A Muse Bouche Review: November 2020
Welcome to our November issue!
Some say the only constant in the universe is that nothing is constant. Everything changes, and always will, from the Big Bang to the Big Freeze. How does change affect our lives? Our writing? Our world? In this issue, we take a look.
As always, feel free to let us know how we did on Twitter or by contacting us directly through the info in our individual articles!
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Change & Growth (A.P. Miller) Essay
Contest Winner: Beloved (M.B. Davis) Fiction
Growing Word by Word (Crystal L. Kirkham) Essay
Risk is Necessary for Growth (Renée Gendron) Essay
A Great and Sudden Change (Melissa “Yi” Yuan-Innes) Essay
Curing Perfectionitis by Publishing (Aedyn Brooks) Essay
Change and Growth for Writers (Louise Sorensen) Essay
So Here I Am (Norm Boyington) Essay
Recent Videos from AMBR Contributors (November 2020)
Team Showcase from AMBR Contributors (November 2020)
Flash Fiction Contest from AMBR Contributors (Contest Announcement)
Change & Growth: A Writer’s Introspective
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
Change sucks. Change is uncomfortable, uncomfortable in its nature of uncertainty, and the potential for adverse reaction can be absolutely terrifying.
Change is necessary. Change in our style as writers, hopefully towards improvement of our ability to tell stories, does not occur in moments of comfort and familiarity. Real change, beneficial change, occurs in moments of being uncomfortable and being forced to examine our work in retrospect. Change and growth are codependent on each other, and both are necessary for us to become better at our core passions. We will not grow without change, and we will not change without growth.
Change is cruel. Change is painfully ignorant to the truth that we liked aspects of our former selves, cherished them even. There were a lot of things I liked about the writer I was, the writer getting the thrill out of discovery writing before he was aware of what the next steps were and how painful some of them can be. Change separated me from the writer I was, who was more resilient in his youth, and could shoulder the weight of a wide-open future that was without form, and bold enough to shape it into a certainty.
Change is encouraging, so long as it is coupled with perspective. Change will remind me that I am much farther along in the process than I was, and would not be where I am without it. While I pine to be aspects of the writer I was, I am a much more effective storyteller having endured the many crucibles of change. Change, with its confident perspective, acknowledges where I’ve been, and how much I’ll be fulfilled with my craft if I continue to put effort into it.
Change is sudden and brutal. There will come times when change will be thrust upon us and we are unprepared for it. We can’t stop change, we can’t exorcise its arrival, and we have no other option but to accept it and reacclimate. A lot of these changes are unwelcome, and we are left to mourn what was. Some change is so absolute there is no act of congress or man that can undo those changes, and what you’ve lost is gone forever.
Change is a weapon for those who will endure. Change will present new vehicles of expression. As storytellers, change will afford us new perspectives, and new words to present to our readers. Change will take an old story and breathe new life into it. Change will beget more change, and can be weaponized in the hands of the writer that wants complete change.
Change is eternal. For as long as sentient life existed, we have been navigating change. We’ve studied change, prepared for it. We’ve been witness to changes in our environment and the seasons, changes in the sustenance we can collect. We’ve waxed poetic about the concept of change — businesspeople predict it and prepare their livelihoods around it. Change is the reason why phrases like “Paradigm Shift” and “Metamorphosis” sound like complicated concepts, but are just other ways to identify change. Change it was gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow, or makes us apprehensive of a darker one. Change, and the prospect of change, will cause us to over or underreact. With the right frame of mind, change is a blessing.
Growth comes with change, but is not always guaranteed. If change happens and I learn nothing from it, have I grown? If I have these new perspectives and weapons to use in my storytelling, and I do not implement them, have I endured change for nothing?
Growth is painful. Growth is the abandonment of a certainty for the reception of new and unfamiliar.
As a writer, I am not satisfied with being where I am. I spend a great part of each day consumed with the idea of being the best storyteller that I can be. I know it sounds conceited, but I truly want to be great. I acknowledge that I’m not great (I don’t believe I’m good most days), so I’ve committed to being a perennial student of storytelling, and the psychology of reader desires. I’ve stated why change and growth are painful, and now I am acknowledging that I truly believe that it’s worth it.
by M.B. Davis (@authormbdavis)
Cotton candy hair wrapped around his fingers. Remembering her, his tears rained. The man stood up. “Goodbye, my love.” He kicked her limp body into the ditch. Years of pain washed away with each shovel full of dirt. She wanted him to be happy and she always got her way.
— You can connect with M.B. Davis at the following
Growing Word by Word
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)
Writing is a vocation in which one can never stop learning. When we first set fingers to keys or pen to paper in drafting the earliest of our stories, the lessons begin. From simple sentence structure to the vagaries of editing and the confusion of marketing, growth and change as a writer is constant and unending. No matter how good we become at any of these things, there is always something more we can learn.
When it comes to advice for improving our writing, one of the most common things writers hear—whether they ask for it or not— is to “write more and read more to learn more”. However, writing is more than a numbers game where those who do those two things more than anyone else end up being the best. There is a so more we can do to continue to improve and grow.
Here are a few things you can do or consider to help improve, change, and grow as a writer.
Keep An Open Mind
Not all advice you receive will be a good fit for you, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some validity to it. Even if you don’t follow a particular piece of advice, take the time to think about why some people might find it useful. Critical thinking in combination with an open mind can lead to insights about the writing process. It can allow you to discover which rules were meant to be bent, and which ones can be broken.
Try It, Then Try It Again
Experimentation is one of the keys to growth. Every genre has something to offer in the way skills. By attempting to learn, you expand. Even if you never choose to publish in the genre, it’s good to try something new. More than once if the first attempt didn’t terrify you too much. Even if you are not a fan of a genre, I assure you, it has something to offer.
Beyond genre, consider challenging yourself in other ways. If you are a planner, give pantsing or discovery writing a try and vice-versa. Try fast drafting if you normally write at a slower pace. Attempt prompts, write short stories, drabbles, or even microfiction and dedicate yourself to learning this new artform.
Read Your Edits
Working as an editor, I’ve seen a lot of writers just blindly accept everything an editor does without much thought. Don’t do this. You can learn a lot by seeing how your novel was edited and learning where your work could still use more finetuning. One of the biggest boosts to my writing came when I received my first edits back on a traditionally published novel. Read it, think about the changes, and make a note of common issues you might see being fixed.
Of course, the same holds true for feedback from beta readers or even in your reviews. Allow yourself to learn from the knowledge of others.
As true with writing as it is with life, growth and change is found outside of your comfort zone. Don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Keep challenging yourself to learn, understand, and try things.
These are just a few small suggestions, but I hope you learned something new here too!
Risk is necessary for growth
by Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
Writers often view their craft as a solitary one—hours spent in front of the computer before daybreak or long after everyone else has gone to bed. Staring at a screen, re-reading pages upon pages waiting for the perfect sentence, many writers never allow others to see their work. Out of fear.
Here’s the problem with that mentality: if you risk nothing, you gain nothing.
How many people do you know want to be writers but have never written a word? You can’t be a doctor without going to medical school. You can’t be a licensed plumber without going to trade school. Why would someone think they can be a writer without actually writing?
Risk. In putting words to paper, the person who doesn’t write, risks nothing. On the flip side, they gain nothing.
There are plenty of other risks involved in writing. Having another person critique your work makes you vulnerable. But it’s that vulnerability that will give you insight on how to improve your writing. If you don’t ask someone for feedback, you’ll never receive and never take your writing to the next step.
Starting a critique circle at the local library also takes courage. You need to advertise, recruit, deal with inter-personal conflicts, and work to maintain a constructive tone in the group. What happens if you don’t create a circle of support? Your make it that much harder on yourself to grow and develop. You can write the best book in the world, but if you don’t have a network to help you launch, it will collect dust in your drawer.
What’s at risk in the library critique club? Overcome social anxiety? Investing time in others as they have invested in you? Taking a leadership and coordination role? Some funds to reserve the room?
Writing is a skill, a craft that continues to evolve and develop overtime. I’ve encountered too many writers that refuse to take writing courses. There are all sorts of courses (in-person and online) that are free or affordable and accessible, yet the person doesn’t take them. Why? Risk. Afraid of losing face in front of others, thinking they know everything about the craft, not wanting to step outside of their comfort, not wanting to invest time and energy because the reward might years away.
To be a writer (or any other goal you want to achieve), you need to make the decision to pursue the goal. This doesn’t mean you wish for something to happen. It means you take concrete steps for it to happen.
Making the decision to pursue a goal means that you are committed body, mind, heart, and time to achieving that goal. If you can only write 30 minutes a week, then commit to those 30 minutes. If you can only take free writing-related courses, there are plenty of high-quality writing-related courses and resources at your disposal.
Here are some ways to mitigate risk:
Develop different kinds of support networks
- A craft-related network to help you hone your skills. Such networks include critique circles, online platforms where you can have your work reviewed, beta readers, writing coaches, and so on.
- An emotional support network. Sometimes there is overlap with your craft-related network, sometimes there isn’t. An emotional support network are those who care about you as a person, are willing to listen and offer support and motivate you to keep working towards your goals.
- A professional network: these are industry experts. Your professional network are those who earn a living in the writing industry. They may be editors, publishers, agents, publicists, and writers you have met through professional associations (though these writers might not beta read your work). These kinds of contacts will help you keep abreast to industry changes and provide you with relevant information (calls for submission, changing market tastes, introductions to people you want to connect with, etc.)
Develop intrinsic rewards
- It’s easy to be motivated for money. The truth of the matter is, writing is a hard business. Very few writers become multi-millionaires. Most of the writers that make a living at writing, have spend years in the grind making next to nothing. Thus, the need for intrinsic reward.
- An intrinsic reward is a psychological or emotional reward for performing a certain task or work. An intrinsic reward helps an individual self-motivate because the work itself has purpose and meaning.
Structure your writing to ensure you monitor for the following:
- Progress. Seeing your growth and development is rewarding and boosts self-esteem.
- Choice. Remind yourself writing is a choice that you consciously make because you want to be a writer.
- Personal goal. Remind yourself of the reasons why you want to write beyond money. What about being a writer appeals to you? What about creating characters and worlds appeals to you?
- A connection to self. If you really want to write, it has to mean something to you, it has to be part of your identity and how you see yourself. How can you remind yourself that writing is a passion?
To be a successful writer, you need to grow and change. Sometimes it’s easy and fun, often times it’s painful and difficult. Keep an eye on why you want to achieve a goal and take steps to ease the pinch of risks.
Qui ose, gagne. Who dares, wins.
A Great and Sudden Change
by Melissa “Yi” Yuan-Innes (@dr_sassy)
Part I: Writing
“If you want New York to buy this, you’ll have to make your main character white.”
Me: Not going to happen. My best-known protagonist, Hope Sze, a crime-fighting resident doctor, is a woman from Ottawa with a Chinese background. Like me.
Most people don’t realize how racism feels, even in a supposedly progressive area like publishing, even to a supposed model minority. It’s at best a headwind we have to fight, and at worst a shackle or an outright closed and barred door.
So I have benefited from change. Because the zeitgeist has changed.
I still see racism. For example, for my paranormal thriller, this was the response from the cover designer:
“Are you sure you want to put an Asian male on the cover? It decreases sales.”
Me: Jack Meng belongs on the cover of Wolf Ice. If it decreases sales, I’ll live with it.
Asian males have been emasculated in Western media. They’re not the main character, and if they are, they don’t get the girl (it’s usually a heterosexual relationship), and if they do get the girl, they don’t have sex onscreen.
Why? I don’t know. I guess it’s another way to keep ’em down and make ’em feel bad, and the opposite of how Black men are hypersexualized and told they don’t have a brain. (I don’t believe any of these stereotypes and cheerfully create sexy Asian males and brainy Black men, but I always buck the tide.)
That’s why Crazy Rich Asians broke the barriers, and why I’m so excited about Simu Liu in Kim’s Convenience and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
I believe that, unlike the gatekeepers, many readers themselves are more open to change. I posted the potential Wolf Ice cover on Facebook, and one of my friends said, “I would read the shit out of that book.” True, I don’t have high sales, but I don’t promote it and haven’t written a sequel, so that’s on me.
I was thrilled to discover Alyssa Cole and Courtney Milan are creating a more diverse world of romance, and closer to home, Presses Renaissance Press is drawing accolades for their disabled protagonists in Nothing Without Us and other novels like Su J. Sokol’s Run J Run.
I’m currently reading Jamieson Wolf’s memoir, Little Yellow Magnet, which describes his journey through Multiple Sclerosis.
And of course, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction brought down the house at the Aurora Awards.
Readers are out there. We just need to reach them.
Let me be clear about my examples above. When people give me feedback about racists, they’re trying to warn me about the racist system. It’s a marketing thing. They’re saying, “You want to increase your sales? Cut out the Asian people. We have a proven track record with non-Asian protagonists.”
First of all, you’ll never know what kind of sales you’d have with an Asian cover if you never give it a chance. You can’t gather data when you have no data, or scanty data. If you study science or statistics at all, you’ll know that the erratic results from a small sample size just mean you had a small sample size. That’s all.
Secondly, I’m not here to play judge and jury for the writers and publishers who do make these financial decisions. In the end, writing is a business, and some people make their decisions because they want to make sure their family eats and has a roof overhead. Totally valid.
Although I give the side eye (and choose not to give tons of my discretionary income) to corporations who make plenty of money and could take more creative risks but don’t wanna.
For myself, I have a day job as a medical doctor. I write mainly for my soul. I don’t need to kowtow to an unjust system. So if I decide to fight the power,
I can do it.
Hope Sze didn’t turn white. Jack Meng and Leila Fan did make the book cover.
But many people don’t have the luxury to choose.
That’s why I find it even more important to reflect on your morals and choose what’s right for you and your financial and emotional health.
Part II: Medicine
Sometimes you only see the downside of change. “I’d rather do the disrupting than be the disrupted,” as author Mark Leslie Lefebvre said. For the most part, I see positive change in the writing and publishing industry in that more writers’ voices are heard.
Medical doctors are on the wrong side of change. Between astronomical tuition, pay cuts, and an increasingly stressed system with doctors as pawns (see Alberta), it’s generally a losing game on the mental, emotional, and financial front. For example, when everyone’s protesting for pandemic pay, who’s not getting any? Medical doctors.
I killed myself at school for 25 years and stayed up literally all night, weekends, and holidays looking after patients. Meanwhile, politicians use us as punching bags and try to replace us with “mid-level providers.”
I still like my work as a doctor, but I don’t let it dominate my life. So far both my children don’t want to go to med school, and I’m glad.
Part III: The Earth
In 2017, we planted 5000 trees. Around us, we could see destructive change: trees cut down, lying on their sides, their tangled roots in the air, ready to burn. I understand farmers needing the land, but sometimes, I have to avert my eyes. The trees feel like bodies to me.
So we planted trees on behalf of people who didn’t have the lands or means to do so.
I refused pesticide because we have a frog pond on our land. Unfortunately, between no pesticides, the conservation authorities failing to mow, and us not taking the initiative to install tree protectors, our trees are literally half dead. We have a 50 percent survival rate.
But we can plant more, with the note to take better care of the trees this time. I donate to the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental organizations because almost no one speaks for the earth, but we all rely on it.
So there you have it. Change. Crisis and opportunity. In 2020, we’re seeing crisis > opportunity. I do worry about my children and subsequent generations. A lot.
In the meantime, though, I keep writing, I keep seeing patients, hugging my children, and planting trees. That’s all I can do.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
“Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby―awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish
Melissa Yi held the line on a POC protagonist for her Hope Sze thrillers. The first is Code Blues (http://windtreepress.com/portfolio/code-blues). Scorpion Scheme, the eighth Hope Sze novel, will launch on December 1st (http://melissayuaninnes.com/books/scorpion-scheme/).
Please admire the half-naked Jack Meng on the cover of Wolf Ice (https://windtreepress.com/portfolio/wolf-ice/).
Curing Perfectionitis by Publishing
by Aedyn Brooks (@aedynbrooks)
Unlike a Tweet, an Instagram photo, or even a quick FaceBook post, when you personally put your heart and soul into creating a story, then put it out into the world, you can’t help but feel exposed. Being vulnerable is something we all have in common. Rarely can we change and grow without being vulnerable first. Do you remember that moment when you decided you wanted to write a story? Just write it for yourself. Forget the whole publishing thing. No one would know. It’d be your secret. Then you got bit by the writing bug and you wanted to take your stories a bit further. You joined writing groups, followed writers on social media, took classes, and started talking all the writey things with fellow writers. Your eyes were opened and your mind blown with all the nuggets you needed to learn in order to be a published writer.
What? Me, published? Yes, you. The one who’s skimming this article thinking…I want to, but I can’t. Not yet. My story’s not good enough. Oh, I hear ya. I’ve wordsmithed my stories to smithereens. Moved scenes around. Changed chapters. Scrapped chapters. Perfectionitis is an affliction many writers suffer from. You’re not alone, but after several rounds of professional editing, proofreading, cover design, etc., I’m going to tell you that you need to pry that manuscript from your cold, clenching fingers, put on your superhero underwear, and publish the damn novel. It’ll never be perfect. That’s why you ask your readers to send you an email with missing words and typos so you can fix it in the next edition. Now that I’ve knocked that excuse out, what else ya got?
I know…you don’t want the world to judge or criticize you. Let me be upfront and honest with you right now—some people are going to hate your story. Gasp! However, I’m also going to say most people are going to love your story, and you’re about to be somebody’s favorite author. How does that sound? You, having fans? People are going to have opinions on your art, just like you’ve judged theirs over the years. Like the saying goes, if you can’t run with the big dogs, then stay on the porch.
Take a moment and ask yourself: Am I ready to run with the big dogs? Maybe not yet, but can you run with the puppies? Yeah, I can do puppies!
Step one: Write a fantastic story. One that has a solid beginning, middle, and end. Eliminate extra fluffy words and descriptions that bog down pacing. I use Autocrit to help me identify duplicative words, useless adverbs, and whatnot that make stories weak. Polish and shine your story to the point that every scene matters. No bunny trails allowed.
Step two: Create or find a critique group in your genre that can provide candid and honest feedback (without attacking you as a writer). Feedback should never be about the writer. It’s about the story alone. If they offer advice on what you need to work on, research and learn the next critical part in story creation. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics or the why. In understanding the “why” we write better stories. This will also help you learn, contrary to popular belief when people judge your work, you won’t die. You won’t shrivel into nonexistence and hide in your closet, never to write again. You get used to it, and welcome it with every fresh page. The insight you gain is that what you thought was clearly written, isn’t clear to your reader. Then this huge “ah-ha” moment happens: The story is all about the reader’s experience.
Step three: Enter your story in contests that promise feedback on your entry. It’s important to enter contests in your genre. (Search #contest and peruse the findings.) This is a blind test market that can provide feedback on your writing style and story structure. Always read the contest guidelines and stick to their parameters. The last thing you want is to be disqualified before receiving feedback, and be out an entrance fee. Scores alone don’t tell you enough. What I think is a ten, others may judge a five. It’s the feedback you’re after. Oh, and winning is awesome. #AwardWinningAuthor
Once you’ve accomplished step three you have a big decision to make. Am I going to take writing seriously, set up a business, and start publishing, or am I going back to step one? If your feedback is constantly negative, I feel for you. I received negative feedback for years. However, if writing is your passion, like it is mine, you can learn HOW to write a solid story. You can learn how to write effective sentences. You can learn story structure. You can learn how to infuse your stories with emotion and create fantastic characters. In our digitized world, anyone can publish anything. But ask yourself if that’s what your end-game goal looks like? Is it to check a box and tell the world you’re published, or is it building a readership of people who love the stories you write?
Step four: Find an editor. For your first novel, I’d recommend starting with a developmental editor, even after your critique partners and relatives have read your book and think it’s awesome. Many editors offer combo-platter packages. Being a data-driven ninja, I created a spreadsheet with columns on the editor’s name, website, what they offered, and their price range…if it’s provided. Look for editors who offer a sample edit—roughly your first five to seven pages. That way you get a feel for their style, and they get a feel for yours. This is a symbiotic relationship. If you feel someone will be a good fit, inquire further. Don’t be afraid to say no. This is akin to hiring a contractor to fix your broken pipe. You get quotes, samples, and a contract/agreement.
NOTE: There are many @MuseReview team members who offer editing services. Please check them out. It’s a great place to start.
Step five: You certainly can hire a book cover artist prior to step four, but to me, money is best spent elsewhere until then. Yes, you can create your own—but only if you’re proficient in digital art design. Anyone can make a book cover in Canva, it doesn’t mean it’s marketable. There are many cover artists with reasonable fees out there. Scroll through social media and focus on book covers. Those that are in your genre and appeal to you, ask the author who designed their book cover. (That’s how I found mine.)
Step six: Buy your own International Standard Book Number (ISBNs)—if you’re self-publishing. Amazon does provide an ASBN, but you cannot use it anywhere else but on Amazon. Each version of your book requires a separate ISBN. There are publishing assisting companies that may or may not provide an ISBN. Do your research. The only place you can buy ISBNs is on MyIdentifiers. Buy your own. Control your destiny. (The sticker shock will wear off…eventually.)
Step seven: Formatting. I’m not a formatting maven, but I’m getting there. Decide where and how you want to publish your book. Ask your writey friends for advice. Writers are never short of opinions. The big enchilada is Amazon. The Kindle Create app is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy to use for your digital uploads. If you get stuck, please send me a DM and I’ll help you. What I didn’t know, and want to share, is formatting the paperback version isn’t hard. Amazon provides templates. (I’m filing that under things I wished I would have known yesterday.) Unless you’re a Word aficionado and can easily convert your full-page manuscript into other formatting sizes, grab the template. They come in every size and many languages. Copy/paste per their instructions. After you’ve uploaded your documents, launch the previewer and look at every page. Yes, EVERY page. Make any corrections to the original for spacing, justified margins, etc., and reload. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to get your book lookin’ perfect. This is where you can be a picky perfectionist, and it’s time well spent.
Step eight: Sit back and wait for approvals from the publishing gods. Make corrections, if needed.
Step nine: (the most important step of all) Tell the world your book is available and let them know where. Marketing begins before step one or two, but once you publish, you have to let people know where they can find your book. Create different marketing graphics that you can post on social media. Canva is great for this purpose. Use different quotes from your book. Use quotes from reviews you receive. It doesn’t matter if you self or are traditionally published, you are ultimately responsible for marketing your book.
Then you hope for rave reviews and income. Some people write best sellers their very first book, and others build a following, and sell their back list. Either way, you’ve been cured of Perfectionitis and are running with the puppies, and soon the big dogs. You got out of your own way, and are onto bigger and better things.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Change and Growth for Writers
by Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
We are a storytelling species. We all have stories. Storytelling meets craft when we want to share these stories. Whether told around the campfire, scrawled on paper, or typed into a computer, stories require structure, clear descriptions, and a logical plot.
Even the most fanciful stories must adhere to the rules of logic first introduced in them, and that logic must be consistent throughout, or the reader or listener will be jolted out.
Writers can measure their growth by the improvement in their writing. If you write regularly, it’s hard not to get better. Ten thousand hours and all that. You tell your stories clearly and readers understand them. If you tell them well enough, some readers will love them.
I read a Neil Gaiman quote recently. “I learned how to write by writing.”
That’s true. Dive in and start writing. But there’s more to it.
Writers, possibly more than any other creatives, need feedback.
Why, you ask? Why on earth should I share my work with other people when I know I’m not ready, not good enough, hate being criticized, in fact can’t take criticism without arguing, blowing up, or shutting down, and in any case will never want to publish my work which is not only the result of hundreds of hours of learning and labour, but also a reflection of my very soul and therefore sacred to me?
The answer? Writers can’t see the flaws in their own work.
That’s why we need another eye, or preferably many, on our work. Feedback.
This is sometimes (often) difficult to get. One person’s mom will applaud any effort and say it’s all good, a gift from heaven, and another, clearly from hell, will tell you nothing you do is ever good enough.
So it’s important to branch out from family and get diverse, random, unbiased opinions. Unless you’re lucky enough to be related to a talented reader, writer, or editor. Even then, it’s good to seek other opinions as a double check.
Find beta readers, critiquers, and eventually, after they have fewer comments about your stories, editors. Know that these people are not perfect, but they all have strengths. If you send a story to a number of people, you will get a consensus of opinions that will tell you your punctuation and grammar are weak, or you overuse the word softly until readers are ready to tear their hair out, or your plot is full of holes, and where they are. If your story drags here and goes too fast there, it’s pacing. As well, structure, vocabulary, dialogue and rhythms can be addressed.
People finding fault with your writing is not unusual. You might even encounter trolls, those who get their kicks out of putting others down. Instead of creating something beautiful, they create heartache and chaos. They will discourage you at every step and drink your tears in champagne glasses.
Don’t sweat them. Consider them a necessary evil that will help prepare you for rejection, because no matter how good your writing gets, not everyone will like your stories. Outside of trolls, who are only there to try to fill the gaping hole in their chests where their heart should be, people who criticize your work are often simply those who don’t get it. Don’t sweat them either. They’re beyond help.
Pay close attention to everyone’s comments, but don’t try to please everyone. After many critiques/beta reads, you will eventually get a feel for what works for you and what doesn’t, and your writing will gradually improve.
Writing is a craft that can never be mastered, but the more you write, the better you’ll get. But only with feedback. I doubt the last person on Earth, with no one ever reading and commenting on their work, would improve.
The only question I ask my beta readers or critiquers is, “What in this story don’t you understand?” That’s the information you need to make the story clear, to finish the transformation from a story in your head, to the written word, to a story in someone else’s head.
Of course, grammar and punctuation comments are welcome. They’re the nuts and bolts of writing and you have to work on those too.
A big concern of writers is that if they share their story, it will be plagiarized.
I’ve read that a certain movie about shrunken kids was written a few years after a writer entered a contest with a story that had a similar theme. The matter went to court and the copyright was eventually judged not infringed. It is possible the screenplay was inspired by the original contestant’s story, but that doesn’t take the sting out for the person who saw his big idea monetized by someone else.
But if you’re going to ski down the big kid’s hill, that’s a risk you must take. Protecting your work is a whole other topic.
So you accept the risks, and want to improve your craft. This goal takes one percent talent and ninety-nine percent hard work.
I’m tempted to say that storytelling is more important than craft, except that the way you tell the story is one of the most important parts of the craft. Some people shine at storytelling and don’t work hard at the craft. Some aren’t so good at storytelling but shine at the craft.
Beta readers help both.
Strangely, another way of improving your own writing is by beta reading and critiquing other people’s raw work; early drafts written to the best of their ability.
Some writers insist on betas reading what are practically first drafts, as they think it’s easier to fix plot holes at that stage. To these I say, don’t make your betas work so hard! Go over your work at least once and fix your spelling and punctuation.
There’s a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde.
“I spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out.”
If you want, you can do that in the final version. But the more polished the draft, the better feedback you will get. And it’s good practice to correct typos and other errors before it goes to beta. Errors distract, and lack of clarity confuses.
If writing sounds like hard work, that’s because it is. We all have parts of the process we don’t like, but for the most part it’s work writers enjoy. If writing doesn’t make you happy, or fill some inner need, perhaps it’s not for you.
Beta reading and critiquing are windows into writers’ errors. Even after going over your draft once there will still be enough typos and plot holes to make everyone happy.
The great thing about beta reading or critiquing is that things like structure, pacing, punctuation, grammar, typos, and plot holes are easier to see in others’ work. Once you start recognising common mistakes, you begin to catch the same mistakes in your own work.
Beta reading is traditionally done for free or mutual exchange. Writers who do it learn to see shortcomings, readers get to see creativity in the raw.
Another, and possibly the best way to grow your writing, is by reading. Read everything, the good, the bad, the unpredictable.
You can learn how to write without ever taking a writing course, by reading omnivorously, voraciously. And writing, writing, writing. Though you must still get feedback.
We can learn to write by osmosis, by absorbing all the elements of writing in other peoples’ work.
Like a thirsty flower.
Be the flower.
So Here I Am
by Norm Boyington (@NormBoyington)
In Two Thousand and fifteen, two things happened. One, my ability to work was snatched away from me by a debilitating diagnosis. The second was that I had to accept that I was not the confident, respected person I wanted to be.
Having to admit to myself that I was part of the ever-growing Mental Health community was difficult for me. I wanted to believe that I was the best employee, the hardest worker, the smartest person, but I was so wrong. In actuality, people found me abrasive, cocky, too loud for the room, and I could go on. It’s not necessary as to how or why I grew ill, or when even. It is significant, though, that I began a journey to look inward, and in doing so, it allowed me to be open with myself.
In the nineteen-eighties, I was in the middle of high school. Heavily bullied and saddled with a very dysfunctional home life, I would hide away in my room, write bad poetry and the odd short story. I was lonely, introverted, and uncertain about who I was. I would play at being an artist or a great writer; however, my lack of focus worked against me, and I would leave stories half-written and songs in notepads never to be sung. I was a mess. Skip ahead to the late summer of two thousand fifteen; I was in my late forties and feeling much like the teenager of my past.
Coming to grips with my diagnosis and my heightened anxiety, I found sleep hard to attain. I was living on cat naps for days at a time, and with the new drugs I was taking, I felt physically ill and strung out. I can remember where everything began to change for me. I had hardly slept in over twenty-four hours, and I found myself in the darkness. It was the middle of the night, and I was staring hypnotically at my computer’s blue light screen. I can’t say what prompted me to do it, but I opened up Open Office, clicked on New Project, and typed out a few peculiar lines.
“Mary wasn’t the brightest penny in the jar, nor was he everything his mother thought he’d be when she was sitting on her eggs, keeping them warm on the fifth floor of thirty-second street. Mary was a pigeon.”
It turned out to be a Three thousand four hundred and eighty-word story about a pigeon who struggled with his identity. He had strange ideas, but for all, he could be quite insightful. The most notable part of Mary was he made bad decisions and tended to act before he thought. Unknowingly, I had put a lot of myself into that little bird.
Now I was quite proud of my story and had my son read it to give me his impression. Upon finishing, he stated it was weird, that it was something a professor would give his students to view as an art piece. I wondered to myself if this was a compliment or not. Undecided, I had my wife read it. She mentioned how sad and dark it was, but she thought it was well written. Another complement? Maybe. Lastly, I sent it off to my daughter, who at the time was attending university. After a day or two, I got back an email. She liked it. I was over the moon. Somebody liked what I had written.
Let’s jump ahead a couple of months to October, two thousand fifteen. By this time, I was writing poetry regularly and sending it off to my ever-patient daughter to read. Some she liked, some she didn’t understand, but she read them nonetheless. In some ways, knowing I had this audience made me feel that my writing was worth something, so I kept plugging away at it, challenging myself to be better with everything I sent her. I happened to be sitting in front of the computer one night when I received a message from her with a clickable link. It was the annual NANO contest or challenge. I can’t remember how the link read, but it piqued my interest, and after a phone call to my daughter, I resolved to give it a go. The result was The Number of Man, a novel revolving around four characters struggling with their mental health and at the heart of it was one bewildered pigeon.
It’s been five years since that fateful night, and I can happily say that I am still writing, mostly for myself, but I do have some of my stuff online. To be clear, I haven’t published any of my stories. The poems, shorts, and current works in progress, are something that helps clear the mind and chase away my demons. There is no financial gain for me. My payment comes when somebody reads my efforts and fancies it. I’m still going to my doctor’s appointments. I still have a hard time with relationships and people, but the writing lets me escape temporarily from my troubles.
I guess what I’m alluding to is that you never know what life’s going to send you or how it will hit you. I never dreamed that I would wind up thinking of myself as a writer, an author. The change from a blue-collar worker to living as a recluse happened overnight. At the time, it was a shock to have my world collapse in on me, but putting words and feelings to paper helped me crawl back out of myself and transition and accept my diagnosis. Writing is the healing balm for my troubled mind and a way for me to express myself. Being told I am bipolar doesn’t bother me much these days. I have accepted the change for the most part, and the mental health label has helped me understand a large component of who I am. Who knew five years ago that a drastic turnabout in my life would lead me to new friends and experiences. I’m still on the fence if it was for the better or not. It’s been a hard torturous five years that’s gotten me to where I am today; still, I have my writing. It’s the one silver line I can see as I claw my way over all of this chaos. I’ve learned that change doesn’t have to be all bad, even if it seems that way when you’re deep in the middle of it, and the positives I’ve encountered through this is why you are reading this now, and that’s a good thing.
Change is an inevitability that we must learn to live with, whether it’s growing older or having to relearn the way you look at yourself. It’s an intricate piece of the puzzle we call life. You can either adapt or let the world swallow you whole. It’s ultimately your decision to make.
Recent Videos from AMBR
D.W. Hitz Author Interview – Renée interviews D.W. Hitz about his writing, his inspiration, and his process.
How to Write a Novel in 30 Days NaNoWriMo Round Table Discussion – NaNoWriMo is here, and Renée, A.P., and D.W. discus how to have a successful experience when trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Mark Creedon Author Interview – Renée interviews Mark Creedon about his writing, his inspiration, and his process.
The Impact of Word Choice – Round Table Discussion – Renée, Crystal, and A.P. discuss the impact of word choice in writing.
Crystal L. Kirkham Author Interview – Renée interviews Crystal L. Kirkham about her writing, her inspiration, and her process.
Writing Inspiration & Feedback – Round Table Discussion – Renée, Aedyn, and A.P. discuss inspiration and feedback in writing.
A.P. Miller Author Interview – Renée interviews A.P. Miller about his writing, his inspiration, and his process.
Melissa Yuan-Innes Author Interview – Renée interviews Melissa Yuan-Innes about her writing, her inspiration, and her process.
How to Write Action – Round Table Discussion – Renée Gendron, E.G. Deaile, and D.W. Hitz discuss writing action scenes.
AMBR Team Showcase: November 2020
The Broken Sky Chapter 1 by Norm Boyington will include a new free to read chapter online on Norm’s website next week.
Beneath The Twin Suns An Anthology, edited by Renée Gendron, available now. Find the link to your Amazon here.
Heartened by Crime from Renée Gendron is available for pre-order. Sign up to Renée’s newsletter by November 15 and receive 1k free sample. Release November 18.
Falling Light: Book One in the Shadows of Fate Series by Crystal L. Kirkham is now available from Kyanite Publishing
Judith’s Prophecy, a Supernatural Thriller by D.W. Hitz is now available on from Evolved Publishing
Judith’s Blood, book 2 of the Big Sky Terror Supernatural Thriller series by D.W. Hitz is now available on from Evolved Publishing
Days of the Phoenix by A.P. Miller is available on Amazon
Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen is available on Amazon
Remnants, a post-apocalyptic survival anthology is out now, featuring works from Crystal L. Kirkham and D.W. Hitz. On Amazon and from Kyanite Publishing
AMBR Flash Fiction Contest
We at A Muse Bouche Review are thrilled to announce our Flash Fiction Contest! Entries will be accpted until the 15th of the month, and the winner will be included in the following issue.
Please see our Contest Page for details, rules, and specifics.