I recently signed up to teach some night classes on writing. Not sure what possessed me to do that, other than a strong interest in helping new writers skip over mistakes I’ve made, and continue to see others making at conferences and workshops.
It’s common to be around new writers and hear someone ask them “What do you write?” to help break the ice and make the Newbie feel more comfortable. And then I watch the Good Samaritan’s eyes glaze over as that Newbie starts at Chapter 1 and goes forward, in fits and starts, backtracking because they realized they missed the name of the character’s dog, who isn’t even actually germane to the story, but at the time seems important.
Or someone in a workshop I’m giving tells me they just had a pitch appointment and couldn’t believe how cruel the agent or editor was. When I ask, shocked, what happened (because those agents and editors generally spend their own money to get there in hopes they’ll find a burgeoning ‘great author in the making’) the Newbie usually relates how the person they pitched didn’t seem to care about the book, or their characters, or how hard they’d worked on the story. A little digging often reveals the writer hadn’t researched to see if the agent or editor was looking for books in the genre they’re writing (and the Newbie doesn't even know what genre means). Or the book was not complete (since a HUGE number of manuscripts never get finished, agents and editors tend to want pitches on complete manuscripts). Or the agent/editor wasn’t interested in looking at their 900 page manuscript even though they'd thoughtfully brought it to the pitch, or in imparting deep insight in what could be improved upon. Or the Newbie clearly hadn’t done any research or learned the basic “pirate codes” for different types of writing (because, hey, we all know rules are made to be broken – but probably not by a Newbie, or even most multi-published authors) - they've tossed erotica/Christian/history/mystery/ picture book/sci-fi and self-help (plus the kitchen sink) into their description of who would want to read the book. Or the Newbie couldn’t summarize their story in a few sentences, let along a few long paragraphs, and were still emoting about chapter three when their pitch time ran out.
I’m not giving these examples to make fun of Newbie writers, because as a new writer I did most of this same stuff – and waaaay more. I still occasionally get so caught up with excitement about one of my books that I hit the enter button for a submission, then wake up at 2:00 in the morning and slap my forehead. My moan of anguish causes my husband to sit bolt upright, jarred out of a dead sleep, as I replay in my head what I actually wrote in that submission and how stupid it sounds now that I’m thinking about it without all those endorphins clouding my judgement.
I want all writers, especially those who plan to submit for publication, to write the most incredible stories they can, using best practices, with as clear an understanding of the processes as possible. So that’s what I’ll be trying to impart in those classes. Hopefully I won’t be revealed as a total imposter. I’ll let you know how it goes.