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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Margo Dill--You Stopped Me From Writing

I recently hired Margo Dill to critique my manuscript. Dill delivered what she advertised: feedback.

However, what she wrote about my story stopped me from writing myself off as a writer who would have always wondered "What if...?"  

Here's the quick backstory: I'd written a middle grades novel for NaNoWriMo of 2016. I'd done lots of research (it's historical fiction). I'd revised as I wrote, so I knew it was perfect. Okay, deep in my head (but not my heart) I figured it wasn't completely perfect. I could probably be forced to begrudgingly admit that my manuscript needed a bit of minor tweaking, but just a few adjustments here and there.

Margo did not agree.

Here is some of what she suggested:

  • Kill off one of your characters--literally. My main character has two younger sisters. Margo thinks I should get rid of one. Moving the story along doesn't require both of them, and it would make my story easier to tell. (Making this revision process less work? I'm all for that.)
  • Cut scenes but delete nothing. She thought I should cut the unneeded scenes, but paste them into a file for possible later use. (For example, if in the future an editor says, "You need a scene right here where the main character is eavesdropping on his parents," I could let them know I already have one that I cut during an earlier revision.) After reading her critique and reflecting upon my story, I knew beyond a doubt Margo was right. My story has lots of unnecessary stuff in the first three quarters of the story... and then the last quarter is rushed through. (Yeah, I admit it. I did do that. I spent way too many pages setting up the story--which is the stuff I could write, and then hurried through the exciting part like it was an afterthought--because it was completely foreign soil for me as a writer and I didn't feel very confident when writing about it.) Which brings me to the next suggestion...
  • Plan out the story. Divide it up into 3 acts. Create a story arc. Really? Are you serious, Margo? I'm a pantser, not a planner. I fly by the seat of my pants. Outlining my story? Creating a storyline? Making a tension graph? It's never been my modus operandi.) With very specific suggestions, she gave me the beginning of a plan. I had definitely yadda-yadda-yadded my way through a tension-filled historical event... and I'd managed to do it with only a whiff of tension and precious little excitement. (That takes true talent, right?)

Oh, don't get me wrong. Margo gave me lots of specific praise. The constructive criticism was just that--constructive. It was far from disheartening. In fact, the experience was energizing and validating. 
I've now pasted her feedback to the beginning of my manuscript, to help keep me on track. I'm now excited over the prospect of completely revising my manuscript. I've even done some preliminary research to fill in my story's huge gaps. 
And how did Margo stop me from writing myself off as a frustrated writer... as a writer who would always wistfully wonder What if 
Well, if I keep the manuscript as is, due to my stubbornness/laziness/conceitedness, it will never ever get published. With some lots of work, it has a chance... 


Sioux Roslawski is now wearing a hardhat and is in the middle of taking a wrecking ball to her manuscript... which is okay, because when the construction tape is torn down, she'll (hopefully) have something shiny and pretty to shop around to various publishers. This summer she's teaching, but July is completely free. If you'd like to see more of her writing (if she ever writes a new post), check out her blog.


  1. Thanks for sharing. You are so brave!

  2. Amber--Thanks. I had to summon a bit of courage, but since 1) I have a thick skin, 2) I wanted my manuscript to improve and 3) I desperately needed an objective pair of eyes to look at my WIP, I took the plunge.

  3. You yadda-yadda-ydadded your way through your tension-filled historical event--Omg, that's hilarious! Sioux, I've totally done that before, and in my case, it's mostly laziness and wanting to finish something quickly. Margo's advice is all great news because it'll make your manuscript so much stronger when it's finished. Thanks for updating us on your progress. I'm excited for you!

  4. Angela--Yeah, I did NOT mention the bisque...

  5. You know what they say,'s not writing, it's RE-writing, and thank goodness when we find someone who can give us a little distance to see what needs to be re-written.

    I can't wait to see the rewrites! :-)

  6. Cathy--Yeah, the quote about writing being more deconstruction than construction has recently hit home--in a hard way.

    I, too, can't wait to see it rewritten. Oh, I guess that means I can't wait... I'd better get busy.

  7. Those pesky editors. They make us work so darn hard! I think feedback does energize, so you go, girl, and revise that manuscript until it sparkles!

  8. You are funny, Sioux, and like I said yesterday, your writing is good. You have a timely and marketable idea--we just got to get the tension in there. :)

    Seriously, though, I am happy to hear that my advice hit home and that you are energized. You should tell Henry's story and should not let this manuscript sit in a drawer somewhere.

    Now get busy! :) LOL

  9. Cathy--I know. However, I don't mind doing the revising and extra research since it was obviously needed (after digesting her feedback, it was all on-point). But yes, I have loads work ahead of me.

    Margo--I liken what I did to writing about Pompeii and spending 70 or 80 pages on the day before Mt. Vesuvius woke up, and then saying, "Well, our meal was interrupted by a lot of lava," and then coming to a screeching halt.

    Thanks again for wading through the pages and giving me a roadmap...

  10. I'm glad Margo helped - YAY!!! And yes, get to work! I want to read the entire story!

  11. Pat--Whoops. I replied, but addressed it to Cathy instead of you. However, this gives me the chance to toot the horn about your three upcoming books. I'm especially interested in your "Mrs. James" novel. I'll be standing in line to buy a copy of that one...

    Lynn--I might need a cheerleader now and then. This is going to take some serious time...

  12. Sioux, thank you so much for sharing your journey. Many of us have writing that just needs a critical eye, but don't know how to find it. Margo is a great resource, and I'm sure your manuscript will be terrific!

  13. Mary--Once it gets close to "terrific" (after it's undergone a major revision), I'm going to hire Margo again to take a second look.


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