Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

Putting together the Western Slope workshops has allowed me to meet a lot of new writers. Just this last weekend we had two dozen writers attend, and nearly all of them were new faces. It’s amazing to know how many writers are around me when before I joined RMFW I thought I was the lone stranger in these parts.

I’ve been writing for almost 4 decades (I started in the womb, of course). My first manuscript was partially hand-written, partially typed, some “wheelwriter” (part typewriter/part computer), and eventually I had to type the whole thing into my first PC. It took me nearly 25 years to write “the end.” By that time I’d raised two kids, worked at several different jobs, bought a business, and gone through a lot of LIFE.

When I finished that manuscript I was so excited! I immediately printed it out, typed up my letter to the publisher, boxed it up (yeah, that was before the days of e-mail, you young whipper-snappers!) and sent it to Avon because they published Kathleen Woodiwiss and my book was really similar to her style of writing. (I can hear you laughing – that’s not very polite!).

It didn’t take long to get my first rejection letter. But about that time I also stumbled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined them even though the annual rate was pretty steep for someone in my financial condition. I started getting their magazine, which I devoured. After the first paragraph of the first article I was already cringing from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing writing a book.

Yes, I could write a story. I had interesting characters. I had excitement. And, of course, romance. But I also had POV issues all over the place (mainly because I’d never hear of point of view and when I got contest notes back that said I had POV problems I still had no idea what they were talking about). It wasn’t until one poor judge took pity on me and highlighted the different POVs that I actually figured out what they were talking about (again, this is before I could Google the answer - you younger writers have no idea how lucky you are!).

Over the years I joined RMFW, entered contests, joined a critique group, went to conferences and workshops, read books on writing, followed blogs – whatever I could find that would teach me to know what I didn’t know. And learned a ton about writing. I’ve set that original manuscript aside, although I think some day it WILL see the light of day. I wrote a book that a small publisher picked up and went through four rounds of edits, learning more about what I didn’t know. I’ve written several more manuscripts and have seen my contest scores increase, but never been #1 with a bullet.

Now I understand that there are a lot of things about writing that I don’t know, and a lot of things about writing that I do know. Most of all I know I’ll keep learning more as I go along. My manuscripts are better. I believe I’ll publish again. I know I’ll make more mistakes. I just sent a query letter to an agent that had me waking up in the middle of the night and saying, out loud, “Did I really write that sentence like I think I did, and if so, WHY!!!!!” (by the way, yes I did, and it resulted in the by-then-expected rejection).

So learn. Listen. Read. Attend. Critique. AND WRITE ON! See you at Gold or one of the workshops or at the bookstore or library.

And Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

Terri Benson
As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW (Western Slope Liaison & Board Education Chair, and W/S events are hosted at her employer); she is also a long-time member of RWA. Benson is a regular blogger for RMFW, and frequently pelts them with articles for the newsletter.
Her historical romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story with plenty of suspense, is available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback. More about Terri on her website.

4 thoughts on “Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

  1. What a nice Christmas present for US, this message. Thank you, Terri. Loved the meme, too! Merry Christmas, and may Santa be very good to you!

  2. Ah, I remember it well….typewriter ribbons, carbon paper, onion skin copies, endless retyping, Liquid Paper….envelopes and postage and SASE. And so many rejections because I had no clue what I was doing in spite of my Writer’s Market. We’ve come a long way!

    • Yeah, baby. I think I still have all those parts in a file somewhere, and I saved many of the revisions of the revisions. Someday I’ll have to go back and read the original to compare to the final. It would be a lot of laughs, and probably some tears.

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