Friday, January 23, 2009


Seasoned and nubile writers scribble notes while the lecturer shares her publishing expertise. Both a magazine editor and a creative writing professor, Sandra Glahn teaches the workshop “The View from the Editor’s Desk” where she extols the benefits of beefy verbs and pines for the demise of adverb overuse. She finishes her time with the writer’s group by asking, “Any questions?”

A woman in the back raises her hand. “You mean I need to go through all my past manuscripts and make the changes you suggested in your lecture?”
Sandra nods. “Yes, if you want to be published.”
“That’s too much work,” she says. She never returns to the group.
Writing isn’t for wimps. It’s an arduous adventure where writers scale an ever-increasing learning curve. For beginning to advanced writers, the question remains: What do you do with the new knowledge you’ve gained from that writing seminar, book, or lecture? Stop learning? Embrace your inner wimp? Push through and improve the craft?
The following are four ways writers can react to learning new techniques and skills. Two ways coddle the inner wimp; two others kill him.

Embrace your inner wimp by giving up. Those editors and educators don’t know a thing about your genius! They can’t recognize stellar, winsome prose, or seize upon your raw talent. What do they know?

George starts writing, believing his second grade teacher to be a prophet. “You’re a terrific writer,” she penned across his summer vacation story in happy red ink. He’s coddled that affirmation all these years—something that’s hardened him to actual feedback. After several attempts to convince fellow writers of his abilities, he gives up. George stores his spy thrillers in a box in the garage, spending his days looking up his second grade teacher on Facebook. He’s embraced the wimp, lazing around the Internet, murmuring about what could have been.

Feed your inner wimp by submitting subpar writing. I call this the delusional, yet hopeful writer—one who believes she’ll break through by submitting, submitting, submitting.
Edna comes to writer’s group month after month, bringing the same story in increments of five pages. Although the group has kindly reminded her to flee passive voice and curtail her purple prose, she continues to stubbornly adhere to her ways.
She submits faithfully to contests and the occasional publisher who takes unsolicited manuscripts, and she garners rejections aplenty. She never learns; it seems beneath her. She will never be published, but she is sure she will be. She feeds the wimp, preferring lazy writing with a kick of tenacity to genuine improvement.

Kill the wimp inside by grunting through your old drafts. If you’re wondering what the publishing process is like, take an old piece of yours and rip it to shreds in light of what you know now. When you sell your first book, you’ll experience the same kind of work—agonizing over run on sentences, discovering, then slaying, your pet words and phrases, killing clichés, cutting paragraphs and chapters that don’t propel the reader forward. It’s never too late to go back and fix things, but be warned: sometimes it’s better to let those stories and articles go. You could mire yourself in your inadequate past.

I’ve taken unsold articles, revamped them, and sold them. I’ve tried to resurrect my first (yet unpublished) novel several times, resuscitating my flabby descriptions and plot flaws, only to tangle myself inside the story, weary and unmotivated. I’ve killed the wimp by grunting through, sometimes with success, sometimes without.

Kill the wimp inside by forging ahead. When you’ve discovered your penchant for adjectives, instead of slaying them in the cobwebs of past documents, move boldly forward, writing clean, powerful sentences chock full of strong nouns and verbs. Sometimes it’s right to turn the page of your past body of work in order to construct better pages today.
Give yourself permission to say goodbye, so you can say hello to great writing in the present.

Mayla wrote four good novels. During the process, she read writing books, attended conferences, and welcomed hard critique. She views her books as stepping-stones to publication, but she won’t resurrect them. Instead, she pens a new novel, armed with new expertise. The result? She’s a finalist in a prestigious first-novel contest, and an agent has requested the full manuscript. She has successfully killed the wimp by moving forward.

Place yourself in a writer’s group. Hear a lecture about strengthening your prose and take notes. Raise your hand. Instead of lamenting all the changes you’ll have to make now that you know better, simply tell the lecturer thank you, and vow to kill the wimp lurking inside.
M a r y E. D e M u t h’s parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, Building the Christian Family You Never Had, and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God. Her real-to-life novels inspire people to turn trials into triumphs: Watching the Tree Limbs (2007 Christy Award finalist, ACFW Book of the Year 2nd Place) and Wishing on Dandelions (2007 Retailer’s Choice Award finalist). Mary is currently working on three novels and an upcoming memoir.


  1. Great advice Mary. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mary,

    It was very helpful to have these writing dilemmas expressed this way.

    I'm always willing to edit my own stuff. On occasion, someone who read the original version will think it was actually better (or at least the voice was better, or it flowed more easily). How do you know when enough is enough?

    I've put on a pot of coffee and some hot water for green tea. There's a plate of cinnamon and raisin bagels and some strawberry cream cheese.

    I had car duty to 7 a.m. basketball practice today!


  3. Ouch. Wasn't quite ready for that dose of reality.

    Thank you for sharing this Mary.

    Hard hitting.

  4. Welcome, Mary, to Seekerville! I don't normally advocate murder, but ... uh, in this case, I'm right behind you!

    And, if you don't kill the wimp before you get published, not only are your chances for publication greatly diminished, but your "wimp"s gonna DIE a slow, agonizing death at the hands of an editor if you do get published.

    Thanks, Mary, for a great post.


  5. Good morning, Mary and welcome to Seekerville!

    Wow, what a lesson for us as writers and as critiquers.

    We, as writers, are convinced we have enough flaws we don't need to have perfect strangers point out a whole new set of flaws in our contest entries.

    You're right.

    Get over it, or save your money.

    As critiquers, we need to offer solid comments and observations, something the writer can concretely mull over then accept or reject.

    I've read the books, listened to the tapes, attended the conferences, taken reams of notes and still that wimp is alive and well and living quite vivaciously in my writers' mind. Thanks for point out that the two of us can't exist in the same manuscript : )

  6. Oh. my. This makes me remember Tina's line--'Don't diva'. (I got to use that on myself last night. Fun. LoL) This seems to be one of the dividing lines between pubbed and unpubbed.

    LoL--I'm going hunting!

  7. Hi Mary, Its so good to hear from you. I got to know you a little at an ACFW conference by attending your workshops and by sitting with you at a couple of the meals. You said so many things that have been a positive infuence.

    Thanks for joining us at Seekerville. I love the way you explained so many of our weaknesses as "the wimp" Now I know what to do to get rid of "him". Just do it. smile great advice to move on.

    Thanks Cathy for the coffee and bagels with cream cheese. One of my favorites. We always love treats in Seekerville.

  8. Welcome to Seekerville, Mary. Thanks for the excellent post! You're a powerful writer and now we know why.

    I've been able to go back to prior manuscripts and kill my wimps in all but my first manuscript. That story is beyond repair. A reminder of how far I've come. Still it's humbling to admit that even a year ago I was sprinkling my manuscript with exclamation points. Evidence knowing what to do and doing it isn't a given.


  9. Cathy,

    You can edit the life out of a piece. That's where knowing your own voice and being comfortable in it will help.


    Nice to re-meet you.


    Glad to hear you've slain those exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  10. Hi, Mary, this is Mary.

    I read half of these complimentary comments thinking they were aimed at me. Wow, I'm now depressed.

    Great article. I've got a 'first book' that will probably forever languish unpublished but you know, I still love that story.

    It's just that now-a-days I'm writing historical fiction and that book is contemporary. Rats. It is poorly written though. I get it out once in a while just to remind myself I've come a long way, baby.

  11. Hello Seekers,
    I've awarded you the Premio-Dardas award.
    Info in on my InSpire blog.

  12. I was afraid, right at first, that 'Kill the Wimps' might be aimed at Seekers. But we're not wimps. Mouthy, but not wimps.

  13. This is so timely considering the recent topic on the ACFW loop about reactions to harsh critiques.

    Thank you, Mary!

  14. LOL on the title! Thanks Mary for sharing your wealth of info and heart and insight with us.

  15. Great advice, Mary! And you're so right about learning to tear apart a manuscript before you sell. I've been amazed at how much work it is to revise after selling! But so worth it to see how much better the edited manuscript is.

    Thanks so much for being with us today, Mary!

  16. Wow, Rita! Thank you so much for the award!