Authors’ Roundtable: Advice to Your Younger Self- With Karen Wojcik Berner and John Fitch V

7 Jul

“If I could go back in time and give writing advice to my younger self, I would say…”


Karen Wojcik Berner

The first thing I would tell my younger self is “Don’t think whatever you write is engraved in stone. A rough draft is never perfect.” Not even Shakespeare produced flawless first drafts. Writers must mold their work, shape it, craft it. Play with the words. Change up the point of view and see if the story flows better. Check to ensure you are showing, not telling. There are so many layers to good writing, no one could possibly write them all at once.

“Grammar and spelling matter.” Before I wrote fiction, I was a magazine editor. Contributors could have had multiple doctorate degrees, but if they handed in manuscripts polluted with typos and grammatical errors, the entire staff thought they were idiots. Readers will only be so forgiving. Remember, computer grammar and spell checkers can be wrong. You still need to know the rules. Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” and “The Chicago Manual of Style” are excellent resources. There are plenty of online dictionaries to ensure proper word usage. Strive for professionalism and your writing will be elevated.

“Handle criticism gracefully.” Not everyone will love your writing. Period. No matter how good a book might be, there will always be someone who hates it for one reason or another. One of the characters reminds her of the cousin she hated as a child. You used “awesome” too much. Who knows? It does not matter. Some people love the Twilight series; others cannot stand it. Once writers release their novels, public opinion is beyond their control. People interpret books using their own life experiences. Don’t take it personally. Develop a thick skin when necessary and be grateful for good reviews when they come.

“You are never too old to learn.” Keep working at the craft, whether you are in college or are eighty-five years old. Read a new author in your genre to analyze what he or she did well. Take a creative writing class in a completely different genre to shake out the cobwebs and move out of your comfort zone. We cannot possibly know everything there is to know about writing. That’s the beauty of it. Don’t rest on your laurels. Take a chance.

Copyright © Karen Wojcik Berner, 2010

Bio: Karen Wojcik Berner has been a writer/editor for 25 years. A two-time Ozzie Award winner, her work has appeared in “The Chicago Tribune,” and several magazines and newspapers. Her first novel, “A Whisper to a Scream,” is available on amazon.com in the Kindle store. Visit her website, blog, and Facebook page.

John Fitch V

Dear younger version of John,

Here it is, January 3, 2003. You’re about a day or so away from sitting down at that old Gateway — remember not to leave it on all night or you’ll never get that burnt plastic smell out out your room; just saying — and typing out the first draft of that novel. But before you begin, I want to share with you some woodsy words of wisdom that I’ve learned in the past 7 1/2 years.

1. Remember what Ms. Flaherty, your junior English teacher, once told you: don’t limit yourself. You want to be a fantasy author, and that’s all well and good. But you’re going to make more money writing other genres then just fantasy. Take this hint: research the sale of Babe Ruth in one of those big books you have, then take a flyer on it. You won’t be sorry. Basically, do you just want to be known as a fantasy author, or do you want to hit other readers — those who don’t like fantasy — with your work?

2. Outline, outline, outline. The next two years of your life are going to be hell, and then the next two years are even more so. Before you start writing about that halfling with the disposition of Conan, take a few weeks and start brainstorming out everything from start to finish. I mean this: You’re going to get a workout just from taking this thing off the shelf so many times. And by the way, it shouldn’t take you over a year to decide the halfling and the dwarf are supporting characters.

3. Remember: When the tension is going, blow something up. You can’t do that in fantasy, though: just introduce a sword fight.

And 4. Before you start writing, go downstairs and tell mom and dad you love them. You don’t say it enough.

John Fitch V is the author of several works of speculative fiction, including the baseball/time travel thriller Turning Back the Clock. he has written for several Massachusetts newspapers, including the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and the Southbridge Evening News in Southbridge. He has since returned to where it all started, as he came back to the Sentinel in April 2008. He also strings for the Springfield Republican and Turley Publications. Visit his website at www.johnfitchv.com

My thanks to Karen and John for taking part in today’s discussion, and be sure to check out their books! As always, please chime in with your thoughts on today’s subject.

3 thoughts on “Authors’ Roundtable: Advice to Your Younger Self- With Karen Wojcik Berner and John Fitch V

  1. Karen and John make several great points, so I won't be redundant. The thing that held me back for many years was an irrational fear of letting others read my work. I could handle writing college essays and research papers. On the few occasions I was required to write fiction, though, I always found a way to twist it into dark, biting satire- my one area of comfort at that point in my life. The thought of writing and sharing serious fiction made me feel profoundly vulnerable. I had always been told I had a gift for writing, but what if everyone was wrong? What if I tried and failed?

    The reality was, I had much to learn. When I finally shared my fiction in a writers' workshop, readers pointed out all kinds of flaws- but they also pointed out plenty of positives. Once I got over the trauma of receiving my first barrage of real, honest critiques, I realized it wasn't so bad. In fact, I am grateful for honest, constructive criticism. It makes me a better writer, and by extension, strengthens my work. I'm not one for regrets, but I occasionally kick myself for not having started writing fiction much sooner in my life.

    Thus, my advice to my younger self would be to man up, get over yourself, and write!

  2. Karen Wojcik Berner,
    Every one of your points is right on. Maybe you could talk to my students about grammar counting 😉

    John Fitch V,
    I enjoyed your 'blow something up comment' and, trust me, there's more than ample opportunity to do so in fantasy as well 😉

    Solid, thoughtful answers to the question. Thanks for posting it, David Wood.

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