Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tip O'Day #382 - Writing is Hard Work

Guest blogger Jennifer Harlow says, “Oh, @%&^!”

She's done. The weeks of research, the months of writing, the weeks of typing, the month of editing, it's all done. She is ready to be read by my wonderful Beta testers who will see how splendiferous she is and confirm I am the genius I always knew I was. Huzzah!

Three Weeks Later...

Oh, @%&^. They hated it. They really hated it. They thought the main character was annoying. The male lead was too perfect (meaning no real man would act like that). I kept switching between too much description and too much telling and not showing. The entire first fifty pages were dull and redundant. And the grammar. Oy!

“Didn't they teach you anything at the baby Ivy college your father and I took out a second mortgage on our house so you could attend?” my mother asked. (Yes, that watching Frat boys play beer pong is not how I want to spend my Friday nights, thank you very much).

Well, did you like anything? “Yes. The chapter titles were funny.”

Anything else? “ I liked the character names.”


What do you do when what you've written the first time around isn't that great? Me, there was vodka and three Real Housewives marathons involved. (Kidding about the vodka.) It's hard hearing criticism about something that you spent so much time and effort on. When they're telling me their constructive criticism, I try to put on a brave face while inside I'm considering skewering them with a fireplace poker. (Once again kidding. It was a machete.) Then I watch more Real Housewives, calm down, and think about what they've said and the suggestions they give.

Like how to make the hero less of an archetype. Make the heroine have faults instead of her being little miss perfect. See how much of the beginning can be cut away without losing the characterization and world building you presented in those pages to get to the action quicker. Use a thesaurus as much as possible. When in doubt, use a comma. Really ask if you need to describe the leaves on all the trees. Then put on your big girl pants and get back to work. (Unless there's a Real Housewives of Atlanta on. Love me some Kim and NeNe.) With every word on the page ask if this is the best choice. Sound like fun? About as much fun as Andy Cohen has at the Housewives reunions. (I think I have a problem.)

Writing is @%&^#*! hard work. Most of my books have gone through at least five edits before I even present it to my agent, who does one more. Right now I'm on the third of the steampunk book I wrote, Verity Hart Vs. The Vampyres, cutting the first chapter entirely, working eight hours on the current first chapter, twelve on the second, and so on. My main character went from Cher Horowitz in Clueless to a pretty version of Jane Eyre. My hero now smokes, drinks, cusses, and is rude. There is more red ink on the pages than black. As it should be. Nothing comes out of the gate perfect, but if you're smart enough and trust in your skills and vision, it can certainly get pretty darn close.

Publishers are tough. I once got rejected because two character names were too similar and the reader got confused. So though it may hurt, and take for-bloody-ever, editing is probably the most important part of writing. I've learned that 80% of the time my Beta testers are right. As long as you have the backbone of the story and halfway decent characters with potential, then all is not lost. Most things can be fixed. And after all the hard work and tears, in the end you get this...

Jennifer Harlow is the author of Mind Over Monsters, the first in the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad series (out now) and To Catch a Vampire (out in September 2012). To learn more, check out her website.


  1. I have been here many times and nearly gave up writing all together. The thing is, we must listen to Beta readers. Well, when at least 5 are saying the same thing. Writing is very hard and not sure why I keep doing it. Simply want to entertain is the only answer I can come up with. Wish you nothing but the best.

  2. I adore my betas (they're mostly family so I kind of have to). As I said they're usually right. I just have to listen and put my ego aside, neither my strong suits.