Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#OBSummer Guest Post - Mistakes In Beginning Writers

What are the mistakes you see in beginning writers
by J.R. Tomlin 

The one I see most often frustrates me a lot. It is simply a refusal to learn from other writers.

I can’t even tell you how often on a writer’s forum a beginning writer will rage against being told that something simply doesn't work. They accuse anyone who tells them so of “making up rules”.

Well, they’re right in a way. There are no rules in writing except to make it worthwhile for the reader to keep on reading. But much of their irritation reminds me of kids learning the guitar who want to play hits before they learn the cords.

There are a number of experienced writers and one or two experienced editors who have written some very good advice for writers. Before they discard that advice and ignore it, they would do well to understand why the advice was given and what ignoring it implies.

Mark Twain said to eschew adjectives. Elmore Leonard said to never use any dialogue tag except “said” and to avoid adverbs like the plague. Every good writer I know says to avoid head hopping. 

Other pieces of advice are a bit more general such as Leonard’s advice to leave out the bits people skip.

In the “new age” of publishing with no editors and publishers to convince, I see even more writers deciding that they know more than the masters. They think that when Hemingway said, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket” that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

I would love to see more beginning writers actually study their craft. Once they’ve absorbed the basics, then sure, they will go their own path with it, but with a solid foundation.

I think that studying King’s On Writing and Orson Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing, editor Renni Browne’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, and Nancy Kress’s Dynamic Characters should be not only on every author’s bookshelf but read so thoroughly that the concepts are absorbed. Then the writer can use or discard what works for their own craft.

What else should be on the writer’s bookshelf or in their Kindle? Hundreds of books. King, in On Writing, said that a writer should spend as much time reading as writing. I absolutely agree.

Of course, a beginning writer might struggle to re-invent the wheel. Unfortunately, the wheel they re-invent may well be square and the corners give the reader a bumpy and unpleasant ride.


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Genre - Historical Fiction
Rating - PG

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  1. GREAT advice! I especially like your comparison to a beginning guitarist who doesn't want to learn chords. A beginning writer once begged me to edit one of his stories, and I finally relented. Then he was offended by my suggestions--and I worked hard to be gentle. I finally just suggested he read the very books you mentioned.

  2. I've made many of those mistakes. I totally enjoyed King's book on writing. I probably need to read it again.

  3. Good advice, it's so true that many writers just slap a piece of writing together and think it's good enough! To be good at writing you need to study, practice and take great care over every little detail, just as you must to master any skill - be it woodwork, drawing or football.

    I would add George Orwell's short story "politics and the English Language" to your list of must-reads for any writer. It really is brilliant.

  4. Great advice. I often see unexperienced authors with potentially great books. They could take all the criticism they get and try to improve their books, but they choose to ignore it instead.
    Penny Pe

  5. Thanks for the books said here like On Writing by Stephen King. need to step up a notch on my writing.


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