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Why You Are Not Buffy (But Can Be Veronica)

Do you know how long it took for Buffy to become the Slayer? Just a few days.

Do you know how long it took for Veronica to become a badass teen detective? An entire lifetime of observing, practicing, doing it wrong and learning from her mistakes. By the time the show was cancelled (so. wrong.) little Ronnie was still figuring things out.

Why the huge difference in time for these two awesome characters to learn and develop their craft?

One is given powers by a mystical pure-demon entity of the universe while the other’s an ordinary girl who learns her awesomeness through time and trial and error.

At any one time there can be one (or two and I’m not even touching the slayer gang thing that happened in season 7) slayers in the world. You are not it.

But extraordinarily talented practitioners of a real craft? There can be many, many of those. And that’s what you, as a writer, should be aiming for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually one of those who believes great writers have inherent creative talent. But that’s just a jumping off point. Even inherently great writers need to study and hone their craft in order to make it in publishing. What your “craft” is will be up to you. There are all sorts of writers and stories that make up publishing, so I’m not going to say any genre or style, etc. is better or lesser than another. But in this oversaturated YA market, you are going to need every possible advantage to get your manuscript read, signed and sold.

I’m done being frustrated by those who think they will write a novel in a couple of weeks, send it off and wait for the publishing riches to flow in. That’s just fodder for the funnies and our readership is way too smart to buy into that. But when’s the last time you took a good, honest look at how far along in your learning process you really are?

I only ask because I have discovered, after several months of reading for a lit agent, the intense disappointment that comes with hoping for a great manuscript only for it to fall short. And oftentimes the falling short is something that could have been remedied with more careful crafting, whether that means better writing or better plotting.

So how can you develop your craft and how long should it take?

The second part of that question is much harder to answer than the first. Maybe it takes you a year and two manuscripts before you really have it. More likely it takes a lifetime of learning, Veronica.

That doesn’t mean you’ve spent your life reading How-To books or attending creative writing classes. Which brings us to:

How to Develop Your Craft (pick two or more):

Read. For law’s sake, read. For most writers, the lifetime experience comes from this reading. We spend our youths longing for books as presents and getting around lights out by stashing a book and a flashlight under our pillows. Years and years of reading puts us in a literary mind-set. We learn how stories are built, how great sentences flow, how effective the right word can be simply by absorbing the contents of books. If you are new to reading, you have lots of cramming to do. If you are new to reading the genre you wish to write (or have never read in the genre you wish to write) don’t pick up a pen until you have a few dozen good novels under your belt. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t write in a genre you’ve never read. It’s glaringly obvious.

Study. I didn’t study creative writing as an undergrad (English, yes) and I have no plans to pursue an MFA in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean these methods of learning the craft aren’t valuable. They certainly can be. A program that focuses your attentions, forces you to write and meet deadlines and gives you probable writing assistance and peer feedback can be beneficial to developing your craft. Whether you decide on a formal course of writing study or not, you can enhance your learning by reading books about writing (including grammar and style guides) and dissecting or doing close readings of classic, award-winning or popular literature.

Practice. There’s a reason doctors do several years of residency training. On the job practice is the best way to learn how to properly implement the things they learned in Med school. There are very few careers that don’t take some amount of practice to be very good at (can anyone think or a single one???) and writing is certainly not one. One in many thousands authors gets that first ms published (see Buffy, above) but don’t assume that one is going to be you. I don’t mean for that to sound nasty. It’s nothing more than statistics. Don’t write thinking your story is going to be a throw-away, but do allow yourself to recognize if the first, second or twelfth novel isn’t “the one.” Those novels are your residency, the thing that’s going to give you an advantage over those who don’t practice.

In this tough YA market, you need to take advantage of craft-development opportunities and be honest with yourself about how far you’ve come in your learning process. Agent inboxes are overflowing with stories that have great concepts but poor writing or amazing writing but plots that fall apart. Ultimately, the vast majority of submissions fall short.

And then agents have to make sad puppy dog faces (this is totally true).

Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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21 comments:

  1. This is an awesome post, Kristin. I notice an improvement in my writing every time I write a new WIP or do a huge revision. It just happens. Because every time I write something new, i'm remembering things I had to fix before. I also like the advice to be honest with yourself, because I find I'm most successful (in every part of life) when I am.

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  2. AMAZING. And of course I love the Buffy/Veronica analogy. The difference between writing my first MS and my second was unbelievable. I can only imagine how much improvement will come with 3, 4, 5, etc etc.

    And I agree with Kaitlin -- the ability to be honest with yourself is so important. Hard sometimes, but truly the first step to achieving anything difficult.

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  3. As a huge Buffy & Veronica fan, couldn't wait to read this post. Great points! I can't even guess how much YA I've read (nor count the ms drafts in my cupboards). The novel I finally sold is something of which I am truly proud--both in terms of plot and technique. And I feel very lucky I did not submit my earlier novels though I thought they were pretty decent at the time :) - Stasia

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  4. Great post. I totally agree with all of this.

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  5. This is soooo true! I know we all start writing hoping to be Buffys, but it's taken me five years of writing, re-writing, scrapping and starting again just to get a literary agent.

    Ya know, it's much more rewarding to be a Veronica. You're getting to where you want to be via your own merit, not some mystical prophecy/bloodline.

    Awesome post!

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  6. Wonderful post! I love the use of Buffy and Veronica as examples. It's so true, that no matter how much natural talent you may (or may not!) have been born with, deliberate practice experience just make you better and better.

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  7. What really took my writing to the next level was finding a good critique group and betas (y'all know who you are). I learned just as much from critiquing their writing as I did from their critiques of mine.

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  8. Great post, and even better than you had two of my favourite female characters ever as comparisons. Who wouldn't want to be Buffy? But of course that doesn't happen. I would compare Buffy to the 'Stephanie Meyers' out there. The ones who are not the norm. And Vernoica is the rest of us trying and learning and practicing to be great.
    Thanks for the post.

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  9. Great post! Agree with everything that's been said, especially Angelica. Finding my crit partners has been the most helpful thing of all. They turned my crap into some much, much better (sometimes still) crap. Ha! No, seriously, love the importance of time spent working on this craft we all love.

    And VMars cancellation? I will never understand.

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  10. Love the post. I know my writing has improved vastly from my first wip, my first book etc. I even have read Stephen King's, Anne Rice and other well known authors and seen improvement in their work and sometimes I've seen them get worse (maybe because they no longer get as well reviewed as earlier.) But my love of widdling at something to make it better just keeps me trying to become a better me.

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  11. Wow. I mean Wow. Combining my two favorite teenage crime fighters and making it a metaphor for writing. Briliant.

    Yes.
    Read, study, practice. I remember when I met Alicia, (see commenter number 4- I remember thinking DAMN she knows her stuff)

    After 15 drafts I think I've finally found got my novel down (of course I said that 14 other times) But practice and reading does help a whole lot.
    Awesomeness

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  12. (hopes no one notices that erica has no idea who Veronica is. . .)

    I've had the great luck to meet and become friends with a few published authors out there and they all tell me "Shelve the first one. Work on the second. Then do that until you have one that's ready." (or some variation of that).

    Tomorrow we're blogging on Killing your Manuscript. Must be something in the post-Nano air. :)
    erica
    (I say Kill your manuscript, scroll down, and my captcha is "cried" haha)

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  13. I think you need to do all three of those things. I intend to.

    (I might do the MFA route too. )

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  14. I'll second (or third, or whatever) the point that beta reading for others helps your own writing - which makes finding a crit group that's truly talented extra important.

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  15. Thanks for the comments. I agree that we probably all wanted to be Buffy at first (maybe still do at least a little bit). But I love all the Veronica thoughts best: how much you've grown as writers and learned and figured out. Definitely beta read, too! That could fit under READ or STUDY. :)

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  16. Thanks for the awesome advice. And I love how our first novels are our residency. So true! I can't believe the progress I've made between #1 and now. And I'll just continue to learn and grow.

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  18. Awesome post! I came here from Amparo Ortiz's blog, and just ate this up:

    "Those novels are your residency, the thing that’s going to give you an advantage over those who don’t practice."

    Thank you. This makes me feel better, and also reminds me how much work I have left to do.

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  19. Great post, and it's worth adding one thing: even magically-talented Buffy improved with practice.

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  20. Finally trying to catch up on my blog reading. I <3 this post so much. It always amazes me how often I see questions that could be answered if the person just read more.

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Item Reviewed: Why You Are Not Buffy (But Can Be Veronica) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook