You have to work to get there...
By Lazette Gifford
© 2006, Lazette Gifford
I've been busy the last few months. I've turned in a couple final manuscript drafts to publishers, edited Vision, worked on the some material for Dragon Tooth Fantasy Books, made much needed changes in Forward Motion, and even managed some writing.
I'm rewriting an older novel titled Vita's Vengeance and it's proving interesting because, quite honestly, the version I'm working from -- which is already a draft or two from the original -- is so badly written. I was lazy. I could write better by the time I did the last rewrite, but I wasn't willing to work hard. And that's why I have to rewrite it again.
I see a lot of lazy writers these days. There are far too many people who choose to write the way they do because it's easy, and they don't want to have to work hard. And that's fine, if you are only interested in writing for a few friends. They'll be forgiving.
This isn't an easy business. If you want to be successful, then you have to work hard at it.
That means no easy answers, and no 'because I don't want to' attitudes. Some of you would be amazed at what I get in slush pile material during the year, and DTF is just a minor little publisher. I read notes from other publishers -- I'm on a list of publishers only, small press and ebook people -- besides hearing various people at conventions. It's the same everywhere. People continue to make the same basic mistakes in formatting and turn over just plain bad writing, and expect it to be published. It's normal. It's what we see the most in the submissions.
In this case, you don't want to be normal. You want to stand out from the crowd, and to do that you have to learn to write well. Sure, you can break rules -- but only if you do so wisely. Doing it just because 'I don't want to learn rules' is not going to get you published.
Don't go for the easy answers. Look at everything you write, and learn from the sites that are willing to give you real information that pushes you to try harder and to do it right. It doesn't matter if you are a brand-new writer or one who has been around for years and not been published. In fact, if you are a brand-new writer, you have a much better chance if you start taking the work seriously from the start.
There are so many simple little things that you can do that will help you. First, read your material aloud in the final edit. If you get stuck and stumble over lines, look at how you can make those words flow better.
One of the most common problems I see is the overuse of was in writing. Let me give you an example -- and this isn't even an uncommon one. At DTF I had a 297 page manuscript, and from the start I could see that was would be a problem. I had Word do a quick check. In 297 pages the person had used was (just was -- passive or not), 2437 times. That equals about once every 25 words, and almost ten times per page.
It didn't matter how good the plot might be, or what wonderful characters wandered through the pages -- the words were boring, dull and repetitious. The sentence structure hardly varied at all.
Also, people -- I know you hear this a lot, but said is a very good word. Use it more often.
There's no excuse for not learning the basics of writing these days. The knowledge of what publishers would like to see, and guides to help writers refine their work, are everywhere on the Internet. Of course you also have to be careful, and the best bet is to check out as many different sites as you can and compare information. Look for people who have at least some publication. Just because something is on a site -- any site -- doesn't mean it's true . There may even be people who perniciously post things to derail a new writer's career. On the Internet everyone is an expert -- until proved otherwise.
Not everyone wants to work hard, and that's fine as long as you accept that choice from the start. I spent years not really caring, but I really think that's made it more difficult for me to write better now. I have to unlearn so many bad things, and they creep into my writing again if I'm not careful. I wish I had learned better from the beginning. I wouldn't be working this hard now if I had known some of the guidelines from the start.
But I am a clear example that anyone can learn if they want to. No, I'm not 'perfect' yet. Of course, no one ever is -- but I'm far better at writing than I was five years ago.
And I've stopped allowing myself to take the easy answers.