Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Common mistakes of first time writers

Many authors say that to get published in the world of fiction, the thing you need the most is Perseverance. But I think you can be a snail trying to move a mountain all you want, but unless you're a snail with power tools, it's going to be pointless. So, yes, perseverance counts, but also doing it the right way. What are the five most common mistakes first time writers make when trying to get published?

One, sending your work out before it's ready. When I am writing I keep obsessing about my sentences, and keep going back and reading earlier sections and editing them. But once I've done what looks like a decent draft, I just want to send it off there and then. I don't want to wait the usual two weeks that writers advise, before reading the draft again and doing a proper edit. I want to send it off at that point, because I think that's the best I can do. But wait two weeks - better still a month or two - and problems in the draft become glaringly obvious. As long as you are "inside" the writing, you won't be able to see the problems in it. Give yourself time to detach from your draft and go back to it as if you were just a reader.

Two, not listening to feedback. Find other writers, editors, former or current agents who'll give you the time of day (they are out there, despite what people say about the gruesomely cold and calculating market), friends who read a ton of novels, etc. Not everyone's feedback is valuable, but if people keep saying the same thing about your writing over and over again, and you keep bemoaning how no one understands your genius - well, either you need to keep quiet and listen more, or you really are a hidden prodigy, in which case you're really looking at posthomous fame. If a few people you trust read your work and say things like, "Um, not quite getting what the overall theme is, really," or "The main character seems a bit inconsistent/unbelievable/a bit too normal, don't you think?" or "Uh, these bits are really funny, but, uh, why are they here?", or "Um, so, why the compulsion to put seven adjectives before every noun, hmm?" or "Your grammar sucks. Is English really your first language?" then listen to them, get more training, get a proper editor.

Three, not marketing yourself and your writing. Here's the one that I find really tricky. Despite being a dancer, I don't have enough of a diva in me. And divas, though annoying, boring, ridiculous, really just annoying, do get attention, they're just so damn self-involved. They never worry about sounding like they're full of themselves, or like they don't have enough humility, or are over-confident about their work. I have to tell the truth - I find it next to impossible to say cool things about myself, or put up arty pictures of myself looking dark, cool, witty, and skinny at the same time. No, really, I force myself to do it. I want my work to speak for itself, and to be judged on its own merit. Hmm, yeah, okay then. You may have the privilege of being discovered, or of having the right contacts already (though why are you reading this page then?), but if not, then you have to market yourself. Publishers and agents want first time writers only if they already have a track record of attracting readers - see the problem in that sentence?

Four, not reading enough. If you can't really be bothered reading novels (or whatever type of writing you're interested in) then ask yourself if you really want to be a writer. No, really, if you're not really all that interested in the form, then why bother? Yes, there are depressingly mediocre writers out there who are very successful, and they probably wouldn't know literary or even half-way decent fiction if it bit them in their - neck, but please, READ. Nothing will give you better training. No creative writing class. No editor. Nothing.

Five, getting obsessed with the market. Yes, it's a good idea to know the market, but it's a very, very bad idea to be obsessed with it. Write what you love. Keep refining it. And then refine it some more. Look at the most successful authors. Look at J.K Rowling. She wasn't following a market, she created her own.

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