Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Developing Characters

One of the best things about writing fiction is creating and developing new characters. Usually it’s not enough just to have a character talk and do things, as though totally scripted and predictable. It’s much more satisfying as a writer and for the reader, if the characters come alive on the page.

Everybody has their own foibles, small idiosyncrasies that most people never get to see. When developing a character, I like to create these wee things as well. Every minor thing a character does, be it the way they lift a glass or react when someone mentions travelling on a plane; every decision as to a character’s personality is a conscious one.

Well, most of the time it is. Some characters take over the reigns of deciding what is best for them and sometimes it’s just best to sit back and enjoy the ride. I like to let them do the talking and make the decisions; it’s good as a writer and usually it works out fine for the story.

But thinking up new characters isn’t always easy. I have two main sources of inspiration: magazines and the public.

In magazines or newspapers I look for pictures of people who look like they have a story to tell. It may be an elderly lady lying in hospital or a young thug arrested for breach of the peace, but they all have something to say, something written on their face that gives them depth, something that belies their behaviour, perhaps.

Very often these characters come to life in extraordinary ways, such as a simple news story or an advert for hair gel. Their name pops straight into my head and their background starts to unravel naturally. I write all this down and cut out their picture, then stick it away inside a folder for a day when I need that character. Sometimes they go straight into a story, but either way if they are interesting enough then when they are included in a story they will add something extra, something special to a work of fiction.

The second method is people watching. Simply sitting on a bus or in a crowded place can very often throw the most interesting people and conversations into your path. With a notebook and pencil handy, these people very often make it into my stories without ever knowing they were involved.

Guessing what they do for al living, how and where they live, who the people they are with (if any) are all interesting aspects that help build up a characters personality. As are how they wear their hair, their clothes and make-up or just the shape and colour of their eyes. Very often the rest just falls into place.

But there is an art to this. One can’t just sit staring at people in bars or trains. It would cause a stir and most likely the attention of the local constabulary. Some people don't like to be stared at, so it is useful to pretend to be doing something else.

People watching can have its upside though. While in a bar in Edinburgh I was people watching with a friend. There was a group of people at a table, a mixture of young males and females and they all made interesting characters, especially one girl. She was full of energy and seemed to be the soul of the group. She spotted me listening in and approached me. To cut a long story short I ended up having a relationship with her. It also turned out she was high up in the Scottish Parliamentary system, so I got a lot of research done for an as yet unwritten best-selling political thriller.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our Writing Minds

A recent article by Steven Hendlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from Newport Beach, California is a must read, covering the overall bases behind the creative elements attached to plotting a story that captures the minds of all who read it, as well as the emotional "highs and lows" we sometimes face throughout our journeys in the writing craft. Dr. Hendlin has been in private practice for 30 years and is formerly a columnist for TheStreet.com. He currently writes the Shrink Rap column for Coast Magazine, and is the author of four books and hundreds of professional and popular articles, reviews, and columns.

This recent article is being offered this month at Backspace The Writer's Place, and is very aptly titled Your Write Mind

Do check this one out if you can.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's your Genre?

This can be a tricky question. There are SO many genres out there these days. Gone are the days when the main genres were Literary Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Nonfiction, etc.

So, if I'm writing a novel (fiction) with elements of romance, suspense, mystery and history, would it be considered a mysterious romantic historical thriller? Or would I take the heavier element and call it that?

I'd say the latter. If you find romance is the dominant theme, start with Romance. There are so many to choose from--Romantic thrillers, paranormal romances, gay romances, historical romances, etc. The lesser elements would define which category within Romance you fall into.

Does this make sense? Literary Agent Kristin Nelson said it perfectly in today's blog entry: (you can read it here)

"I’ll get a cover letter that will say something like this: “my story is a blend of science fiction and romantic comedy with elements of suspense. It can be called Chick Lit.” Huh? It is only the extraordinary writer who can outrageously defy genre boundaries and become a phenomenal success. It just doesn’t happen often. You need to know where your novel fits in the market."

This is directly from the Horse's mouth, folks. You need to nail down your genre--it will be hard, but you can do it!

I write YA historicals with fantasy/paranormal elements, and of course I throw in a little romance and suspense and mystery and thrills and chills.

But if you ask me what I write, I'll tell you I write YA.

If I can do it, you can do it! :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Jealousy and Envy

“God. You must really hate it when someone in your writing group gets a contract.”

I get tired of hearing that line. Because, actually, when someone I know gets a contract for a piece of writing, I’m thrilled. I’m delighted. I do a little dance of joy.

Getting published is not a competition, as much as industry professionals try to turn it into blood sport. Yes, each publisher can only afford to contract a finite number of books. Yes, it’s difficult to become one of those.

However, human beings have an insatiable need for stories. And there are as many different points of view as there are individuals. You find the right match, agent and publisher wise, and your book comes out. Then, you hunt down your readers. And, maybe, you might get ten or fifteen minutes to actually do what it is you want to do, which is write your next book, and thereby build a career.

“Jealousy” means you’re worried about losing something or overly possessive. One actually has to have a career in the field in order to be jealous of someone else in the field. It is motivated by fear that if someone else does well, it means you will suffer. That’s simply not true.

Most people buy books. Not “book”, but “books”. When I stand in line for checkout at a bookstore, I snoop. I take a look at what the other buyers are buying. It’s terribly selfish – I want to know which of these are my potential readers. Or, in some cases, if they’re carrying a volume including my work, they are an actual reader, and I’m quite pleased. One thing I’ve noticed, standing in line in bookstores, is the variety of books people tend to bring to the counter. They are far more likely to simply add another book to the pile than put one back.

I think that’s a good sign. And it’s one of many reasons that jealousy is a waste of time.

“Envy” is seeing someone else have something you want and resenting it. Unpublished writers often envy published writers. A midlist writer might envy someone who topped the best seller list. It’s natural.

It’s also unnecessary. If you feel that momentary pang of envy, ask yourself why you don’t have what the other person has (i.e, a career in the field you love). And then take steps to get it. After all, you don’t want someone else’s actual career. You want your own career that is on an equal level to the person who sparked the envy.

Envy can be a positive emotion. You can use it as a catalyst to re-evaluate what’s missing in your own life and take positive steps to achieve it.

If you sit there and stew in these emotions, you’ll poison yourself. Wouldn’t your time and energy be better spent . . .writing?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scotland - Not Scottish Enough

Irvine Welsh's novel, Ecstasy, was controversial enough back in 1997 for accurately portraying (glorfying?) what it's like to be under the influence of an ecstasy tablet. Nine years on, and Welsh seems to be unable to remove himself from these close-encounters, but this time it’s the movie-makers who are in a strop over the drug-addled story.

Irvine's seventh book is currently filming in Scotland with stars such as Trevor Eve, John Hannah and Kathleen McDermott, but in a few weeks the entire production is scheduled to be moved down south to England to complete production.

Why the shift? Producers were told by the backers, Scottish Screen, that the project did not qualify for lottery funding as the locations "weren't Scottish enough" to be shot in Scotland.

Scottish Screen have been arguing with the producers over a true Scottish location for some time now and as a result, the £6 million movie about Edinburgh's drug scene will now be filmed on the streets of Liverpool.

Is it that Liverpool has a suitable backdrop equivalent to that of Edinburgh? Or is it that the world's perception of Scotland, and in particular it's cancerous drug-addicted section of society, is worse than it is in reality?

This may of course be down to the success of such films like Trainspotting, which exposed the world to the effects of heroin from an Edinburgh council estate (shot in Glasgow!) A victim of his own success, Welsh may be, but does Scotland deserve to be treated this way when it is trying to remove itself from the drug and alcohol stereotypes we read about almost daily?

I'm sure moving the location of the story to Liverpool will give the film a harder, more deprecating feel, after all, everyone knows the streets of Liverpool are riddled with needles, discarded tin-foil and single mothers with nothing better to do than neglect their kids for the chance of a quick hit.

When the Liverpudlians find out their city is perceived as being relative to the lowest of the Scottish low, maybe they will unite with the people of Edinburgh and voice it to the world that Scotland, England and Britain may have a drug problem, but why should we tell the world it is worse than it is just to make the fat-cat movie producers a bit of holiday cash.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Poet Named Stevie

The name Stevie Smith was actually a pseudonym for Florence Margaret Smith (1902-1971), the British writer who is best remembered for her short, simple, yet sometimes very hard-hitting poetry.

Smith was born in Hull, England, but when she was three years old her family moved to the northern London suburb of Palmers Green, where she lived for the rest of her life. Her first and only job was with Newnes-Pearson, British magazine publishers, where she became private secretary to Sir George Newnes and Sir Neville Pearson. She submitted her first volume of poems to British publisher Jonathan Cape when she was 32 years old, but was asked to write a novel instead. Her first book, Novel on Yellow Paper (1936), was an amusing, largely autobiographical monologue. Two other novels in a similar style followed—Over the Frontier (1938) and The Holiday (1949), the story of a failed love affair.

Smith's poetic reputation for amusing, barbed, but often mournful short verses, was established by A Good Time Was Had By All (1937). She achieved fame with Not Waving But Drowning (1957), which has a central concept of loneliness but still retains an underlying comic manner. Four years after her death, The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith (1975), illustrated with Smith's own sketches, was published.

In 1977 Stevie, a stageplay based on her life by British playwright Hugh Whitemore, was produced, with British actress Glenda Jackson in the lead role. The play was made into a successful motion picture in 1978. Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith, Illustrated by Herself, a collection of Smith's reviews, articles, letters, and previously uncollected poetry, was published in 1981.

For me, she was another one of those immensely talented wordsmiths, who sometimes made us laugh -- yet always made us think.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Keeping it Fresh...

So you've been working on The Novel of the Century and cruising forward full-steam--and you're pausing every five minutes to review and rub your hands together in fiendish glee, because you know this is going to be great--and then...PLUNK.

You hit a wall. Or you get in a funk. Or you have "life" happen and lose your stride.

This happens to every writer. Books don't "write themselves." They get written by humans who are flawed, impatient, imperfect, and well...human.

So, once you've hit the wall or "sunk into a funk" (heh heh, say that five times real fast) how can you get out of it, or get over it, and get back into Fabulous Writer Mode?

The answer is simple: Time.

Take some time from the manuscript. Do things that inspire you--listen to music, watch films, take in a Broadway show, read the works of others, and THEN, go back, and see it with fresh eyes.

The difference will be amazing. You will fall in love with it all over again (nine times out of ten) or you'll be able to push through that wall and go for it. Fresh eyes really make all the difference.

Try it next time you find your writing stuck or stifled, or worse, completely stopped.

Time works. Give it a try.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fun Writing

With all the worry about specific writing and detailed writing and sensory writing, too often we forget one thing. To have fun.

Remember the days when you scribbled in a spiral bound notebook while sitting in a park or on a beach?

Recapture those days. Leave the fancy book and pen at home. Get something inexpensive and stain-resistant, shove it in your pocket and GO. Anywhere. You can write as you walk down the street. You can write in any waiting room. You can write in line for the checkout counter.

Sit down, stand up, but just write somewhere that you wouldn’t ordinarily do so. Let the change of scenery change and challenge your imagination.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Top 10 Most Borrowed Authors in UK Libraries

Catherine Cookson, the author who was the librarians favourite for decades with her highly successful romance novels, last week lost her crown of being the most borrowed author from British libraries, when she fell out of the top ten listings for the first time since records began.

Cookson, who died in 1998 aged 91 years old, fell from the top ten of most borrowed authors, to the popular children's author Jacqueline Wilson three years ago. Latest figured placed Cookson at 11th place after Wilson held onto the coveted number one spot for the third year running.

Figures published by the Public Lending Right (PLR) since 1984, indicate that the Tracy Beaker author notched up more than two million loans during 2004/5. Wilson, who is also the current Children's Laureate, said she was "thrilled" to be number one for the third year running.

Chick-lit author Josephine Cox came second followed by Danielle Steel. Crime and thriller writers James Patterson, John Grisham, Ian Rankin and Bernard Cornwell were in the top 10, alongside children's writers Mick Inkpen, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl. Commentators have suggested a change in borrower’s tastes after such notable borrowing figures for writers like Ian Rankin. The Scot has seen his Rebus novels move him into eighth position, a higher slot than was ever expected for writers of his genre.

Five years ago Cookson occupied nine out of the top 10 places in the fiction list. Today the author, with over one hundred published books to her name, has fallen to eleventh and some people are hinting this may not just be down to changing tastes of the country’s readers, but of her ageing fan base.

Simon Brett, chairman of the PLR Advisory Committee, said: "The data helps to build up a revealing picture of the nation's reading habits. This year sees crime fiction and thrillers stealing a march on romance. Maybe this is an indication that national tastes are becoming increasingly macabre."

The Top 10

1. Jacqueline Wilson
2. Josephine Cox
3. Danielle Steel
4. James Patterson
5. Mick Inkpen
6. Janet and Allan Ahlberg
7. John Grisham
8. Ian Rankin
9. Roald Dahl
10. Bernard Cornwell

Source: PLR

Monday, February 13, 2006


Headaches, blurred vision and sore eyes are symptoms of eyestrain. Your workspace setup could be contributing to the problem if you suffer from eyestrain. Here are some tips to follow:

~To reduce glare, position the computer so that neither you nor the screen faces a window.

~Dust the screen often.

~Relax your eyes every 15 -20 minutes by closing them or looking away from the screen for a couple minutes.

~Adjust lighting in the room to reduce glare. Ideally, the lighting in a room should be slightly dimmer than your computer monitor.

~Increase the size of the font onscreen.

~Don’t forget to blink! When we concentrate, we don’t blink as often which leads to painful, dry eyes.

~Have your eyes checked and make sure the doctor is aware you use the computer frequently. Glasses and contacts worn for other activities may not be good for computer work.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Writer Info

For several years now, award-winning romance writer Karen Fox has offered valuable writing information at her website, including various excerpts of her own past speeches and newsletters geared toward: Tips for the Beginning Writer.

Also, for romance writers Fox maintains a list of Literary Agents catering to the genre, as well as other current Publishing News.

A site that showcases her own published works, it also serves as a source of assistance to today's "new writer" now on that same road toward book-length publication.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Voice of Reason

Pamela K. Taylor, author, columnist, poet, and a Scruffy Dog Review contributor gives us insight to the outbursts of protests, anger and violence over published Dutch Cartoons.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Writing, Therapy, and Creating Fiction

One of the most useful tools in creative and personal development is the journal or diary. Some people take this a step further, and keep a public journal or blog.

The diary is where you can experiment with your creative spirit. You take the raw material of your life, your experiences in the moment of that life, and immortalize them for your own purposes. Writing it all down helps you define it, unravel it, understand it. It keeps you within the experience as well as allowing you some objectivity, along with your subjectivity. It helps you through the rough patches of life, and it also captures memories of the joys, so you can revisit them and remind yourself that many wonderful things take place in your life.

And then it becomes fuel for your fiction.

This is where many writers falter.

Simply because “that’s the way it happened” doesn’t mean it will work in the story. Let a diary entry be a jumping-off point, not a prison for your piece.

Instead of a laundry list, “Me and Bobby walked to the lake. We sat in the moonlight. He kissed me. I was nervous’, turn it into something that gives your reader the sensations of the breeze, the moon, the water. What does lake water in the moonlight smell like? How did the two characters involved act out their nervousness? Sweating? Giggling? Perhaps the Spirit of the Lake partially slid out of the water to observe the kiss, and then returned to the depths of the lake with a sigh.

Take what actually happened and make it more. Let the real people be inspiration for characters. If you do your job as a writer well, pretty soon the character will take on a life of his or her own, bearing little resemblance to the initial person who inspired it.

Let a diary entry inspire the creative process, not put a damper on it.

One of the most popular exercises in my dialogue workshops is this: I split the class into groups of 3. Each group gets a topic. Two people have an actual conversation, while the third person jots it down. They talk for about two minutes. We take the red pens and cross out all the boring bits, which ends up cutting about 75%. Then I go around again and give each speaker a character to play, with one or two specific characteristics to apply to the conversation. We use bits from the original conversation and then we create bits that make it a good story. We’ve had cars turn into dogs, locations change from Texas to Montreal, started a romance with what was in life a spur-of-the-moment dispute between strangers, genders change, added children, removed children, changed physical descriptions and come up with careers light-years away from the touchstone “reality”.

And wound up with some darned good storytelling.

We’ve used reality as a diving board into fiction. Let the realities in your life cause expansion, not constriction, in your fiction.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Irvine Welsh (b.1961)

Irvine Welsh was born in Leith, Scotland, in 1961. He moved to the Muirhouse area of Edinburgh with his family at the age of four and was schooled at Ainslee Park Secondary School until sixteen. When he left school he completed a City Guild course in electrical engineering and worked as an apprentice TV repairman until an electric shock brought his career to a sudden end.

He moved into other areas of work, becoming the guitarist for a London punk band in 1978 then working for Hackney Council in London. He studied computing and worked during the London property boom of the 1980s before returning to Edinburgh to work for the City Council housing department. He enrolled at Heriot Watt University and studied for an MBA, writing a thesis on creating equal opportunities for women.

Welsh moved into writing when he published several short stories, which would later form the basis of his most famous work, in DOG Magazine, and New Writing Scotland. Parts of the novel also appeared in Clocktower pamphlets, A Parcel of Rogues, Past Tense: Four Stories from a Novel and Rebel Inc.

Welsh was recommended to Robin Robertson, the editorial director of Secker & Warburg, who decided to publish Trainspotting as a full novel, despite believing that it had no chance of selling. A story of drugs, violence and poverty in the slums of Edinburgh’s schemes, it was seen by some as a definitive guide to Edinburgh in the 1980’s or a slur on the city’s good name by others. It was published in 1993 and Irvine Welsh shot to international fame overnight.

Trainspotting was rejected for the Booker Prize shortlist after offending two of the female judges but despite this unease from the critical establishment, Welsh’s novel received rave reviews. The novel changed popular fiction forever, such was its power and reputation. Written in the phonetic Scottish dialect, it became an underground classic with legendary status among a cross-section of Scotland’s populace.

Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of the novel was premiered at the Glasgow Mayfest in April 1994 and went on to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival and in London before touring the UK. In August 1995, Irvine Welsh was able to give up his day job.

Welsh’s work after Trainspotting has been varied but not profuse. A collection of short stories, Acid House, was published in 1994, followed by his second novel, Marabou Stork Nightmares in 1995, and Ecstasy in 1996. With the publication of the Filth in 1998, Welsh hot the controversial headlines once more by depicting an Edinburgh copper as a pig on the front cover. The book was banned from display for a time until the furore blew over.

In May 2001 Welsh published Glue, a sprawling novel that follows four friends across three decades in the familiar territory of Edinburgh's squalid council housing projects. In 2002 Welsh reprised the characters of Trainspotting when he published the sequel, Porno. Ten years have passed in the lives of the characters and much has changed in Leith since then making the comparisons interesting, but the material much the same. In 2005, Welsh collaborated with Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith to pen a book of short stories for the Edinburgh charity, One City.

Since Trainspotting was released in 1993, Irvine Welsh has remained a controversial figure, whose novels, stage and screenplays, novellas and short stories have proved difficult for literary critics to assimilate, a difficulty made only more noticeable by Welsh’s continued commercial success. It is impossible to deny his impact on Scottish literature and there is no sign of him walking away quietly.

He may not go on to be the best remembered in literary circles, but Welsh has proved he has what it takes to be remembered as one of Scotland greatest writers.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Let's Hear It

Since it first came on the scene in the last decade or so, I've been a huge fan of the audio technology that allows us to read -- with our ears.

Downloadable books are great company for travelers and people who spend a lot of time going about their daily lives, where their eyes need to be focused in other places, rather than on a page. Without a doubt, I'm sure many agree that no matter how old we get, most of us still enjoy being "read to." As a result, the latest audiobook companies provide high-quality audio with great readers (often actors) that make the pages fly by. Audible.com, Amazon and iTunes all offer downloadable titles that you can play on your computer, burn on CDs, or send to your MP3 player, so your chosen story travels with you.

I've found that for long-distance driving especially, nothing can beat a good story, told in an engaging, made-for-good-storytelling voice. Therefore, books on audio, when necessary, certainly get my vote, for catching up on my reading when time is at a premium.

As a side note: This trend has also trained me to frequently read my own work out loud during the drafting phases. And, it never ceases to amaze me how differently some things might sound -- as opposed to how you've been seeing it lined up across your computer screen.

Try it sometime.

Friday, February 03, 2006


The most often heard complaint among writers today is not enough time. Creating, rewriting, editing and polishing are all tasks that require a large chunk of time as well as focus and energy.

There is no issue for those writers who are independently wealthy with no spouse or children, but most of us who aspire to write are normal people - with day jobs, spouses, children, bills and the rest of the normal responsibilites of life.

How do you find time to write? First of all you must decide whether you can dedicate yourself to starting and finishing your book. If you feel you have this dedication, then you must make time in your daily schedule to work. Writing is work and it must be treated as such. Don't assume you will be able to squeeze it in somewhere between after dinner and bedtime as there will always be something to take it's place - whether it be something important as a late working meeting, a child's ball game or recital or something as trivial as your favorite television show.

Carry your writing with you where ever you go. Pack a backpack with a notebook, red pens, pencils, highlighters, thesaurus, dictionary and a hard copy of your work, and be sure to take it with you whenever you leave the house. If your more high tech than pencil and paper, invest in a roller briefcase for your laptop or purchase a mildly inexpensive word processor like an Alphasmart.

Get creative with your time. Do you have to eat lunch everyday with co-workers or are there days you can grab a sandwich and head to a vacant conference room or park to write. Do you have children who participate in afterschool activities? This is a great opportunity to take your work with you while they're occupied.

Are you a morning person? Get up an hour earlier and spend that time writing. The worst thing you can do is waiting until you have all other tasks completed before you start writing. Are you a procrastinator? Set yourself realistic deadlines in a planner and stick to them.

It is up to you.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Getting Past the "Honeymoon" Phase

I think beginning a new story is very similar to the feeling one gets when beginning a new relationship: everything is new, fun, interesting and exciting, and those involved are eager and willing to see how it all works out.

Some writers tend to "fizzle" out after the initial excitement--they scribble or type out a couple of chapters, get bored or run into a "wall," and BANG, the honeymoon is over. Gone is the excitement and novelty--writing is hard work after all, and it is up to them whether to stick it out (because the initial attraction has deepened into a more dignified "love" for the story--they can't quit now!) or to drop it like a boiling hot potato and run off to greener, newer pastures.

Why do you think some writers have drawers and files full of unfinished manuscripts? I call it Lazy Writing. I too, have been guilty of this offense.

Keeping your story fresh, when it has seemingly wilted (or become disinteresting) is solely up to you. So you've hit a snag. Boo hoo. You need to make the important decision: is this story worth saving?

If the answer is yes, there are ways to save it...and I'll list them in next week's blog.

Until then, keep smiling and keep writing!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Belief in Your Work

I got into a debate the other day with a writer who submitted a stack of queries for a manuscript she has not finished. This writer has NO publishing credits at all, but wants to write a novel. She wrote five or six chapters, and now she’s querying to see if it’s “worth continuing” or if she should drop it and work on something else instead.

I’ve posted numerous entries about the importance of finishing first and having your work in the best shape possible before querying as you build your track record. Once you have a proven publishing history and publishers know that you can meet deadlines and sell books, you’ll be able to approach them with an idea, get an advance, sit down and write the book.

But when you’re still unknown, it is rare. It does happen sometimes, but it is rare. There are thousands of other writers polishing their work first. Why should an agent or editor take a chance on an unfinished work by an unknown author? Many, many writers never finish projects they start. Why should agents and editors take a chance on you?

By giving you a contract, even for a finished work, they’re taking a risk. So you, as a writer, have to be up to the challenge, by having the work in the best possible shape to catch their attention, and then working with your agent and editor to make your book the best it can be, and then working with the marketing department to sell as many copies as possible, so that you get a better contract next time around. Thus builds a career.

If you do not have the materials ready when an agent or editor asks for them, no matter how polite they are when you ask for more time, you’ve labeled yourself as “unreliable” and that’s an enormous hurdle to overcome. If an agent wants to see a partial in response to the query, it should be on its way by return mail, or, at the latest, within forty-eight hours. The same with a full. Saying, “I need two more months to finish it” already sends warning signs.

The phrase “worth continuing” particularly caught my attention, because if you don’t believe in your work, why should an agent or editor who has never met you before believe in it? If you don’t think it is worthwhile, if you aren’t your work’s greatest champion, how can you possibly send it out into the world?

That doesn’t mean believing every word is sacrosanct and refusing agent and editor suggestions to improve the work. It also doesn’t mean holding on to it for years and years, and overdoing the revisions because you’re afraid to let it go.

One of the most important skills a writer needs to develop is the ability to look at the work with some level of objectivity. You will never be able to be completely objective. But you can put it aside between revisions and work on other pieces. That way, you come back to it and read it as though you were a regular person who bought it in a bookstore.

If you don’t believe a project is “worth continuing”, work on something in which you can believe. Early in your career, even if you’re unsure about a project, finishing becomes very important – unfinished projects will hang over you and drain your energy, so try to finish everything. Then put it aside, work on something else. Go back to the initial project and look at it with fresh eyes. If you still don’t like it, retire it. If it looks like it just needs a bit more work, take it out again and work on it.

As a writer, nothing is every wasted. Everything is useful. But you must put the craft into it as well as the art. And you can’t rely on strangers to give you a sense of worth in your work. It has to come from your belief in your work and expand outwards. And not from a place of ego, but from a place, deep in your soul, of conviction.