To most people Wednesday equals Hump Day. They have made it halfway through their work week and the weekend is just around the corner. They are one step closer to Friday. But, not Agile Writers members. To us, Wednesdays mean that we can leave our working lives for two hours and enter the world of writing. Which for most is usually a solitary event, with just you and your computer, but this one night a week you are joined by others. And every week you leave with a little more knowledge to take home and help hone your craft.
Last week, July 27th, Agile Writers were lucky to have Richmond Writers organizer, Joe Erhardt, as our guest editor. Every month two members courageously offers up ten pages of their working manuscript to be thoroughly dissected. The pages are then put on the screen, red ink and all, for the entire group to see. I promise you, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Everyone leaves with valuable knowledge. Not just those whose pages were put on the chopping block. Each month you get to see, first hand, what editors are really looking and how to stay out of the rejection pile. Our session with Joe Erhardt was no exception.
One of the most important things Joe said was to “write for the reader.” Although, I had heard this before I think it’s important enough to hear again. Many times as a writer you get caught up in the world you are creating and the message you are trying to get out that you forget this simple piece of advice. You are focused on you, and not the one that will be the buying your book. One thing I noticed about Joe is that he actually edits for the reader. All the while he is explaining the red ink throughout the pages he makes statements such as, “This will be easier for the reader,” “The reader would like/love this,” or “I think this would be confusing for the reader.” He edits and makes suggestions with the reader in mind.
Here are a few more things I learned from Joe:
- Don’t write “off of.” Simply writing off is enough. For example, He jumped off of the cliff. Should be written-he jumped off the cliff.
- Using the simple past –ed version of a word is more forceful than –ing. Use he rolled instead of he was rolling.
- Using “as if” waters down whatever follows. Ask yourself if that phrase is really needed or wanted.
- Try to avoid using “due to.” Unless it is being said by a character in dialogue.
- Do Not have too many blank spaces if it’s not indicating a scene break. An editor may think you do not know what you are doing and you will be in the rejection pile.
- Don’t say something is “unusual.” Describe it!
- “Adverbs are cockroaches that need to be stomped on!” This was Joe’s response when asked by a fellow member what he thought about adverbs.
Of course, Joe Erhardt gifted the group with more knowledge than I can write here but I will leave you with this: If you can make readers care about your characters and their situations, it DOES NOT MATTER if what you are writing has been done before.