Thursday, April 23, 2015

Letting My Baby Go by Victoria Chatham

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.
I worked 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.

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