Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Knowing When You're Ready by Myra Johnson

Hi, it’s Myra here. While I was browsing my Seekerville buds’ earlier posts trying to decide what to blog about today, I happened upon a comment: “How does a relative newbie know when she's ready to submit? . . . At some point, don't you have to just get out there?”

We’ve all been there, wondering if our work is ready for editorial scrutiny (and hopefully a sale). I remember when I first decided to get serious about writing . . . and learned how much I didn’t know!

Brief history here: That was back in 1983, after I’d enrolled in the Writing for Children and Teenagers course at The Institute of Children’s Literature. I sent in my first lesson feeling super-confident. My story was great! My instructor was about to discover the next Judy Blume!

Then I got the assignment back and found out I’d done just about everything wrong. The biggest mistake? Multiple POV, with the mother as the main character (this was supposed to be a children’s story). Then there was the clichéd plot: new kid in town trying to fit in at her new school. The list went on and on.

But then I applied those lessons. I learned. I practiced. I improved. Pretty soon I realized my instructor was editing my stories with a lot more blue ink (which she used to mark the good stuff) than red ink (for the weak areas). And before the end of the course I had sold not one but two of my course assignments.

The short answer, for anyone grappling with this question, is that I don’t think we are the best judges of when our work is ready for prime time. Have you taken any writing courses? Do you have a critique group? Have you entered any contests yet? If so, what kinds of responses are you getting?

If not, investigate opportunities to get feedback on your work. Join professional organizations. ACFW. RWA. Connect with a strong critique partner. Enter a few contests--not necessarily with the expectation of winning or placing, but of getting two or three in-depth critiques from published or nearly published authors. Yes, judges’ opinions vary (often widely!), but wherever you see consistency, you can feel fairly confident the critiques are on target. And if even one judge’s opinion confirms a nagging suspicion you just didn’t want to admit to yourself, take it seriously.

Next, tear apart those critiques. Make charts of the strengths and weaknesses your judges noted. See what stands out. Then study books on craft that address your weaknesses, while you continue to practice and build on your strengths.

Eventually those critiques will start coming back with more “blue” than “red.” Your strengths will clearly outweigh the weak areas. But don’t expect to ever feel 100% ready, because a real writer never stops learning and growing. No matter how many times I rewrite and revise, I can always find something I can improve upon.

Still . . . with time, and practice, and perseverance . . . you’ll know. You’ll sense deep inside yourself when it’s time to kiss that “baby” goodbye and send it on its way to a (hopefully receptive) editor’s or agent’s desk.

And then start waiting and wondering all over again!

This post first appeared in Seekerville November 13, 2007.
Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but after surviving five Oklahoma winters, she now enjoys the milder climate of North Carolina and living ten minutes away from three of her six grandchildren. Empty-nesters, Myra and her husband share their home with two lovable dogs and a snobby parakeet. Myra has written for Abingdon Press and Heartsong Presents. Her contemporary romance Autumn Rains won the 2005 RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript and was a 2010 ACFW Carol Award finalist.

A Horseman's Heart is an August 2011 Heartsong Presents release:

North Carolina’s a long, long way from Texas, but horse trainer Kip Lorimer needs to get out of town fast, because the woman who long ago destroyed his last remnants of trust has just caught up with him—again. Special-ed teacher Sheridan Cross has trust issues of her own, so when Kip shows up with a horse to donate to the family’s equine therapy program, she can’t help but be suspicious. A cowboy a thousand miles from home and living out of a horse trailer? What’s wrong with this picture? When Sheridan’s mother offers Kip a job as barn manager, Sheridan decides she’d better stick close enough to keep an eye on things, never expecting she’ll soon have eyes only for the handsome cowboy. Can they trust their hearts and find true love, or will their troubled pasts come crashing down on their dreams?

Don't forget...

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More info here.

Only 8 more critiques left!


  1. Okay, now that that's achieved and our late-nighters were obviously Friday-night-partying, Good Morning, Seekerville!!!!

    Oh my stars, Saturday. Lovin' it. I'm almost half-way through with my first 2012 book "A Family to Cherish" which is Meredith Brennan's story... And I'm LOVING IT. Totally.

    Myra, these are sage words. (I skimmed the word "charts". I got a little sick, just a little, but then I recovered because it makes perfect sense) You miss 100% of the chances YOU DO NOT TAKE.

    Stay in the game.

    Hey, breakfast pizza today. It's my homemade bread crust with scrambled egg, sausage, bacon, cheese and home-fried potatoes topping.

    This is NOT an Atkins or high protein friendly diet food, but it sure is comfort food!

    Dig in. Have fun. It's SATURDAY!!!!

  2. Oh Myra,
    great post!
    I never feel ready. I ALWAYS feel like I can improve, especially after ready some of my best authors and thinking "I'll NEVER get there"

    The contest circuit has been a great place for me learn where my biggest weaknesses are. And, in the very beginning of my writing, I took the Writers Digest Novel Writing course. This was a fantastic way for me to get some of the basic tools.

    I still have loads to learn. Nearly every time I go back to read my work I find tons of things to fix/change/make better -

    I could procrastinate forever, but taking Ruthy's sage advice (I know, maybe she won't realize I've complimented her) you do miss 100% of chances you don't take.

    I'm not quite sure what my 'next' chance is going to be, but even though I'm a little scare I know God has a plan.

    Thanks for the wise nudge! :-)

  3. I excel at not taking chances! This was definitely a great motivational read for me! Especially since I'm off for the next month and have decided to make August my very own NaMoWriMo.

    To celebrate I'm adding chocolate (the healthy kind) to Ruthy's spread. How about some dark chocolate with melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut cream? Or dark chocolate with chunks of real dried cranberries? Or how about the interesting combination of dark chocolate and lavender? All fairly traded and organic.

  4. Kav....


    I'm psyched by your persona NoWriMo which I guess is really an AugWriMo and being an August girl myself, I think that's a sage idea, girlfriend. Rock it.

    Pepster, you know I practice what I preach. I just preach way too much, LOL! Take those chances. Seize the day. Grab the zest.

    Just do it. (Gotta love Nike, and Coach Bowerman of Oregon University who developed running shoes for his star athletes like Steve Prefontaine...) Take an idea (and in his case, a waffle iron to make the SOLES...) and RUN WITH IT.

  5. Can't believe I'm one of the early ones posting this Sat. Good morning to Ruth, Pepper and Kav and all who will be here later. The breakfast looks wonderful, Ruth. Such good advice, Myra. I'm taking your suggestion on getting feedback. I so agree, Ruth, that you miss 100% of the chances that you do not take. My philosophy is seize all opportunities and leave results with the Lord. Since I don't feel my new story is ready for prime time yet, I ask that you put me in for a first 5 page critique this week. I've gotten back very helpful feedback from other critiques offered here, from entering RWA contests and the Genesis this year with other stories. Congratulations on the new release with Heartsongs, Myra.

  6. Good morning, Seekervillagers! Thanks for the coffee--I need it this morning!

    Um, confession time. I don't think I really ever made actual charts of my contest critique comments. But I read it somewhere once and it did sound like a good idea.

    For incurable chart makers anyway.

    I like charts for some things, not so much for others. Must be kind of a left brain/right brain shift.

  7. Happy Saturday.

    Well I know this post can't be for me because I am the queen of chances.

    No risk, No reward.


  8. Ah, Tina, I love that quote. Tina used that when the last six floundering Seekers were waiting for that magic phone call...

    That offer of publication.

    And it's true. Do something, anything, every day to make your dream come true. And be honest about it.

    It's sooooo easy to shrug things off til tomorrow.

  9. Great post Myra and happy Saturday. I read through the post and made a mental check list. I think I'm soon ready for the next step....

    Jodie Wolfe

  10. Yes, Ma'am, Mrs. Ruthy! You are a risk taker!
    I plan to follow in your footsteps - gee, looks like I've already been trying with the whole crew of kids thing ;-)

    once September is past, I'll enter another contest. All extra funds are being saved for a certain conference in mid-September at present :-)

    And I have two queries out for agents. That's a risk taking activity, right?

    Already received 4 'recent' agent rejections. But...I put my Nike's back on and started again ;-)

    Oh - and in the spirit of risk taking, would you guys put me in the drawing for the 5 page crit?


  11. Thanks for the advice! I'm working on a manuscript and have often wondered when I am "ready", as it seems there is always SOMETHING still to learn about writing! :-)

    I'd love a 5-page critique on my WIP! Thanks for the chance!

    ~ Katy

  12. Great post Myra.

    Sending queries to agents or editors scares me to death. I feel like I have one chance to impress them. If I don't, it's over.

    Reminds me of when I was a kid trying to get up the nerve to jump out of a tree or the hay loft. I'd count 1, 2, 3 and then sit there. I'd count several rounds before I'd finally get the courage to jump.

    Do you send to your dream agaent first, or hold back hoping for a few more suggestions to make sure the proposal is perfect?

    Please enter me into the 5 page critique.

  13. Good morning Seekerville! (At least it's still morning where I live!) I STILL don't feel "ready" to be published, but look what happened anyway! :)

    Lots of years of entering contests, getting feedback, eventually making finals and starting to win. But even when at long last I had an editor ask to see a full manuscript, I didn't FEEL ready to send it. To be published. F-E-A-R in big capital letters. I knew it was my choice--I didn't HAVE to send the full to her. But after a TON of prayer and soul-searching, I stepped out and did it afraid--and she bought it!

  14. This is great. It's hard to know when you're "ready." An agent/ editor may take the same manuscript this week that one rejected last week. Does that make you ready? I think the point is that there is always room to grow.

    Thanks and please enter me in the first five page critique!


  15. I got a lot out of this, Myra! This met me right where I am at. I am continuing to seek God's direction and open doors. No matter what happens in the future, I am so glad that I've put forth the effort to get this far! Writing has given me a hobby, mental stimulation, a connection with some amazing people, and so much more! Hope you have a great weekend! ~Stacey

  16. Thanks for sharing your post. As a fairly new comer to the writing business I appreciate your advice.

  17. Welcome to Seekerville, Deborah. Stay tuned for tomorrow's Weekend Edition. You will not believe the line up we have coming up.

  18. I think I'm pretty brave at taking chances.

    There are just so many chances out there, and I can't seem to get to them all.


  19. Deborah, welcome! Have some virtual food. And coffee.

    I brought peanut M&M's for evening. Tons of them. Great Saturday night snacking food.

    And this is really ME, it just says Ruth and Lacey because I'm signed in under the puppy account.

    But I love me some puppies!!! ;)

  20. Whew! Saturday has been great in the Black Hills. We took our boys up the Needles highway and then a 3 mile hike up to the Cathedral Spires. Do you think ACFW would bring the convention here someday so you all can see these great sights?

    Entering contests has been one of the best things I've done to improve my writing. The advice I've gotten has been just what I needed. There's nothing like having someone else's eyes take a look.

    Myra, I'll be looking for your new release!

  21. I have not idea if my work is ready.

    So I'll put my hat in for a critique, which should probably be one way to kow.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

  22. I've been helping with a conference for three days.
    Obviously, having a lot of typos would prove one isn't ready! yikes!

  23. WOW, Jan, three mile hike. In this heat. Egads. You are a better woman than I. At least a fitter woman than I!

  24. Cathy, you're too funny. You are suffering from tactile dysfunction related to writerly exhaustion.

  25. Hey, Myra, I've been late this entire week, and I'm not sure why, but this was a great post!

    I was one of those newbies who submitted before I was ready, which is probably why I had 45 rejections on A Passion Most Pure!!

    Kav said,"I excel at not taking chances!" What a great quote -- I just wish it was me. Once I started getting those rejections, I entered contests, bought paid critiques, got into a crit group and worked hard to make sure that the next time I "took a chance," it would pay off. And it did!! I attribute all those components to helping to get me ready, but especially contests because I feel nothing got me more "ready" to submit than that.

    Great post, Myra!