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A long time ago
I wrote a book for my teenage daughter, two years’ worth of long hand as I
didn’t even have a typewriter back then. My family viewed my ambition as
‘Vicki’s little hobby’. I guess my parents thought it kept me out of trouble
and accepted that in spite of all their best efforts to the contrary writing,
like horses, would always be a part of my life. Don’t get me wrong, my parents
were great but I came from one of those very traditional British families where
reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic were all that mattered and artists of any ilk
were an altogether different breed and therefore viewed with suspicion.
I didn’t really
start writing seriously until I reached my mid-fifties and suffered the same anxiety
as do many newbie authors of any age. Was I good enough? Would people want to
read my books? How could I compare with Maeve Binchy – hello-o, how silly a thought
was that! Maeve is incomparable.
endlessly not on just a first chapter or even a first paragraph but on that
first line, the all important hook before I really understood what that
actually meant. I took writing classes and at my very first workshop received
two pieces of priceless advice. One, ‘write the damn book’, and two, ‘learn to
love re-writing’. My tutor explained that while writing is often fun, it is
also a craft to be learned and very few, if any, authors come to it fully
fledged as it were.
I joined one writers
group that got me started on my writing path then another that got me focused.
CaRWA is the Calgary chapter of Romance Writers of America and it was after our
AGM in 2011 that our then president talked about collaborative writing and
stated she could write a book with any of us. That was a real ‘Aha’ moment, and
by the end of the day, with maybe a glass or two of wine to sustain us, Bandit
Creek Books was born and thirty-three authors set to work.
Our one criterion
was that as a professional writing organization, we needed our books to reflect
that. This was at a time when e-books were increasingly popular and not all
were as well written as they might have been. We all agreed that we would work
with critique partners to avoid the mistakes we were so frequently seeing and
hearing about and hopefully avoid the flak surrounding self-published books.
And that was
when I learnt to give up my baby. Oh, the agonies of having someone else
actually read my book. Even though I so badly wanted to be published it was
still hard to let my pages go. But what I learned from that experience is that
you do need another pair of eyes. My critique partners pick me up on incorrect
or missing punctuation, catch me on word usage, query character arcs and plot
points. When I have revised accordingly I send out to willing beta readers who
inevitably pick up on something all of us have missed.
I learnt about
formatting and how important spacing is – to the extent that I now usually
write with the pilcrow symbol turned on so I can get rid of those darned extra
spaces that always creep in when I’m not looking. I quickly learned to not
trust Spell-check which does not differentiate between those tricky little
homonyms, words with the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings
like dog (animal) and dog (to follow) or punch (to hit) and punch (a drink)
because they are proper words.
Nor does Spell-check
help you with homophones, words with the same pronunciation but different
spelling and meaning. Think about ‘bridal’ and ‘bridle’ as examples, or ‘air’
and ‘heir’ and my all time favorite, ‘cereal’ and ‘serial’. I recently bought a
new Regency romance and was really disappointed to read the phrase, ‘he threw
his reigns at the groom’. That kind of mistake will pull me out of a story
every time and makes me question the skill of the proof reader or wonder if
there even was one.
I know I still
make mistakes despite my Strunk & White’s Style Guide, or the Chicago
Manual of Style and The New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary. My favorite
go-to grammar book for enlightenment on misplaced modifiers, mixed metaphors or
correct use of apostrophes is the saucy little Comma Sutra by Laurie Rozakis.
Yes, that tutor
was right. I did write the damn book, and a couple more besides, but I can’t
say I learnt to love re-writing. I did, however, come to accept it as part of a
writer’s life along with the polishing and honing I feel is necessary in order
to offer my reader the quality product they deserve.