Writing Your Novel: How to Write About Sex Without Writing About Sex | John Lynch | Skillshare

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Writing Your Novel: How to Write About Sex Without Writing About Sex

teacher avatar John Lynch, Freelance writer and ghostwriter

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (36m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Video 1 Why Are You Writing About Sex

    • 3. Video 2 It's feelings that matter

    • 4. Video 3 Examples of Writing About Sex Without Writing About Sex

    • 5. Video 4 Why It Matters, and the Difference It Makes To Readers

    • 6. Video 5 What Have We Learned and What Comes Next

    • 7. Bonus Assignment

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About This Class

This is the first class in a series about Writing Your Novel by an experienced writer, ghost writer and publisher who since 1989 has written more than 60 books to be published under other people's names, a number of which have achieved best-seller status. He decided to produce these courses because of the large number of submissions his company (Mandrill Press) receives, small though it is, and in the hope that the technical errors visible in almost every one of those submissions can be fixed if writers know they're making them. The series passes on the tips he has learned about developing AND FINISHING your novel in publishable form. 

Meet Your Teacher

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John Lynch

Freelance writer and ghostwriter


Hello, I'm John. I've been writing since I was a child; my breakthrough year was 1989 when I sold my first book to a publisher, my first article to a magazine and my first short story to BBC Radio (if you like you can listen to it here). I still publish in my own name but most of my work is copywriting and ghost writing full length books to be published under the names of others. And I did all of that as a freelancer while holding down a 40+ year career in international sales, from which I finally retired in 2015 to devote myself to freelancing full time

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1. Introduction: Hi. My name is John Lynch, and I'm a writer. Sounds like an introduction from Alcoholics Anonymous, doesn't it? This is the first in a series of quite short classes on how to write a novel. I write contemporary fiction and historical fiction in my own name, and since I began in 1990 I've written more than 60 books as a ghost writer. But I'm not teaching this class because I'm a writer. Why would I? I'm teaching this class because as well as being a writer, I'm a publisher. I went into publishing with a friend about five years ago. She's also a riser were a small publisher. So far, we published books by six different writers. But even small publishers received large numbers of submissions from people who hoped to be published writers. Because we're both writers and we know how it feels to send your book out and not hear a damn thing or get a rejection that shows the publisher hasn't read the book, we make a point of reading everything that sent to us not usually the whole book, but certainly the 1st 30 pages. That's usually enough to know whether we want to read on. Most of the submissions we receive are unpublishable. There's often the germ of a good story there, but the writers make the same mistakes over and over again that characters aren't convincing the Telus things instead of showing them to us. The structure is hopeless. There's no conflict or no theme or it's a long list. A lot of those mistakes could be put right if the writer knew they were making them. That's why I'm creating these short classes on the various things that novice writers get wrong on how to fix them. Our hope is that the quality of submissions will improve. To benefit from this course, you need two things you need to be able to write, and you need to be able to keep going because far more novels air started than ever get finished. If you have those two skills, this set of courses would teach you how to be a successful novelist much faster than the usual writing apprenticeship involving years of trying and being rejected in this first course, I'm going to ease you into the process with a fairly lighthearted look, but something all would be novelists need to learn How do you write about sex without writing about sex? If you want to know why you shouldn't write about sex when you're writing about sex, move to the next video. It would all be made clear. Then I'll see you there. 2. Video 1 Why Are You Writing About Sex: Before we start talking about how to write about sex, we need to ask, Why are you writing about sex? That's the size of the market in erotica while written erotica cells and it won't you plan to write? Is Arata go? You have to write about sex. Obviously, that's what erotica is. Notice, I said. That's what a brought a careers. I didn't say that's what pornography is. I don't write erotica on. I don't write pornography, but SF Hopkins writes Arata Girl, and she describes the difference. Regina erotica and pornography like this in erotica. What matters most is what people feel in pornography. What matters most is what people do, what people feel. That's also the most important thing in the majority of fiction, even fiction that never mentioned sex explicit E. What you the novelist needs to show your reader is how people feel. So if you're about to write the passage in which you proposed to describe a sexual act in detail, ask yourself this question. Well, what I'm about to write help the reader to understand more about my characters. Maura, about what they feel more about what they want. Maura about why they do the things they do. And if you can't answer yes to those questions when you think about the sexual about to describe, then quite frankly, you shouldn't be describing it if your characters have reached the point where they're about to have sex with each other, what your reader wants to hear about would not be anything to do with who does what and what goes, where it will be about the feelings they have before they make love or have sex, because those two things are different, the feelings they have, one that doing it on the feelings they have afterwards, because when your characters do, it's that point. If you've done your job is a novelist properly, your readers know where they've reached it. Your readers don't need a description. Your readers either know what people do when they get into bed together or they don't. If they do know, they don't need you to tell him. And if they don't know, then ask yourself is tearing them really your job? In the next video, I'll be given example of fiction that describes sex without describing sex. I don't see you there 3. Video 2 It's feelings that matter: Welcome back, the last video set that it's feelings that matter most and not what people do In this video . We're going to take our first look at how that works in practice. One of the problems for ghost rights and, like May, who wants to pass on tips about how to write a novel is that we can't do is extracts from the books. We go through it and throw the people when you sign a contract to ghost write a book. The contract includes a non disclosure agreement that says, You can never will not talk about any of the books you've written as though you were the writer. What that means is I'm gonna have to use examples from my own books. But before I do that, here's an example from the writer Caroline Graham. Caroline Graham is an English writer. She wrote a series of books about a fictional police station in a fictional town called Midsummer, although in fact midsummer's a Siris of fictional villages. One of her characters was Detective Sergeant Troy. When the books became the basis of a British TV series, Midsomer Murders, Sergeant Troy was presented as a new man capital and capital, and he was single. He was sensitive to the needs of women. Many women were attracted to him, and he showed commendable restraint in how he dealt with them. That's not how Caroline grow. Um, presented Sergeant Troy in the books in the books. Troy is married, and yet he pursues every woman he meets on. He does it in a really sexist way. One of the most informative relieving scenes in the books comes when Troyer's having sex with his wife. I used the expression having sex because you couldn't possibly describe what's going on is making love. So how does Caroline Graham present this? She doesn't describe any sexual activity at all beyond telling us the Troy on his wife of in bed. The Troy is carrying the memory of a meeting with a female witness he found attracted but who rejected him out of hand, and that this has made Troy feel Randy. The key point in the scene comes when Troy says to his wife while engaged in the Sex Act, You don't need to wake up if you don't want to. The writer hasn't described anything that they're doing. She hasn't told us where the Troy was lifted, his wife's nicey or she's taking it off. She hasn't even told us whether they kissed. But in only 11 words, you don't need to wake up if you don't want to. She's told us everything we need to know in complete detail about the relationship between Troy and his wife and Troy's attitude, both to her as a person on to women in general. It's a tour de force, a brilliant piece of writing by a writer in complete control of her craft. I learned from it, and so can you. In the next video, we'll be looking at an extract from a book that shows a watch much warmer and more affectionate relationship between a young man on a young woman. But there's still no actual description or what they're doing. I'll see you there 4. Video 3 Examples of Writing About Sex Without Writing About Sex: Welcome back. This course is about how to write about sex without writing about sex. So now we're going to take a close look at sex in fiction. I hope that's what you're expecting, because it's certainly what you're about to get. The last video used an extract from Caroline Graham's Midsummer Murders books to show how her portrayal of Sergeant Troy and his sexual adventures gives a clear picture of the kind of man he is on the kind of relationships he has. Caroline Graham does that without actually writing about sex at all. As I said in the last video, Ghostwriters signed non disclosure agreements, and I therefore can't read to from books I've written to be published under somebody else's name. What I can do is to read from my own. Here comes Extract one. It's the book I originally called zappers. Mam's a slapper. There it is. Although the publisher renamed, it is the bet the Making of Billy Mack. Elaine. There are some things you need to know about the story if you to understand what's going on here. The first is that Billy and Poppy both come from very deprived backgrounds in an inner city . They were boyfriend and girlfriend at school. It was a chaste relationship on they were parted When Bill you under prison a se youth before that happened. One day Papa said to Billy, How much do you love me? And Billy couldn't answer, He said, How do you measure love? How do you How much do you love? May and Poppy said, up to the sky and down again, a 1,000,000 times. You need to know those things if you really going to understand where this part of the story came from. Now Billy is out of prison. They somehow got back together again. They've been out a couple of times. It's still a very chaste relationship, and Billy says, I didn't deserve Poppy. If she'd been a vindictive person to sort to make me pay for the hurt I'd inflicted, I couldn't have complained if she wasn't. She was someone who loved, and I don't think she knew how not to do it. The woman didn't take a long time. I think all she wanted was to know that I really wasa Soria's. I'd said I waas and that I was still underneath the person. She remembered. It was our third date. She never invited me to her place and she hadn't been to mine. But that's Saturday. Should come to Shrewsbury. And we were walking in the park. She said, Do you remember asking me if I ever got a hug? I could feel myself going red. I wasn't trying it on. I know you weren't. I think that was the first proper you'd ever had it. Waas thing is, Billy, I'd like it back. She turned to face me and drew me close. She smoothed my chest with her hands. This is a nice jacket. I bought it in Bruges. I gave myself a weekend there a few months ago. Lovely place. Nice enough to go twice. Oh, sure. We could go together. Maybe her arms wrapped themselves around me and I unfolded her in mine. Her face was tilted up, asking had asking to be kissed. So I kissed her. We stayed like that to people clasping each other. And I have that feeling I hadn't known since. Wendy had never felt with Amanda or Katie or terror or Marcie or Marigny, for that matter. It was It's a physical thing. Tenderness. The raising of hair on your skin, the warm closeness, the sense that you're with someone to whom you must serve as much as they do. People went by us in both directions. They went on bikes and skateboards and road escapes, and some just walking people on their own people with friends, couples, couples with Children. There was squirrels running up and down trees and across the grass. All of that was going on, and Poppy and I just stood there and held each other, she said. It's coffee time. There's a costume not far away. Actually says that I was thinking of your place. She walked around the flat looking at things while I made coffee. After she'd taken her first sip, she said, It's decision time, Billy. That makes me very nervous. Oh, I've made mine, You, Billy or the one who has to decide is this forever Or just a nice interlude? My heart beat fast is forever, Pops. She nodded when you got out of prison. Did they give you your condoms back? Hey. Oh, I'm asking if you keep me safe, Billy. I still don't want a baby. Her eyes came up to hold mine. Not that I'm married. I'll take care of you. You'll be gentle, won't you? I wrapped my arms around her. I kissed her on the forehead, on the cheek, on the throat, on the lips. She kissed me back. She used herself out of my grasp, took my hands and let me towards the bedroom. Just before she gave herself to me. She said, How much do you love me up to the sky and down again? A 1,000,000 times. You blessed Bernie Mac. You'd better just before she gave us up to me, That's all you get. You know what? They've just don't You know what they're going to do when she says it, but you don't see it. And that's what I mean by writing about sex without rising about sex. All the love is there all the warmth, all the tenderness, all the affection. It isn't actually necessary to describe the physical arts of sex. I'm not saying this out of some priggish or prudish desire not to see people writing about sex. If you want to write erotica, that's great. If you want to write scenes in which people make love and you describe precisely how they do it. That's great. But it's possible to write and to say all the things that you want to say about the relationship that exists between the boy and the girl, a man and a woman, or between two women or between two men. If that's what you want to write about, it's possible to write those things without actually physically describing it. And I know that just as there are people who want to write erotica and want to read it. So there are people who want to write books in which that does not take place on people who want to read those books. In the next video, I'm going to talk about why that's important on how to decide whether, at this point in the book, it's okay to write about sex and more detail on at this point in the book. It's not such a good idea because it's necessary to distinguish between those two points in a in in the development of your story. I'll see you there 5. Video 4 Why It Matters, and the Difference It Makes To Readers: welcome back. By now, you should be thinking, Why? Why does this matter if the reader is going to know anyway, what my characters air up to? Why not just describe it? The answer has to do with the way your story unfolds. The steady flow of the story on on. Please excuse my use of this word here. The climaxes You can't tell the whole of your story. On one level, if you write a novel in which every action and every conversation on every page is conducted at a peak level of excitement, no one will read past the 1st 5 pages, and that also goes for if there's no excitement at all, you need fluctuations in excitement. On what I'm asking you to accept is that it's okay to describe sexual activity, at least to some extent in most parts of your novel, but not in those that are most important to the story. Here's another extract from Zappos. Mom's a slapper. This one comes from earlier in the book than the one you already heard. Billy has just arrived in Norwich, where he's attending art school in pursuit of his photography, my first girlfriend in Norwich was Amanda. I saw her looking at me almost from the moment we both arrived. The old Billy would have done nothing about it. And probably Bean surprised if she had made in advance a surprise. I had bean when Wendy wanted to go to the ball with me, the new Billy, or has any rate the emerging Billy did things differently. She was in the Union bar, and I don't know whether I'd have approached him in the way I did. If two pints of beer on an empty stomach had not given me courage, I said, my place or yours. And she said, My flatmates are out and took my hand. I never did a poll on. I can't be sure what percentage of first year students had sex, but my guess would be not as many as said they did. What I can be more certain off is that most of the sex wasn't very good, not enough foreplay all over too soon. To both parties. These were young people, many of them doing it with a real person for the first time on each, as much in the dark is the other I'd been taught by Melanie, the older woman of legend, That first afternoon when I raised my face from the junction of Amanda's thighs after bring her to orgasm with my toe, my face was spattered and fragrant with her juices, and hers was a picture of ecstasy. Where should just where did you learn to do that? Of course I didn't tell her the truth. I was rolling a condom into place and she said, You don't need that. I'm on the pill on Use it anyway, I said, Belt and braces. Okay, we've now read to extract from the same book. In each extract. A young man and a young woman are doing the same thing. They're in bed together and they're making love. In the first extract that we read. There's no description of the activity at all. All you get is just before she gave herself to me. The whole business of making love was contained in those words. The second extract isn't exactly something you might find in a sex manual, either, because that's just not my style. But in that reference to Amanda's thighs and juices, you do get more than a hint about the foreplay that's gone on. Why this difference? It's simple. When you write about sex. If you provide detail, a lot of readers will be distracted. They'll be thinking about the sex more than they're thinking about the story. The business between Amanda and Billy is simply an episode in Bodies development, part of the character rock, which is going to be the subject of a class all to itself in the set of classes. And so it's all right to include some detail. A little read a distraction isn't going to hurt. But that first extract I read when 1,000,000,000 Poppy are reunited after all the troubles they bean through, that is in many ways the key scene in the book. When I wrote that, I wanted readers to understand the central importance of what they were saying on the page , and so I didn't want any destruction. And that's why the only description of the lovemaking between Poppy and Billy is contained in the words just before she gave us up to me. And that is also why you need to learn how to write sex without writing about sex, because you will need to identify in your novel the scenes that are so key to the story that the reader must not be distracted. In a nutshell. Sex distracts, and there are times when we don't want to distract our readers. In the next video, I'm going to be wrapping up this course going through the things that we learned or hope we've learned Andi talking about what's going to be in the next course is to come. I'll see you there. 6. Video 5 What Have We Learned and What Comes Next: welcome back. So what have we learned? What I hope we've learned is that novelists need to treat sex with respect and care. It is, after all, a matter of great importance, something that goes to the very heart of our lives. We talk easily enough about life and death. When we want to say that something is really important. We say it's a matter of life and death. But novelists, I hope, treat words with greater care than other people do. And we know that of those two things, life is more important than death. Why, that's simple enough. If we never had life, we couldn't have death. And sex creates life. Not every time I give you that. But there's no human life without sex. But sex is not only the initiator of life. It's also a great distraction to your readers. In the course of writing your novel, your story will have peaks and troughs the peaks of the times. When you want total attention from your readers, you don't want anything to distract them, and you know that a great many of them will be distracted by any mention or description of sex. And yet your characters, a human beings, some of them are having sex, and your readers know it. What I want you to practice is presenting the scene without describing it exactly as I did when I put into Billy's mouth the words just before she gave herself to me to provide the hold of the description of Billy and Poppies lovemaking. So here's an exercise for you. The file is provided with this case for you to download. It comprises a number of short passages in which the sex act is described in greater or less detail. What I'd like you to do pleases rewrite those passages in such a way that the reader will understand what has happened without reading a description of it. I provided an example. You do the rest. Let me say that none of those passengers could be described as pornographic because I don't know who is going to download this one age. They're going to be what preferences they will have. So I've taken care to make sure that nothing is explicit. That fire also gives you my email address. If you email your effort to me after you complete the assignment, I'll let you have my comments. This has been the first class in a number of short classes designed to help you write your novel. I'll be rolling them out at intervals of 10 days or so. The next class will deal with the vexing question of show. Don't tell, which seems to trouble a lot of new novelists and quite a few who aren't you? The class after that will do with timelines and the software I use first to outline my plan novel and then to avoid city mistakes while I'm writing it. If you want to know when those classes and the ones that follow them are available, follow me here. You can also email me at the address I've given on the assignment file, asking to be kept in touch. I look forward to hear from you Bye for now. 7. Bonus Assignment: and now a bonus. You thought after the last video that this class was all over. And so it is a Sfar is the topic of writing about sex without writing about sex is concerned, but I wanted to add a little bonus. The bonus is about brevity, because brevity, or rather, the lack of it, is one of those things that cause. Books sent Amanda WordPress to be rejected. The authors used too many words to say what they have to say. Sometimes I itch to say, Get to the point man or woman even when we do accept a book that someone has submitted to us the book we finally publishes, usually a fair bit shorter than the book the author centers when I'm editing a book, even a while written book of the sort we might want to publish. I typically removed between 20% and 30% of the text I start with, so if you send a 60,000 words by the time I've edited, it will usually be between 42,000 and 48,000 words. That doesn't happen because I'm looking for sure to book. It happens because the order has not done his or her own editing was sufficient force. They haven't tried to say what they want to say effectively and clearly in no more words than they have to use. That's what I mean by brevity. I want to tell you how I learned this lesson, because it would be nice to be able to claim that I've always been the skilled professional writer. I want to help you become nice. That not true. I had the same sort of experiences almost every novice writer has. The same is you. Hard. If you've already been sending out your novel, the experience known as rejection rejection hurts. You know that if it's happened to you and you may very well have responded to rejection in the same way as I did the publishers, obviously an embassy of the agent doesn't recognize star quality when it's right in front of her. I'm too good for this market. It's their loss. Well, it wasn't their loss, it was mine. And if you've been saying it's their loss, it isn't their loss. It's yours. Agents, editors and publishers have no difficulty in finding authors they want to work with. If they didn't take my book, my article on my story, your book, your article or your story. There were plenty of others. They could choose room. The initial problem in my case, where I was going wrong was that I wasn't giving them what they wanted. I studied the market quite hard, and I looked in detail at the sort of book that that that agent represented all that publisher accepted. I'm not going to say I change what I wrote because I didn't. But I did change who I sent it to. There was no point in sending a historical mystery to an agent who only represented brightness of dystopian fiction, set 1000 years in the future. Then I had a stroke of luck. I was so young and so arrogant. I didn't really know just how lucky I'd bean. I'd sent an article to Good Housekeeping magazine. I'd studied the articles they published. I knew that mine was on a subject that interested them, and I worked on it and worked on it and worked on it until I was satisfied that it was tightly written as it could be, because if anything was clear, it was the Good Housekeeping didn't accept longer articles than the article's needed to bay . There wasn't a single word there that didn't absolutely need to be there. In my opinion, I wrote a covering data, signed it, places in an envelope with another envelope that had my name and address in the correct poster joint. I knew they weren't going to reject this article because it was perfect for him, but I also knew I had to send return postage. And then I waited. Sometimes in the past, I'd waited for months. Sometimes I never did get a reply. But this time the reply came. Within the week the postman handed me what was obviously my return postage on loop Equally . Obviously, it contained my article, I could tell, not just from the fear of the envelope and how thick it waas. They rejected it. I knew that because that's what happens when somebody reject something. They send it back. I'm talking here 30 years ago. This is long before the days when you would email your submission to an agent or a publisher. I can still remember that moment of cold fury when I heard the envelope across the floor. Good Housekeeping editor was a complete fool. She didn't recognize a great riser when his work was in front of her. How the devil had she ever managed to get that job? She was obviously sleeping with the owner. I was so upset. I left the envelope on the floor. I walked across it when I was going somewhere. I didn't pick it up until I was about to go to bed Daddy evening. Even that I almost threw it in the bin unopened. But then I thought, Better see what they have to say. I read the first sentence in the editor's letter. Then I read it again. I still feel emotional when I remember that moment. Because what she said, this genius editor with an eye for talent started with the words we'd like to publish your article. I didn't quite know how to react. Good Housekeeping wanted to publish an article written by May. Uh, but hold on. If they wanted to publish it, why send it back to me? Because there it waas attached to the letter. And so I read on and I was plunged right back into this bear because what? She said in a second sentence Waas. We'd like you to reduce the length by 30%. 30%. That was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. I have written this article is tightly as I possibly could. So how in the name of heaven was I supposed to get 30% out of it? Hopeless. She'd raised my hopes only to dash them again. And then I read the next sentence. In it, she said, I'm sending around to go back to you with some notes and where I think it could be cut without losing any of the meaning. I looked at those notes. Of course it was ludicrous. There was no possible way I could reduce the world count by 30%. And then, as I read, each knows I thought on Well, I suppose if I and then if I maybe it's just possible I could get the world countdown. I don't know how you operate, but I'm my most creative in the morning, quite early in the morning, in fact, evenings on good for me and bedtimes of Impossible. So I left it till the next morning. Following her notes, I got the world countdown by exactly 30% and This is the key point. When I read it, losing 30% of the words had not changed the meaning at all. About 20 years ago, I had a follow up to this because by now I was used to writing in his few words as possible . Onda. I did something that is actually against the law. So I'm not going to tell you who I did it for. And I'm not going to tell you what the institution involved Waas. But a friend was in despair. She was looking for She was she was she had applied for. She had written it, hesitation for a master's degree in a particular subject. I'm not going to name that subject. She needed that masters degree in order to stay in her job. Andi, the university phone she'd written. It had a maximum number of words that were permitted and she was over it. And she didn't know what to do because just like May or those 10 years before with good housekeeping, just like May, she had given up. She knew she'd written it as tightly as possible that she couldn't write it any better than that. So I said, Come down for the weekend. Bring it with you. When we sat at my computer, she gave it to me on a desk because this trouble be used. Then I felt it into my computer, and I started going through her dissertation, sentenced by centers and each sentence I rewrote, taking about 30% of the words out on at the end of each sentence, I said, Does that sentence still say what you wanted to say on At first? She was very reluctant, but should say yes. All right then, yes, and I did the next sentence on the next and the next. And each time she had to agree. Yes, it still says what I wanted to say, and by the end, she waas happy. But she was also 10,000 words under the limit under the maximum that the university accepted. So she said, Well, now I need to put something else in. I said, Hold on, that's a maximum. You don't have to get there. You said everything you want to say. You said it. 10,000 words inside the limit, Your be fine and she wants. She got her master's degree, kept her job. She retired now. Now I want you to take part and exercise. There's downloadable fire attached to this video. What we've done is to extract some passages from novels published some time ago, because in the past they place less emphasis on pace and brevity. Novels written in the 19 century were far longer than novels written today. Just read people like Dickens and trollop novels written in the 19 forties, the 19 fifties were a lot longer than they are today, perhaps not as long as in Victorian times, but still longer than we accept today. All right, so we have taken some of those extracts on. What we want you to do is to rewrite those passages in a way likely to be approved by a 21st century editor. And not just any 21st century editor may. There's an email address on the assignment. If you send your completed assignment to me, I'll tell you what I think and how I think you're doing. The reason this should be helpful is that that's what happens when you become good enough to interest an agent or an editor. They start writing back to you. It isn't an acceptance not yet, but you're on your way the first time you got a letter back or an email back saying, This isn't quite for us. But if you were to do this, then perhaps that's when you know that you're over the cusp and you're about to become a publishable writer. Good luck with the assignment on good luck with your writing.