In June of 2014 I found myself in Sacramento, CA. I was there to attend the Western Writers of America Conference, and on this particular morning was one of 40 or so newbies, that is, those who published their first western-oriented book or who were attending the conference for the first time, or both. We were each asked to stand and talk what brought us there. We listened politely to one another as we extolled the virtues of our own lives and creations.
Somewhat bleary-eyed after many presentations, I snapped into focus when one author announced she was from Guadalupe, CA, because no one is from Guadalupe, Ca, and because this tiny town is less than 20 miles from where I live. I rushed over to introduce myself at the first opportunity. The author’s name, it turned out, is Bonnie Kelly. She writes Westerns, pard; I mean the real Louis L’Amour, sixgun, ‘ya got me!’ westerns. I stuck with her like a burr under her saddle for the rest of the conference.
Happens, she belongs to the Word Wizards of Santa Maria. I was seeking a good writer’s critique group. Bonnie thought I’d be a good match for the Wizards; so it has turned out.
At the time I joined, I had written and published two novels. It didn’t take long for the group to find their flaws.
I had a proclivity for length: I never used one word when two would suffice. Where is the meat? my new colleagues demanded, and it became necessary for me to write much more efficiently, sparingly, economically (To many adverbs here…BMH) to avoid my pages returned hidden under scrawled comment.
“Don’t use that.”
“Don’t begin with but.”
“You used 25 ands in one paragraph.”
“Gerunds are running amuck all over your pages.”
And so forth. This was tutelage by rote, retention by fire. Determined to have more words on my pages than my critics, I followed up each meeting with an immediate rewrite. Eventually, the cues became fixed in my mind. I no longer have conjunctionitis. Every multiple she and he pulls me up short. Red flags fly in my head as I write, often with the face of a colleague imaged in my brain.
And do you know what (did I just start a sentence with and)? I am a far better writer than I was before I joined the Santa Maria Word Wizards. Right, Barbara? I say, Barbara? Right? Barbara…?( …and, yes you are. BMH)