I pulled it out last year, cut a few things, generally did a quick polish and entered it in a contest, where it was a finalist. After ten months, they passed. Not because of the writing, because the hero wasn’t Alpha enough. I wasn’t surprised – I knew he wasn’t ‘all alpha’. I’d made up my mind on which ePublisher I wanted to target with several novellas I have completed. So when I got confirmation the publisher was passing, I attached the file to an email and submitted. I didn’t read the manuscript I figured it must be in okay shape if it had been one of four to final out of hundreds.

Once I got offer, the editor asked me to send in the latest version before it goes to the first round of copy edits. Well um, what they had was the only version. So I asked if I could have two weeks.

In the meantime the publisher sent me the house style guide and getting started instructions. As I went over the novella, I did the formatting, etc. But what shocked me the most - the over-used words & general need to tighten. I’m a little shocked at the contest final and the contract. But am thankful for both.
Which brings me to… What hat am I wearing?

This where Appraising and Writing turn similar for me. Doing a Review Appraisal is a whole like editing my writing. A few things they have in common…Watch what you say and how you say it ~ In appraising there are words we don’t use and there are words we do use. Appear is a word we like. The storage shed can appear to be approximately 12x12. NOT, The storage shed is 12x12. In writing there are certain words considered to be ‘junk’ words (and boy do I love them!). So I keep a list and look out for my junk words.

Was the best _______ used? In appraising it has to do with data/comparables/etc. In writing it has to do with everything. If you’ve judged a contest think of the things you look for while reading the entries and keep it in mind as you go over your own writing. Try to look at your work from a distance, try to become detached. This is what I do when I do “review appraisals” and no w I can see it is what I need to do when “editing”.

Disclosure? In appraising it’s a big deal. In writing think of things like– did I get my point across? Did I show enough emotion? Did this move the plot forward?
Know your market! In Appraising it’s a must. I could not pick and go to New Orleans and do the same job I do in the six or seven surrounding Parishes I work in daily. I don’t know the Greater New Orleans market. I do know the market for the Greater Baton Rouge area. In writing we have all heard KNOW YOUR MARKET! It’s imperative to know where your writing fits. You must know what genre(s) you are writing and what publishers accept those genres and/or what agents to query.

And the list could go on, but I’m wrapping it up.

Keeping this in mind, I plan to read my work wearing a different hat from now on. And in a way it’s a lot like what I do in my day job. I step away from each appraisal and go back over it before it goes out. Distance is the key. In our rushed society we sometimes don’t have the time to give ourselves the distance we might need.

In closing, I say put when you sit down to work on your manuscript, know which hat you need to pull out. Wear your creative writing hat when you open your file to write. Wear your editor/judge hat when you edit. And I wish you the best no matter which hat you choose.


Post a Comment