Step Away from the How-to-Write Book

At the Left Coast Crime Conference, I had the good fortune to attend a self-editing workshop by a respected editor in the publishing industry. We had the option of sending in an advance chapter of our work for her to review and possibly use in the workshop. I’d submitted mine and she used it so she was familiar with my project. After the workshop, I asked if she would critique my novel. She agreed, and the process was set in motion.

However, once I crossed that threshold I panicked. The manuscript I’d worked on for two years was not ready. I galvanized into action. I attempted to re-read every how-to-write book in my vast arsenal and apply every word of advice to my novel. For example, I found a list of extraneous words to watch out for and in a frenzy rooted out all fifty listed. I eradicated so many connecting words I had to add them back in for the sentences to make sense.

I read a book on chapter arrangement and rearranged all my chapters. I read a book about point of view and almost changed my story to third person. And the voice was all wrong. Luckily, the voice of reason stopped me just in time.

I dug into those how-to-write books like my bookshelf was a tool box and tried to hammer, chisel, and knock down an already sound structure. What did I learn?

Sometimes you can try too hard.

 My manuscript was ready to go. That’s why I approached an editor to critique it. I already had it as good as I could get it. I was just afraid.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my how-to-write books. I enjoy reading them and learning from them. They teach and inspire and make me a better writer. They comfort me. They give me confidence. But the information has to be absorbed when the time is right, when I need it. Not when I tear through them like I’m pulling an all-nighter cramming for a final exam because I’m not prepared. I am prepared.

In fact, I might write a nonfiction book next:  Too Much Self-editing can be Self-defeating

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6 thoughts on “Step Away from the How-to-Write Book

  1. Every writer follows their own process and set of personal goals. Just because Roald Dahl wrote every single word of his extensive writing career in a hut in his backyard does not mean that that is the only way all writers should work. I agree whole-heartedly that advice and rules from peers can be helpful when we find ourselves in a rut. But there are other times when we simply have to fall back on our intuition.

  2. “In fact, I might write a nonfiction book next:  Too Much Self-editing can be Self-defeating.” I have heard this advice before. It may be because I dislike the editing phase, but I think that a writer can edit the original creativity right out of their piece of work.

    • I agree that you can edit the original creativity out of your writing. I’m grappling with that now. I think it’s a fine line that only experience can really help us with. Thanks for commenting!

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