Last week, I mentioned that I went to NAWGFest17, the great writers’ conference run by the National Association of Writers’ Groups. While there, I went to a series of workshops run by Cressida Downing, the Book Analyst. At the first workshop she went through five common mistakes that rookie writers make (with their fiction), which I thought I’d share with you here, as I, too, can own up to having made a couple of these.
A couple of days ago I shared a post on facebook that said:
“Dear friends older than 37: You don’t have to put two spaces after the period anymore. That was for the typewriter era. You’re free.”
It resulted in a raft of comments ranging from:
– “I never do.”
– “Why not?”
– “But I use at least three.”
The post was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying to those writers who were taught to type on a typewriter (including myself), that we should have broken this habit by now. I must admit, it took me many years.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that over 98.276% of all first draft beginnings could be improved dramatically. Okay, I made that up, but whether you’re writing an article, short story or a novel, the beginning has to hook your reader and draw them into your piece. If you don’t do it at the beginning, the reader won’t be bothered to find out what happens next. And don’t forget, the first reader who sees your work is an editor or publisher. So if your writing doesn’t grab them by the scruff of the neck, then it won’t even get the opportunity to do so with any other readers. Here are five ways to strengthen your beginnings:
Last weekend I was in Bewdley, Worcestershire, finding out about the Repair Cafe they have there (for an article). Repair Cafes are a worldwide scheme, originating from one location in Holland in 2008 and exploding into over 1200 locations worldwide today.
The idea is simple: instead of throwing something away when it is broken and buying a brand new replacement, see if you can get it repaired. Their success rate is high. When Bewdley’s Repair Cafe first opened its door a year ago 40 people walked in with broken items and 38 walked with repaired pieces.
It reminded me of a query I once had from a student who was troubled about what to do for the best: keep working on two short stories that she couldn’t sell, or to give up on them and write something new.
What do you do when you see your work published in a magazine? Do you buy an extra copy and frame it on the wall? Do you pass it round to friends and family, insisting that they read it? Or do you file it away in your achievement files of published work?
Have you ever thought of sitting down and reading through the piece yourself? Have you ever played the ‘What The Editor Changed’ game?
Perfection. Whenever we create something, we want it to be good. No. We want it to be great. Well, let’s face it, if other people are going to read our creative words, we really want them to be perfect!
And quite right too. But don’t let perfection hold you back.
A story that is often raised in writers’ groups is that of the perfection of editing, when a writer once reportedly said:
I’m currently reading GUT:The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders (and very interesting it is too). But it made me wonder: how far should writers go in order to ensure their message is understood?
I’ve blogged before about the benefits of reading your work aloud. It can be a useful step in the armoury of proofreading: checking for missing words, repetitions and other typing mistakes. But reading aloud like this often takes place in your own writing space, alone, so you can listen to the words you’ve written. Getting your text right goes a long way to conveying a clear message. But do you listen to the message? Enders knew for her subject matter she needed help.
How many drafts of one piece do you write? I ask, because when I receive an assignment those that are still first drafts stand out for several reasons. They contain spelling (or more probably typing) errors, homophones (where words sound the same but are spelt differently and have different meanings), and there are usually structural errors too.
It doesn’t matter how much outlining you do either (although outlining may resolve many of the structural problems writers face). Even if you’ve outlined your piece to death, that first draft is just that: a first draft. Unintentional errors still creep in. And remember, whatever you’re writing, the text you submit to an editor/publisher is the first impression they’ll have of you as a writer, so don’t let the first draft be that first impression.