I belong to a writers’ critique group that meets once a week. I’ve been at it now for seven years, but the group has been around for twenty. Amazing, isn’t it?
We swap pages and give each other feedback on our writing. Some of us are published, but all of us are writers. I have learned more from being a member of this group than from any class I have ever taken on the subject of being a published writer.
Here is what I have learned (the hard way) that might help other aspiring writers.
1. Get into the practice of formatting your manuscript pages in a professional manner. Type it in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and double space it with a one-inch margin all around. Indent your paragraphs. Learn to type in a header with your name and the title of the manuscript, and number your pages.
2. Study how to use all punctuation correctly, especially the use of the semicolon and the quotation marks. Become an expert at it (or as near an expert as you can be.)
3. Learn to discern the different points of view (first, second, third), and if you move from one to the other, how to do it correctly.
4. Learn to discern the use of verb tense (past and present, for example), and if you jump from one to the other, how to do it effectively.
5. Study sentence boundaries. Look at where each sentence starts and where it ends, and be able to identify independent clauses, dependent clauses, run-ons, comma splices, etc. Learn how to punctuate them and use them well.
6. Make sure objects (including characters) do not appear suddenly when they were not there in the previous paragraph or scene. A knife should not show in a character’s hand suddenly, or a character should not be standing when he was kneeling a moment ago, unless you go back and write the action or the prop into the story previously.
7. Go back and search for passive verbs and rewrite the sentences so you remove most of them.
8. Read through for adverbs and rewrite the passage with descriptive verbs or phrases instead of limiting it to an adverb.
9. Learn to describe emotions with physical characteristics or actions instead of using adjectives.
10. The most important tip of all is to learn how to keep the exciting promise you offered your reader. Each scene, each chapter, must move the story forward. If it doesn’t, then it is not necessary, and you will lose your reader. Each scene or chapter must keep the reader engaged, and if it doesn’t, then it needs to be removed or rewritten so that it does.