My preparation for school began in December 2008. I was ready to become a professional writer, instead of writing as a hobby. I spent the next nine months learning everything I could find about the craft of writing and about the business of publishing over the Internet and through books. My perceptions changed; even though I learned as fast as I could absorb the information, I began to see that my writing skills had as many holes as a washed out street. I discovered that one problem with trying to educate myself was that I didn't know what I didn't know.
About the time I discovered my problem, The Christian Writers Guild had a half-price special on their Guild Critique Service. I had a children's story in the best shape that I could make it, so I sent it to them. Six weeks later, I got back a cover letter and four pages of in-depth review. What a value for the price!
The cover letter prepared me for a critique that would be difficult to read – setting my expectations that my story would be trashed. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised; the tone of the review was positive even when the message being delivered was negative. Believe me, that tone can make all the difference in how easy it is to hear criticism.
The review was divided into six sections: purpose, planning & pacing, persuasive content, proper language usage & general presentation, personalization and potential.
This is what I learned from the critique:
Purpose: They missed the whole purpose I had in writing the story. Either I was too subtle in the way I wrote it or I don't understand the definition of purpose in writing.
Planning & Pacing: The lack of passive verbs was good; so was asking questions. The plot was too straightforward; I needed to add some twists.
Persuasive Content: My story had clichés - both the figure of speech kind and clichés of scene and character. I used too many exclamation marks. (Just for reference, don't used eight in the first three paragraphs; that's enough for a whole book!) :>)
Proper Language Usage & General Presentation: They thought I did well here, since my manuscript was formatted right, (Check out The Chicago Manual of Style.) and was correct in spelling, word usage and grammar. I had the usual problem with "telling" instead of "showing."
Personalization: This was my weakest point. I did not create a way for the reader to make an emotional tie to my main character. What was worse was that I have no idea how to do that.
Potential: The reviewers complimented me on my solid start and good voice. They also told me to strive for clarity and remove anything that could be confusing.
Some of their comments were easy to implement; some were impossible simply because I didn't know what they were talking about. It was at that point I made the decision to learn the skills I need in the most systematic and efficient manner possible, by going back to school. After spending a week studying the review and praying about it, I signed up for the Apprentice program that The Christian Writers Guild offers. Next month, I'll tell you about my first two lessons.