Ann Richards is one of Tanya’s critique partners and long time friends. Writing hot steamy romances under the pseudonym Anya Delvay, Ann also regularly contributes to trade magazines on the love of writing, and constantly improving the craft.
Tanya is honored to call her a friend as well as critique partner. Even being separated by miles (Ann resides in London, Ontario) does not impinge on their constant communications through the phone and email. When they do get together there never seem enough hours to talk and share their stories and about their critiquing relationship.
Read below one of Ann Richards’ witty and astute articles, “Mother Knows Best”, where Tanya’s own pre-teen daughter, Natalia is featured. This article was published in various Romance Writers of America chapters throughout North America in October 07.
Mother Knows Best by Ann Richards
I’ve been really lucky. My obsession with writing has led me to meet some wonderful people. It also introduced me to the joy of critiquing and editing other writer’s work, something I find as interesting, and almost as satisfying, as writing.
But you know there has to be a catch.
There are few things in life scarier than a proud Mama. I should know, since I am one. When not talking about writing I’m often spouting off about my kids. They roll their eyes when I get started, as if wondering who I’m talking about.
So with this in mind, imagine my instinctive rush of fear when Tanya Freedman, one of my best writing buddies, asked me to take a look at a story her eleven-year-old daughter Natalia had started.
I almost refused.
That may sound extreme. Especially since Tanya is the writing pal to end all writing pals, the one at the top of the ‘to be called’ list. Someone I can always count on to listen and give me a swift kick in the booty to get me moving again after a low point.
Those are the very reasons that made me hesitate—along with my almost chronic inability to be politically correct.
What if it was really, really bad? Could I find a nice way to tell Tanya and Natalia? What would be better, an insincere ‘Wonderful!’, or an editorial style critique? Would our friendship survive such an event? Perhaps it would be best to politely demur.
Of course, I said yes. There are few areas of life that I take more seriously than giving encouragement to children. Okay, I confess—it’s one of the few things I take completely seriously. No matter what lay ahead, I was prepared to give constructive, encouraging comments.
Little did I realize how much I was about to learn.
I read the story, sitting at their kitchen table, people coming and going at the periphery of my consciousness. I could feel the ‘Mama-energy’ stretching out toward me from my pal, but I ignored her psychic urging. I didn’t think about the trust she was displaying by asking me to read it, or the honour. I was in editor mode.
The story moved straight into the action. No fiddle-faddling around with back story or explanations, and I didn’t need either to know what was going on. The narrator’s character became clear too with just a few well-chosen lines of dialog.
The introduction of tension started immediately with a secret crush, the narrator’s ‘evil’ older sister, and a revenge plan. Yep, there was definitely a plot.
And here’s the kicker…HOOKS. At the beginning and end of the chapters there were teasers to get you to keep reading. Instinctively, this eleven-year-old had mastered an art that established writers often agonize over.
I was tickled pink. This story, written by a pre-teen, had all the elements we look for–goal, motivation and conflict, dialog moving the story along, hooks and teasers. At the end I could imagine the drama yet to come, was looking forward to seeing how it would all work out.
Yes, there was clean up needed–sentence structure, grammar, tag lines, description, scene continuity–but even with those issues I could very comfortably and happily say it was a good first draft.
And it made me realize…
Here was intuitive writing, intuitive art, in its truest form. Writing about what interested her, Natalia instinctively crafted a colourful tale full of depth and appeal. I can see she has a natural, innate talent for writing, and a voice I would love to watch develop over the coming years. What I wouldn’t like to see is that talent squelched by a long list of “Rules”. I hope she never gets so wrapped up in what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ that it leads to writer’s laryngitis–loss of her literary ‘voice’.
It’s one of those balancing acts that new writers face, unless they’re lucky enough to get an offer right out the gate. Unsure, we try to find guidance in a world where, really, what is good and what is less than good, is often subjective. We seek enlightenment from books, lectures, classes and other writers.
Sometimes we try to squish our work to fit into a mould, or to follow the latest ‘trend’. One person says something should never be done a certain way, and ruthlessly we hack it out of our work.
I know, for myself, somewhere along the line writing stopped being fun and began to feel like a chore. My mind still created the stories, but there were so many “issues” with my writing style the words no longer flowed. It took longer and longer to just get a page written. My mind was so full of what should and shouldn’t be done it had no energy left to arrange the words and images into a form transferable to the computer. Instead I had to force it and what emerged was a stilted, boring collection of phrases that outlined a score but didn’t sing.
This brings us right back to my writing pal, Tanya. One day, while telling her about my struggle, she interrupted and raked me over the coals.
How could I allow what ANYONE said to change the basic nature of my writing and disrupt my flow? We’re each individuals, with our own methods and devices. Our stories can’t be told in someone else’s voice. If you try to take every single piece of advice you receive, it will be the equivalent of cutting out your literary tongue.
Basically her lecture boiled down to, “Stop trying to be perfect, get over yourself, and write the first draft. Worry about the rest later.” Probably the same advice she gave her daughter, although maybe not in the same language she used on me.
I still hate when it turns out mother knows best!