Feedback and advice from Seth Harwood

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Prize comes home to roost

You might remember that I recently entered and won a competition run by author and podcaster, Seth Harwood. As my prize I choose to have a chapter reviewed by Seth. I know I have work to do on my novel “Turning Left at Albuquerque” and who better to set me on the right path than someone who is already published and runs (with author/podcaster Scott Sigler) “Author Boot camps“?

Editing in the land of crazy

I was nervous, excited and downright scared. I mashed my very short first 5 chapters into one longer chapter and proceeded toTurning Left at Albuquerque by Mary R Higgins edit the crap out of that first chapter. I put a pivotal point from near the end of the book right at the beginning to show that Jason (the protagonist) had a long way to go. I chopped out over 1000 words of descriptions and non-relevant sidelines. All the words I thought I had needed fell away and I was cutting like a thing possessed. I read and re-read and cajoled opinions out of my loved ones and eventually I took the plunge and sent it to Seth. And then I tried to forget about it.

Seth emailed the next day to say he had received it and I would hear back in about a week. I turned my attention to other matters like my non-fiction book proposal and awaited the verdict.

Helpful, inspiring and so much work to be done.

I checked with Seth and he said it was fine to share his comments here, because I think what he says will be helpful to other writers, too. He didn’t amend much of the except to remove unneeded  words like “had”, “coming”, and “going”.

“Wow! That’s some puke! [Please Note: In the comments, below, Seth confirms he is talking about the action in the chapter and not my writing!]

I like Jason, despite myself and despite the fact that he’s really in a bad place here and doing nothing about it.

From what I understand of these sections, you’re starting out on new years, a while after Jason’s life has left him. He really wants her back but can’t do anything about it because he’s paralyzed by inability to act. Let’s be honest here—this kind of character is a really hard one to start out the beginning of a first chapter with. A reader will really want to tell him to get off his ass and ACT! Sorry, it’s just that way. When people work hard all day and drop into a book, they want a character they can relate to/escape in, not something they want to scream at.

From the New Years’ morning, we jump back 5 months to Jason getting fired. It seemed odd to me that the first section mentioned him going to work as a part of his life, no interruption mentioned there. So I was confused for a moment, just. I was also surprised in this section that he was so rude/dismissive of Trixie when she called. Has he had a big change of heart in these 5 months? I guess so. But doesn’t he have some idea here that he misses her? (Who’s Andy?)

Guess this seems so far like I’ve got a lot of questions. When you get Jason up to bed and then back downstairs, you’re really starting to create a fine scene that I’m picturing and imagining in my head as I read. That’s really successful writing—you’re taking me beyond words on the page into a co-creation of a movie in my head, a visual narrative starring Jason. Dynamite. Sure there’s a lot of puke in it and imagining that is a bit of a downer, to say the least, but you’ve got me! I’m here with you in his house.

Plot/action wise, let’s look at what happened here in this chapter: in a highly boiled down version, guy sits on New Years’ morning. Flash. Guy gets fired and punches bathroom stall, wakes next day very sick. Pukes. Back to bed. Cleans up puke. Drinks tea. Goes and gets groceries. Comes home. Cleans.

This might be worth re-considering. Are there ways you can get more action in here? Is there a later chapter that’d be better to start the action with? Think about it. A very compelling beginning is essential.

Did you know I cut the first chapter of JWU before podcasting or publishing it? I did. Turned out nothing had happened. This is a common occurrence among writers. It’s like stretching before a long run. Just takes a little while to get warmed up.

In any case, your writing here shows great promise. I like your sentences, your sense of movement and character and what’s most important is you’re doing it! Keep this going, keep working at it and find Jason’s story for yourself. That’s what’s important!”

Eep! There’s a lot of information there.

By which I kick my ego into touch

“Who the heck does Seth Harwood think he is, all judgementy on my fine piece of writing? Doesn’t he know genius when he reads it?”

Of course these were not the first thoughts I had when I read what Seth had to say because I want to learn and be a better writer. The only way I can do that is to actually read and listen and understand what people are telling me about my writing. Imagine if Seth had replied: “Hey, Mary, that was great. Keep up the good work and best of luck.” On the face of it that would have been great but how useful would it have been?

Seth also referred me to his videos – a fantastic resource for anyone looking to improve their writing. This one in particular was very useful to me because here Seth talks about internal dialogue.

Week 6 – Double Duty and More — Thought Italics! from Seth Harwood on Vimeo

In my next post I’ll talk about where I go from here and Seth’s advice about the podcast of “Turning Left at Albuquerque”. Until then let me thank Seth once again for his time and expertise. Don’t forget you can find out all about Seth, his writing, Author Boot Camps and his books on his website,

2 comments on “Feedback and advice from Seth HarwoodAdd yours →

  1. Let me just quickly say that the puke I refer to in the first line above is the character actually throwing up all over his kitchen floor, not any reference to the writing!

    Cheers Mary!

  2. 🙂 Good point, Seth! Thank you for pointing out that my writing did not make you physically sick.

    Yes, there is some (if I may say so myself) epic puking by Jason in the first chapter. What’s not to like about that?!? 😉

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