I’m thrilled to interview super-mentor, Joyce Sweeney today. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Joyce! It’s great to have you here.
It’s great to be here, Mindy!
As a writing coach, what are the most frequent mistakes you see, and do you have any tips for fixing them?
The most common mistake I see in beginners is over narrating, not putting everything into scenes and intruding on the scenes with too much narration. Summarizing dialog, telling the reader what to think and of course, warning them that the main character has no idea what is about to happen. Narrators should be invisible if writers want to grab readers. The most common mistake in intermediate writers is not being thoughtful about POV and choosing it intentionally or not being deep enough in the POV. Most common mistake in advanced writers is not studying the structure carefully and making sure all threads are woven in tightly and things promised are paid off.
Thanks for sharing that—it’s nice to know what pitfalls to watch out for.
Some people seem to find inspiration everywhere while others struggle to find ideas. Do you have any helpful ways for writers to come up with ideas for future books?
Writers should look into their own passions, obsessions and struggles. Keeping a journal is one way to stay in touch with one’s own emotional struggles. The keyword is, choose your subjects from your feelings, not from your intellect. Your mind will always pick a topic that’s safe, or seems like it will sell or might please someone else. If you ask your heart, you get a powerful story every time.
Thank you! My mind is already reeling with possibilities—and I have a feeling your advice will help our readers come up with powerful new ideas, too.
What are the plotting issues you see most often? Do you have any tips for pantsers who don’t like to plan their entire novel in advance?
I think everyone should be true to their own nature. If pantsers plot too much, they just waste their own time. If plotters try to be spontaneous, they have trouble investing in the story. So for process, do whatever you like. Once you have a draft, then look at your plot and make sure you have a main character who is really actively pushing their way through the obstacles you’ve created for them and growing with each one. Make sure there is a range of emotion for the reader. Most people are weak in the act where there’s an emotion they don’t like to feel. For instance I don’t like to feel sad, so I tend to rush through and gloss over Act 2. The Plot Clock is a great tool if you get lost and don’t know what’s missing in your plot.
Is there a point when writers need to move on from a manuscript they love?
That’s a difficult question. I think the thing to say to yourself is, I have to move on for now. If you are getting no queries on a concept, you have to try a new project. If you know you haven’t nailed a book, you have to put it aside until you can fix it. But I, and lots of writers I know, have put books away for as much as ten years and then suddenly you take it out and you know exactly what to do. As long as you still feel the emotions that moved you to write a book, it’s not dead. But it often takes years to see a book clearly enough to fix it.
How did you become a writing coach?
I started all this back in the late 80’s, when the Florida Center for the Book asked me to teach five-week classes. I found out I loved teaching craft and was good at it. But I also saw that after the five weeks, people lost a lot of momentum, so that led to my ongoing workshops and that eventually led to online classes. And now 57 people with traditional publishing contracts, so I know my mission is working!
Wow, that’s an impressive amount of books. Congratulations!
It’s so hard to write the perfect beginning to a novel. What can writers do to make sure their books are off to a great start?
Funny you should ask. Sweeney Writing Coach’s next webinar is today…Wednesday, February 8th at 7pm and the topic is Beginnings! In many ways, there is nothing more important than a good beginning because this is how readers, agents and editors decide if a book is worth reading. And for the writer, being on a good track from the start is helpful. A lot of people think they should begin a book in a place of very high action. Often they’ve been critiqued and told that. But something exciting happening to a stranger is meaningless. Job one is to bond the reader to the main character. You can create enormous tension in the ordinary world if you know how to do it.
Joyce is giving away one spot in tonight’s live webinar: February 8, 2017 at 7pm – Beginnings. How to start, where to start, how to get all those important details in without a big info dump. There are huge pitfalls to writing a great beginning and the webinar will help you find those and avoid them This is useful for those revising or beginning something new.
Thanks so much for your generous giveaway, Joyce! One winner will be selected and contacted between 5 and 5:30 EST tonight. Hopefully the winner will be able to attend the webinar live, but if the timing doesn’t work, he or she will receive access to the on demand version. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!
Guess what? Joyce decided to offer all of you the chance to win one more generous giveaway—an on demand viewing of one of her webinars! The winner can choose from:
*POV (Point of View)
One winner will be selected randomly by the above Rafflecopter on Sunday, February 12.
The winner of the Beginnings! webinar on February 8th is…
Huge congrats, Poppy! Enjoy your prize.
I can’t wait to announce the on-demand webinar winner on Sunday. The Rafflecopter will be updated to display Poppy’s name and the second winner’s name, too. Good luck!
Joyce Sweeney has been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years, beginning with teaching five week classes for the Florida Center for the Book, moving to ongoing invitation only workshops and finally to online classes which reach students nationally and internationally. Developing strong bonds with the students she critiques and instructs is her hallmark. She believes that writers need emotional support as well as strong, craft-based teaching if they are to make the long, arduous, but very worthwhile journey to traditional publication.
Joyce Sweeney is also the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her first novel, Center Line, won the First Annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. Many of her books appear on the American Library Association’s Best Books List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Her first chapbook of poems, IMPERMANENCE , was published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press, her second, entitled WAKE UP will be released this spring. She has had numerous poems, short stories, articles and interviews published; and her play, FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES was produced in 2011. She lives in Coral Springs, Florida with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro.
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.