Friday, October 16, 2009

Welcome NYT Bestselling author Mary Balogh


THE WRITER'S VISION

I am delighted to do this blog with writers and readers so close to home—I live in Kipling, Saskatchewan, during the summer and in Regina during the winter. Which makes me a prairie chick, I suppose. The suggestion has been that I tell you about my "call." Quite frankly, if you are a writer trying to be published, you wouldn't want to know. I was a total greenhorn at the time and did everything the wrong way—and got away with it. You can read the story on the personal page at my web site if you wish, but please, please don't hate me!

I am going to share some thoughts about the importance of the writer's vision—the artist's vision, if you will. We must not undersell ourselves if we are writing romance and believe it is presumptuous to call ourselves artists with a vision. That is what we are, or should be. There is nothing trivial about love in any of its many manifestations. It has been the subject of great art (not to mention religions) down through the ages. We are merely carrying forward a time-honored tradition in writing stories of romantic love.

One thing always bothers me when I talk to writers at various conferences and other gatherings—especially new writers. Many of them feel that they need help with their writing and seek it through writers' groups, critiquing groups, conference gatherings, etc. Don't get me wrong—I am not against any of those groups. What I am against is using them to bolster a lack of confidence, or perhaps a lack of vision. I can remember once at a conference banquet sitting next to a lady who told me she had two manuscripts on the go. One was always with her critiquing group while she worked on the other. When she had back the manuscript from her group, she would hand over the other and then work on all the revisions they had suggested until the next meeting, when she would repeat the process. I can't remember how many years she had been working on the same set of chapters in the same two books, but it was plural.

It seemed to me that any artistic vision she had started with, as well as her all-important unique writer's voice, had long ago been leached out of her work. Maybe she finally ended up with two books that were published, though I doubt it. But would those books have ended up as works of art with her own very precious vision of life and love stamped upon them? Would they have ended up being art—or hack work?

The advice I gave that lady is the same I would give to any writer. Lock yourself up in a private room and don't come out until you have a completed manuscript in your hands! All right—that is a bit extreme and not very practical. But I do believe strongly that if a book is to be vibrant with life, it must proceed from deep within the writer's own soul. If you feel that you are an artist, a writer, then have the confidence to produce art in the form of a story. This does not mean that you cannot seek advice or help or even inspiration when you feel you need them (you are reading this, after all!), but don't use other people's ideas and opinions as a crutch.

Incidentally, from the moment I started writing, I have never shown any of my work to anyone until it is complete. My editor is the first person to read my books—after they are finished.

And do feel free to disagree with everything I have said! These are only my opinions. I never presume to tell any writer how she should write. We are all different. We must all find what works for us and never mind what all the "experts" may say to the contrary.

Mary will draw one name from those leaving a comment today to win a copy of the hardcover edition of SEDUCING AN ANGEL.

Oct 1, 2009 . . . . . . . . . Nov 24, 2009 . . . . . . . . . . Dec 29, 2009


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Mary Balogh is a NYT bestselling author with more than 80 historical romances to her credit. For more info on Mary and her books, visit her at http://marybalogh.com/
Or you could join a discussion on her books here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MaryBaloghfans

35 comments:

Linda Swift said...

Hello Mary. I tnoroughly enjoyed your blog today. And it was so gratifying to read your opinion of how an author should write a book. I, too, believe the writer's voice is weakened or even destroyed by too much critiqing by others. And to have an editor do this is even worse! This is the first time I have heard a multi-published author of note speak out on the subject! Thank you for confirmiing what I believe and practice.Linda

Janet said...

First, let me welcome you to our blog, Mary. I won't say to The Prairies since you're a prairie girl through and through. It is an honor to have you join us.

I heard you speak in Saskatoon last year at the SWG conference and was encouraged by your passion and dedication to writing romance. Your belief that all writers are artists, no matter the genre, shines through in this post as well.

I think a lot of us get caught up in the need to be perfect. And rejection after rejection suggests our work needs, well, work. I do ask for advice and suggestions, but I try to use only that which resonates with me. When I offer advise and critique, I always preface with "My opinion only". And at some point I get on with a final draft and submit.

Thank you for sharing your passion with us.

Celia Yeary said...

Dear Mary--I'm one of your most faithful fans. Now, please note, I do not read Regencies. But I read Mary Balogh. I am now searching for Stephen's story.
Thank you for your wise advice. I do believe a new writer should complete more than one manuscript before she allows anyone to see it.She can develop her voice first--before someone trashes it.I hate to allow anyone to read my writing, but my little group--The Write Girls --has. However, I saved one manuscript back and kept it close to my chest, and submitted it. I received a contract right away--first try on that one.
I'm so happy to meet one of my favorite authors! Celia Yeary
(I write Western Historical roamance)

Lynnette Baughman said...

Mary, I'm thrilled to meet you. I didn't read Regencies until I heard Julia Quinn speak at Emerald City Writers Conference exactly one year ago. Once I started, I was an addict. A happy addict. My trusted bookstore advisor recommended YOU, and now I read everything you write. Your characters (and Julia's) are so real to me I am BEREFT when I have to wait for the next book. You'll be glad to know I'm a vocal fan. I tell everyone I can about you.
Now I'll look for your blog to learn more. OH-- are you scheduled to speak at any conferences in the coming year?
Lynnette Baughman in Sequim, Washington.
(Just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria. Which means, yes, I can see Canada from my house!)

Hazel said...

I'm so glad to read what you have to say about the writer's vision. I heard you speak at the SWG conference last year, too. I was impressed then with your strong beliefs in what is important in the writing journey, and you have reinforced my opinion today.

I find it very difficult to share my work in progress, but I do belong to a writers' group where we support, encourage, and yes, make suggestions. However, like Janet, I only follow up with what I see as a true improvement or strengthening of my story, and I only use what doesn't destroy what was uniquely mine in the first place.

That may sound harsh, because I truly appreciate the comments of my group(s)--I do have more than one circle of support. But I must confess that I see them more as a beta group of readers, than as an advisory writing group.

I might as well proceed one more step and confess that the romantic novel I have been working at for longer than I care to admit, and which I have trotted out regularly for critiquing, was started because I thought it would be a good way to learn how to write a novel. While I am engaged by the story, I don't know if it will end up being representative of my voice and it may never see the light of day beyond my faithful group.

Now, another novel that I have begun will probably be kept very close to my chest, because it is very close to my heart, and will likely not be workshopped. I have had some encouragement from a novelist who has seen an early draft of a couple of chapters, and that will be enough motivation for me to proceed. Not that I expect to duplicate your experience, Mary, but surely deep down every writer has the hope that the first public view of their work will be in published form!

I would love to win a copy of your book.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good morning, Mary. I cannot tell you how amazed I was when I moved here 10 yrs ago and my local librarian pointed out one of your books and said you live only an hour away. I looked at the 'New York Times bestselling author' label on that book and thought - in a little ol' prairie town? No way.

Well, yes way! I remember telling the girls at the next Sask Romance Writers meeting that I was going to stand on Hwy 48 and flag you down the next time you passed through enroute the city. LOL

I'm energized to have you here today.

And I'm so glad some of your books are now in audiobook form. One of my most pleasant and emotional drives was from Thunder Bay, Ont to Sask while listening to the love story of Anne and Sydnam in Simply Love. Nothing like trying to drive through rocky, curvy Northern Ontario with tears streaming down your face.

And all I can say about your call story is that it simply was meant to be regardless of how it happened.

Karyn Good said...

Welcome, Mary. What an honour to have you here today. I love your books and count many of them among my favorites.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on an artist's vision and sharing that vision too soon and possibly losing it's essence. I try to keep my voice front and center when dealing with feedback and applying any suggestions. I love your advice of not sharing things too soon.

Thank you for joining us today to talk about love and romance and staying true to our visions of it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Celia - I write Western Historicals too except I'm pre-pubbed. Congrats on your contract.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary, I came to love Romance books rather late, when I found Slightly Scandalous and Simply Love at Borders a couple years ago. I've collected many your books over past years. I enjoy the deep emotions and development of characters. Currently finishing At Last Comes Love, you are expert in writing the banter between Hero/Heroine.

Thanks for sharing writers vision, I have a few stories floating in my head and have felt shy about starting to write, but the stories are strong, and I've purchased an HP mini netbook for the sole purpose of finding that quiet place to write. You remind that the aspiring writing should lock oneself in a room and write non stop till finished. I agree.

Keep writing Mary, you are an inspiration to every aspiring writer. I see that some of your fans have attended writing conventions and have even had pleasure of meeting you, I would love that opportunity one day. Also look forward to the old books being published. Next for me, is seeing how to download these future books onto a mobile device. I have a library of books, and I can't part with them, so I'll need to carry them with me if I can. All the best, Maureen Jan (currently visiting Canada after being 15 yrs away from my country of birth).

Anita Mae Draper said...

(Anita stands up in the crowded room and clears her throat. All eyes look to her.)

Hello, my name is Anita and I like feedback.

Although not a contest junkie, I have entered RWA contests for the critiques and the chance to get in front of editors of my choosing while avoiding the slushpile.

I'd rather have my first 3 chapters out there in front of 2-4 judges and hear back in 3 months than have to wait up to 18 months from one editor.

And I do have crit partners.

I guess I'm not a natural writer because my first novel really - I mean really - lacked conflict. Nice story but boring. That ms rec'd a form reject. Nothing to explain why it was rejected. It wasn't until pubbed author Janet Tronstad read the first chapter and within 30 mins emailed back:
- the heroine lacked a goal
- the hero lacked motivation
- not enough conflict between the 2

Since then, I've learned about GMC through the SRW, the contests, my crit partners, eHarlequin.com, and writing conferences.

That's not to say I take everyone's advice because I don't. But about 50% of the 'stuff' they catch are either grammatical errors or passive writing - two of my major weaknesses.

Personally, I would never presume my work was good enough for an editor before someone else has seen it. Just MHO.

And if I were that type of person, I'd be jealous of those of you who can. Kudos.

(Anita sits down and closes her eyes, ignoring the darts shooting her way.)

Mary Balogh said...

Good morning, ladies. It is gratifying to see a number of comments already.

Linda: Only once have I had an editor who was very intrusive about what I wrote and how I wrote it. She used to preface all her suggestions re. my outlines and manuscripts with "Wouldn't it be fun if..." Working with her was not fun at all! Fortunately I did not have her for long.

Janet: Rejections--yes, that's another thing, isn't it, especially if you are really attached to the book and don't want to let it go. Sometimes, of course, that is what one has to do eventually. But I remember reading somewhere that one writer was rejected something like 75 times (I can't remember the exact number) with the same book (I believe) before having it accepted. And she was--drumroll, please--Nora Roberts!

Celia: Your little story seems to bear our what I said, doesn't it? And Stephen's story (SEDUCING AN ANGEL) is out only in hardcover at the moment. It will be out in paperback at the end if next May. Of course, I am giving away one copy today.

Lynnette: I am very thankful that you went to that talk by Julia Quinn! And thank you for recommending my books to fellow readers. Word of mouth is apparently the most effective way of growing an audience, far more effective than the most expensive of advertising campaigns. At the moment I have no upcoming "appearances" scheduled.

Hazel: It does sound like a brilliant idea to have an ongoing manuscript that is used only to garner feedback from a critique group. That way, I suppose, you can learn all sorts of things about what appeals to readers and what doesn't--and then apply what you have learned to the "real thing." Crafty you!" (pun intentional)

Anita Mae: If you are going to flag me down somewhere in the region of Montmartre, could you possibly make it outside the Pit Stop some time between May and September? That will give me one more excuse for stopping for a milk shake! I am delighted you enjoy audio books. I don't like them myself. I have to "hear" a book in my own voice--especially when it it my own. But they are marvelous for people who travel a lot or for people with poor eyesight.

Karyn: I am relieved that you agree with my basic point about vision and voice. I was told that the posting might be controversial ( and perhaps it still will be--plenty of the day left yet). I was half expecting virtual rotten eggs to come zooming through my screen.

Maureen: How lovely that you have stories floating around in your head and that you have made definite plans to start writing them. Go for it! Good luck.

Mary Balogh

Marijo Bustos said...

Good morning everyone. I am not a writer. I am a long time fan of Mary's work and an avid reader. I am curious to understand more about when a writer feels ready to share the results of his/her labors. It is common to read author acknowledgements that discuss input from a friend, spouse or colleague. Where is the balance between the author's vision and objective feedback? Is feedback valid only if it comes from a professional (e.g. an editor)? Do authors risk becoming lost in the world that is being created? I think of balance again. How does an author insure his/her vision and creativity comes through without the orignal voice being "leached out of her work"?

Maureen Mackey said...

Hi Mary. I'm glad I found you blogging today. I just finished reading Simply Perfect, and now I'm enjoying Simply Magic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing, and especially critiquing. You stated much more eloquently what I've suspected for a while, that in some cases critique groups can actually impede a writer's progress, rather than help it. And thank you for continuing to write Regency romances--the Regency is my favorite historical time period!

Ban said...

Mary - I agree with what you've said and it is the fear of loosing myself to other people's edits that has kept me from sharing with anyone but close family over the years.
On the other hand - I find that sharing snippets with the writer friends I have recently made actually encourages me to write more AND more often.
I think with anything - one must learn balance and what works best for them.
Thanks so much for stopping by - I needed to read your words today :D

Mary Balogh said...

Anita Mae: Please note that at the end of my post I invite any or all readers to reject everything I said! I almost always preface any public address I give with the same words. One thing I have learned since being published and meeting numerous other authors, published and not, is that we are all vastly different from one another in almost every imaginable way. We all have to find what works for us and stick with it. I think what I wanted most to say in my post is that writers shouldn't feel obliged to seek help with their work. If they are confident enough to work alone, then they should do so and ignore the chorus of voices telling them to seek help in a dozen different directions. So--you are not about to be sent to stand in a corner for disagreeing with me! I am not God!

Marijo: As I said above, all writers are different. Some obviously need feedback from others. Some don't. I happen to fit into the latter group. And an editor's feedback is certainly not more valid than anyone else's except in one very important sense--an editor is the one who decides whether the book will be published or not! But anyone who is a reader has a valid opinion to give. When all is said and done, we write for a (hopefully) huge audience of readers, not just for an editor. We all want to write a book that will appeal to every member of that huge audience. But do we compromise our own voice and vision in order to do it? Mostly not, I hope. But inevitably, sometimes we all do it. Explicit sex, for example, is something that seems to be an essential requirement of a romance. Occasionally I have to include a sex scene even when I don't feel it quite belongs with a story or situation. So, yes, writing for a market is a sort of tightrope act. I write for myself--but I would be an idiot not to keep my audience in mind too.

Maureen: I am delighted that you are enjoying the SIMPLY books. SIMPLY LOVE is my personal favorite of that set.

Ban: Balance--an excellent word! For some of us it is all or nothing--dependence upon critiquing groups or total avoidance. For the wise, perhaps there is balance. And I am sure there are all kinds of critiquing groups. The very best, I would imagine, hint and encourage, while the very worst probably try to rewrite one another's books. I know all sorts of writers who love their critiquing groups, so I suppose most are of the very best variety.

Janet said...

Jumping in, Mary. It occured to me as I was reading your response to ban, that for a lot of writers living and writing in solitude - critique groups (be they in person or online) offer a support for a new writer. I know that I'm thrilled when I meet a writer who gets that I have voices in my head. It can be a lonely journey from scribbling words to a publishing contract and writing groups can be a Godsend. Of course, they can also be detrimental as you've pointed out.

I might not encourage new writers to get involved with critiquing (I still won't judge a contest), but I do suggest them finding like minded people :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Mary,
I wanted to say how much I enjoy your books especially the Simply series.
I do have critique partners and they're very helpful but you are right, I have to be careful not to lose my voice in the story. I take what suggestions seem best and keep the rest the way I want it.
I'm so glad to get the chance to thank you for the hours of pleasure I've enjoyed while reading your books. Rachel

Anita Mae Draper said...

Mary - I am so relieved you're not sending me to the corner. (A familiar place while growing up.) That's the teacher in you coming out. LOL

What you said about editors is so true. Debbie Macomber was our kenote speaker at the writing conference I just attended and said when she finally found the courage to submit to an editor, the editor told her to trash her manuscript. Debbie had enough confidence in her writing to resubmit. It was still to Harlequin but to a different editor who positively loved her story. Debbie said she still rec'd many rejects after it but of course, kept writing and kept submitting.

I do agree about a writer's voice. Sometimes the changes offered to me just don't feel right even if they follow conventional rules like not using fragmented sentences or flying body parts. So, I always go with my gut instinct. Contest judges, crit partners, etc are only human and have their own biases and reasonings and it's very important to remember that.

And in case anyone's wondering, yes, I'm the person who told Mary her post may be controversial. LOL

And yes, I will definitely flag you down in front of the Pit Stop next year. I owe you a big milk shake for sharing your writing experience with us today. It's quite refreshing.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
Welcome to our blog. We are honoured to have you with us today.

I am fortunate to belong to a couple of great writing groups that provide welcome advice and support. As Anita said, I wouldn't want to send a manuscript to an editor without having my friends take a look at it first. And as Janet said, writing is a solitary pursuit. Finding like-minded people is wonderful.

But I know what you're talking about. I've been in the situation where I've let myself be over-influenced by critiques, to the point where it's no longer my story. Nobody's fault but my own. It was probably a lack of confidence in myself and my writing that had me changing the story at least three times!

But armed with your sage advice I hope to go back to that story and see if I can find my voice once more.

Jana

Mary Balogh said...

Janet: You are so right! Writing is a solitary business, and it is lovely to meet other authors occasionally and feel free to chat about writing, knowing that everyone else is on the same wavelength. Whenever I give an address to groups, I usually tell them (a) not to believe anything I say if they don't want to, and (b) that my main hope is that I can get them excited and re-energized about writing and wanting to rush home to start (or resume) writing. I see that as my role when I am a speaker--not as a teacher but as an inspirer.

Rachel: I am delighted that you like the SIMPLY books. And it sounds as if you have achieved the right balance between listening to advice and going it alone.

Anita Mae: I was a high school English teacher for twenty years. It was my duty when marking papers to correct sentence fragments and dangling modifiers among other grammatical errors. Now I am a writer speaking to fellow writers. There are, of course, all sorts of occasions when it is more effective to use a sentence fragment than a complete sentence. Rules are fine and necessary, and I do contend that one needs to know and understand the rules before one can effectively break them. But I certainly wouldn't listen to critique partners who correct grammatical errors pedantically. You are wise to go with your gut. In my opinion, that is (and in a sentence fragment).

JV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JV said...

While I can definitely see the usefulness of a writers group and a CP for encouragement and fine-tuning, I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to the lady at the conference. From the description of her process, it sounds more like she is ghostwriting the stories for the groups or acting as a typist for the groups instead of writing her own story. One thing that writer's need to understand (much like visual artists)is that critics are not always right. You have to take their advice and see how it fits with your concept. If it doesn't work for you, amend or discard it because the work you produce should be your own vision. Of course, you also have to be prepared to face the possibility that others may not share your vision. But to be inspired, art must first and foremost please the artist.

Deborah Schneider said...

I have to disagree, but only because for me personally, having my critique partner, (only one) read my work allows me to identify my weaknesses. My dialogue is strong, but introspection weak. She finds that and comments.

She's never asked me to change anything I didn't agree with after reading her comments.

Of course, we've worked together for 10 years, so there is a huge level of trust.

Rebecca Elswick said...

Hello Mary. I am a long time fan and member of the MaryBaloghfans on yahoo. I am commenting in hopes of winning the autographed book giveaway. However, I am also reading about the Prairie Chicks and noting some new authors to try reading.
Rebecca

Mary Balogh said...

Jana: It is good to have a variety of opinions on a topic. It sounds as if most writers here are wise enough to seek input and advice without allowing themselves to be dominated by it. I hope that applies to most writers. I know that what I heard from the one lady at a conference, as reported in my blog post, quite bothered me.

JV: There are always readers who do not share your vision. I occasionally have critical reviews or comments on a book of mine, and sometimes I think "Huh? But she didn't get the point at all!" But that IS the point. We all see life differently, and something that is precious to me doesn't matter at all to someone else. As a writer, one has to learn to accept this. If I get a storm of criticism of a book (fortunately it hasn't happened yet) then I will probably take a close look at that particular book to find out what was wrong with it. But if there are just a few criricisms among a lot of praise, then I will simply respect a dissenting voice (not always easy to do!) and shrug off the negative feeling that criticism always engenders. We writers are SO thin-skinned.

Deborah: It is fine to disagree. In fact, it is a good thing to hit upon a subject in a blog on which there will be a wide variety of opinion. It helps us all re-examine what we believe about various aspects of our craft.

Gillian Layne said...

Mary, I do adore your characters and am so glad you write series books. Getting to know a group of family or friends really brings a story alive.

Thank you for taking the time to share your advice with us. I have experienced a critique group and found both positives and negatives. It is certainly not for everybody, and I'm glad you emphasize that. Keep sharing new romances with us, please!

Mary Balogh said...

Rebecca: I have heard that per capita Saskatchewan has more writers than any other province or state. And clearly a large number of those authors write romance. I am certainly not the only one!

Gillian: Thank you for your comments. I love writing series and plan to continue for as long as I can.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Mary, thanks so much for this post! I love my critique partner and the help/insight she offers, but it's so good to know if I want to finish a book before letting anyone else look at it, that's okay, too.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Balogh, I'm on digest at your Web site, so didn't see this blog address until this morning. As a writer who has been published in magazines and newspapers and not in book format (making me a writer and not an author), I very much enjoyed your post. My frustration comes with writing the summary of the book, something that I cringe at doing. My thinking is that if I created a detailed life for someone to live, why am I drawing a cartoon picture of it to "sell" people on it?

I recently gave a couple of your books to a friend who said she hated romances and saw no point in them. She loved your books and borrowed all the rest. When I asked her why she thought she hated romances, she said she reads the blurbs under the bestseller titles and the romances sounded minimally intelligent to her. Again, the cartoon picture of the romance universe isn't selling anyone to join it.

Like you and everyone who is published, however, I'm not giving up and will continue to try to sell the manuscripts I feel are finished. Perhaps someday there will be a better way to "sell" books to readers (and publishers).

Pat, a fan

Susanne Dietze said...

What a thought-provoking, post, Mary! I appreciate your insight, and it's one I haven't heard too often before. As critique partners, contest judges and agents read my manuscripts and offer the gamut of suggestions, big and small, I've had to learn to chew the meat and spit out the bones. It's my story, from my heart. That said, I've also learned who offers me the best advice as far as critique partners go. I write Regencies, and one partner has no clue what's going on historically, but she can trace the plot and my characters' motivations in such a way that I see where I need to refocus.

But there does come a time to stop. One can critique a manuscript forever. Every time I look at it, I make a change.

Mary, I am a huge fan and it was a pleasure to visit you here! Thanks for taking the time to share with us! And thanks to Anita Mae for the heads-up!

Loree Lough said...

Wow, what an informative and inspiring post, Mary! You've given me yet another reason to buy your books (and eagerly await the release of the next titles)!

Thanks for sharing. Yer a peach!

Blessings,
Loree

chey said...

Hi Mary,
Great blog! I enjoy your books.

Mary Balogh said...

Oh, great--there are more posts today (Sunday)! Thank you all for your intelligent and varied comments. I have enjoyed this blog enormously.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, the announcement post just went up for Mary's winner.

Thank you everyone who joined us in this discussion, whether you commented yesterday or this morning.

Mary,I'm looking forward to many more hours of your wonderful stories. You're a gifted writer and it was an honour to spend a day with you.

Linda Banche said...

I know I'm late, but Mary, you're a woman after my own heart. I don't belong to a critique group or have a critique partner. I write what I write and may send it to a contest if I want a critique. When an editor tells me it's no good, OK. Until then, everyone tells me different things. Since no one can agree, I do it my way.