Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Friday, November 5, 2010

One is the Loneliest Number

One is the Loneliest Number

Apart from writing teams, like the original Ellery Queen, writing is a solitary activity. Like other writers, I have given up activities I enjoy, avoided friends and family, and lost sleep to pursue the muse. Fortunately, I have an understanding wife who can tell from the look on my face when I am involved in an important internal writing discussion over matters such as whether a semicolon would work better than a period or the word “and” or whether “punched” be more appropriate than “clobbered.”

Writing is one solitary activity that absolutely requires other people. I don’t know any successful writers who can compose work entirely on their own. Every accomplished writer has what author Joel Goldberg describes as at least one “informed reader” who has the skills and knowledge to give meaningful feedback about the author’s unfinished work. The reader could be an editor, an agent, a writing partner, a teacher or a critique group. In addition to knowing about writing, the reader needs have no personal agenda and the credibility to give negative comments in addition to pointing out strengths.

Much as I like compliments, and believe me, I LIKE compliments about my writing. What I value even more, are comments on what needs improvement. I believe there is a thin line between work that gets published and work that almost gets published.

There is no guarantee of publication, of course. Your brilliant depiction of vampire Viennese poodles may have arrived just after a story about vampire Viennese poodles has been accepted. Tastes vary of course. More than one editor has said he or she liked my writing without ever accepting any for publication.

Most of my experience has been with critique groups although I have one writer/publisher/friend who can critique my work and have it sounding more like what I would write than what I did write.

Who helps you write?


Ramona said...

Warren, I also get good feedback from critique group partners, but I have found the most valuable person in my help arsenal is a non-writer. She's strictly a reader. If she doesn't get it, I assume no other reader will get it, so I'm not doing my job well enough. Pretty simple.

Warren Bull said...

My wife is my first reader. Despite being foolish enough to marry me, she's a bright lady. If she says, "Huh?" it means my writing is not clear and I need to change something

Pauline Alldred said...

I agree that a non-writing reader can be the most helpful reader. They're not looking to see if you're keeping up with the latest publishing trends or following an article on what agents want. Non-writing readers want a good read and they're not going to tolerate confusion. I have friends from work or neighbors who comment truthfully on my characters and let me know what they like to read.

I also have critique partners or teachers who sit on my shoulder while I'm writing. Sometimes I have to go through a goodbye process because I find I've outgrown one of my former critics.

E. B. Davis said...

Critique partners, who are other writers, knowing little of me personally. The people near me always judge in a personal way, not a professional way. That type of review isn't helpful and isn't to the same exacting standards that writers possess. You're right Warren, it is a dichotomy of singular writing with the help of the writers' village.

Jenny Milchman said...

Oh, who helps me write? I wouldn't have room to write them all! I rely on a group of trusty readers that would fill a tour bus to write the supposedly solitary novel: my agent (she gets it last though), TBEITW (The Best Editor in the World, a freelancer I'm lucky enough to get for free), several writer friends, and people everybody always says NOT to rely on--but who in my case feel free to tear things to shreds--my husband and parents and siblings. They all read widely varying types of things and thus catch everything under the sun in my work.

Warren Bull said...


It's great that you have readers who are honest enough to rip your work to pieces and fantastic that you trust them enough to listen. What a family!

Jillian said...

I have a critique group as well as a beta reader that is first and foremost a reader. She helps the most with what works and what doesn't. Sometimes the crit group gets bogged down in the minute stuff-such as whether there should or shouldn't be a capital letter after the quote mark. (Have an ongoing debate on that with one member) That is so not what I need. LOL.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

My husband (and sometimes co-author) bounce around ideas while we walk and I solicit opinions from the teachers I work with and the women who swim with me at the community center. I'm also fortunate to have had a long-term working relationship with book doctor Elizabeth Lyon. She's the go-to person for big questions about craft.