Fabulous Five Contest Author Critique: Casey Clifford

The 27th Annual Fabulous Five contest for unpublished authors and authors not published in book length fiction in the last five years is open for entries. WisRWA is pleased to be able to offer entrants of the 2018 Fabulous Five contest a chance to win one of eight detailed critiques from a published WisRWA author. We wanted to introduce everyone to each of these authors, and share a little bit about their writing journey. Without further ado, please meet our sixth author: Casey Clifford.

Headshot of Mary Jo ScheiblI’ll admit it. I’m one of those writers “who’s been writing forever.” Would you believe me if I say maybe I started about age 5? Well, I did, and received encouragement from my parents and grandparents. By age 10 or so, I was writing “plays” for the neighborhood kids to enact so their parents could brag. Gosh, I expect some of those families still have fuzzy home movies of those events.

Since I proudly acknowledge I’m published in fiction, I admit it took me 50 some years to attain that status.  What took so long? Well, life and the need to make a living.

Once I retired from teaching, I put serious effort into marketing what I had written and revised over summers between semesters, along with writing new material. After listening to my husband saying, “you have to spend money to make money,” I achieved “almost instant” success by accepting a contract–6 years after retirement. During those 6 years, I was “almost there” many times. Then something totally out of my control made the contract possibility dissolve faster than ice in August. Sound familiar?

As my hubby would often tell me in those years, one way to be a sure-fire failure was to quit writing.  I didn’t give up. I kept writing my stories always looking to improve my craft and skills with each finished manuscript.  Along the way, I’ve learned a few things I know helped me finally land that contract–hold my published book, Black Ribbon Affair, in my hand, and wept with joy when that book won several awards, especially the HOLT MEDALLION for best first book of the year.

Since that first book, I published a second romantic suspense with my publisher Wild Rose Press.

After those two books, I realized what I wrote was what I termed Wise Women Fiction, and my books didn’t fit well with Wild Rose’s guidelines. Independent publishing was emerging about that time, and I decided to take that plunge. I couldn’t have done so had I not learned about the orderly steps and work required to publish a good book. I thank my Wild Rose editor for that. I have published 9 books independently. They have won awards or been finalists in contests.

This biography leads to one of the items I’ve been asked to address for this blog:

  • What proved to be a lightbulb moment and is still relevant for me as a writer.

My answer?

  • Writing a great story is only a part of what makes a book successful. Once that tough job is done, you can’t skimp on the following points. Every book, published or not, requires them–so fight to achieve them.
  1. Set a schedule for writing that works with your daily life—and commit to it.
  2. Edit, edit, edit—after your last revision for content.
  3. Choose a title that grabs a reader but still reflects the storyline.

Since this is a blog aimed primarily for unpublished writers, I’ll expand a bit on each of the above items.

  1. I mentioned I wrote in the summer when I wasn’t teaching. That was my commitment to sitting in the chair, fingers at the keyboard or holding a pen. Except for the 2 weeks of vacation/family time, I wrote 3 hours a day for no less than 3-4 days of each week–no matter the heat or the urge to read a book all day. My primary goal at that time wasn’t publication so much, but researching, organizing a timeline, developing character sketches, and then writing the best book I could—to learn from it. Sometimes I edited, and sometimes I just wrote the rough draft straight-through. It depended on the story and how the writing was going. BUT I WROTE. And still had a demanding daily life.
  2. Editing/revision is the process of polishing the rough draft. If you are entering a contest, revise and edit your submission to make it the best it can be. Consider not only the grammar and spelling, punctuation, and sentence fluency, but also the writing elements of setting, character development, description, plot movement, what the submitted pages have to do to meet the requirement of good writing and story-telling. Only in that manner will you make your entry shine for its judges–or an editor should you decide to submit it to one.
  3. Ask someone who doesn’t know your story and reads a lot to read your pages. Listen to any concerns or comments they have about your work. This is especially helpful in catching/correcting plot problems, or awkward sentences, or even a detail that contradicts earlier ones.
  4. Finally, when a contest entry/submission is returned, and you do or don’t like the score, read the comments. And maybe, read them again, for they may contain just the pieces of wisdom that will help you strengthen your writing, your story, your personal growth as a writer. Maybe it will take you a week or more to gather the courage. But these comments are learning tools. This can be difficult sometimes, especially if a judge/editor doesn’t get your story. Or maybe is just a really mean judge.

 

Book Cover for Better than Dessert by Casey Clifford

But even from those situations, a writer can learn a valuable lesson. In the former, perhaps the opening, title, or category entered led the judge to expect something other than what you wrote. How can you be sure that doesn’t happen again? In the latter example, consider the mean criticism as a step to strengthen your tough, professional armor. Every writer, published or not, will encounter negative criticism. Learn from it. Ignore it.

Don’t let it keep you from writing—or learning.

Which leads me to the final element we are asked to address: What is one piece of writing or industry advice I can offer you. So here it is: Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut about your writing.

  • This is especially true for “newbie” writers who read every article, listen intently at every workshop, read the latest expert’s book promoting a “sure-fire” writing technique that works for everyone. Well, do these techniques work for you? Maybe yes. Maybe not at this time or for this project. Maybe never. And that’s okay.
  • So, you’re working on a project and things aren’t going well. You want to go one way with the character, but the character has a different idea. Been there? What do you do… Listen to your characters, especially if you see the sense of what they’re telling you. Strong characters will talk with you. Sometimes they even shout at you—so LISTEN!
  • Finally, if you hate what you’re writing, sometimes it’s best to walk away—until a later time. Often, the project needs more thought or research. Perhaps you need a simpler story to tighten your writing skills. If the project is good, take an hour away, a week, or maybe a year—to mull over the problem. Or perhaps write another less complex project that gives you more experience and insight as a writer. However, listen to your gut–keep writing something.

Fab 5 Contest BadgeI hope you, 2018’s Fab 5 entrants, find bits of wisdom in the above comments. I’ve learned them from other writers and from life. I write because the stories in my heart and the ideas in my head must land on a printed page. I urge you to understand WHY you write. This knowledge will push you always to do your best.

For a chance to win a detailed critique by Casey, don’t forget to enter the Fabulous Five contest. She will be offering a detailed a detailed critique for one lucky entrant in the Women’s Fiction category. For more information about the contest and to enter, click here.


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