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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

So You Want To Write: Where To Start? by Heidi Senesac

The following article first appeared in the Feb issue of the Midwest Romance Writers newsletter, MRW Impressions. It may be used with proper credit to chapter and author. Bloggers may link to the article but not republish it.
I recently gave a friend a clock with a saying on the face: ‘Time is a poorly crafted plot device’. When I first decided I wanted to see a book with my name as author on a library or bookstore shelf I wasn't sure what a plot device was. What else didn’t I know? I knew how to weave a rich story, but doing it was so much more than just putting words on the page. How would I accomplish this? Where did I start?
This same friend also recently defined the difference between a goal and a dream in such succinct terms, I’m sure it will stick with me the rest of my life. A dream is something you have no control over. Being published is a dream or I’d like to be president of…is a dream.  A goal, on the other hand, is something you establish a workable plan to achieve. I’ll write 3000 words each week, or I’ll improve my physical well-being by walking two miles every other day. This made me think about my early goals for my writing.
My first goal was to learn everything I thought I’d need to know to write a truly readable story, one that my book-buying self would be so enchanted with, I’d pull it out every year or so to re-read. I knew how to achieve my education goal. I decided to start with online classes. Many wonderful RWA chapters offer these courses and other resources. But when I started looking into which ones to enroll in, I realized the choices were too diverse. I found myself mired in choice. Should I take a course that would instruct me in the best weapon to create murder and mayhem, or perhaps something on building a believable world through my words?
My over-stimulated brain screeched I needed to identify my weaknesses and prioritize courses to overcome them. Since I was last in school when God was a boy, I decided to start with a refresher course on grammar. Readers are pulled out of a story when you mix tenses or write a sentence fragment. Even when they can’t tell you what is wrong with your paragraph, they’ll know something is.
My second priority--I had to find a class to help me fix my bad habit of ‘head-hopping’. People I trusted to read my work and tell me what needed fixing always, always came back with “I don’t know who was saying or doing the action…” I needed classes on POV.
My chapter mates traded suggestions for classes to take in pursuit of my goals. And they reminded me that all these classes were only good if I used the techniques and knowledge I learned to continue improving my writing. It’s hard for me to not get so wrapped up in building my skills and forsake my purpose, which is to write, so I appreciated their suggestions.
Along the way, I’ve identified issues with my work, and prioritized my education goals. One thing is clear--the process will be ongoing. I’m still in the basic craft classes, but eventually I’ll graduate to agents and editors, business and marketing. I’m thrilled to report that with each educational goal I achieve, I give myself a powerful rush of endorphins as I check it off. And that’s enough to keep me writing.
Heidi Senesac writes contemporary romance as Gemma Brocata. She is the new Vice President in charge of programs for Midwest Romance Authors.

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