Basic mistakes new writers make… IMHO


Okay.
After crawling through FaceBook and other social media sites, I now realise that there are a million writers out there, more than I could ever have imagined.
They sit there, working away like little typing robots, churning out poem after prose after flash fiction after short story after novel…some of them on PCs, some on Macs, some on desktops in studies lined with books, while others tap away in Starbucks or some other coffee house, laptop hooked up to the free Wi-Fi offered and coffee forgotten and cold on the table in front of them.
A million varied and unique writers, a million different imaginations churning out tale after tale…
I should know. I’m one too.
We are all different, but in some ways, we’re all the same.
In the beginning, we all tend towards the same mistakes. I hope to go through and list some of those mistakes, firstly to try and help those of you reading this to NOT make those mistakes, but in the end the real reason is to try and remind myself not to make those mistakes.
When you are first trying to break into professional (or even amateur) writing, there are a million different opinions to listen to and directions to take. Digital publishing has made it easier to get your voice and stories out there, and self-publishing has really taken off in this new decade. Vanity presses abound, ready to tear the last soiled dollar bill from the struggling writer’s desperate grasp. Vultures and snakes, charmers and rascals, vagabonds and outright criminal arseholes litter the virtual landscape, ready to take advantage of the budding writer’s ego and vanity.
There are a million things you and I could do wrong, and in this post I intend to list some of the very basic mistakes a lot are making today. These are my own personal opinions, subject to dispute or able to be cast aside like yesterday’s diapers, so take them with a grain of salt if you take them at all.
NOTE: Purely for the purposes of this article, a writer writes while an author is published.
Here goes…

1) Spamming

Okay. You’ve finished your first short and you think it’s the bomb. Your mum likes it, your girlfriend likes it, and your best friend (a rabid Stephen King fanboy) says it’s rad! You post it up under notes on your FaceBook page and all of a sudden you call yourself an author when in reality you are still a writer.
Of course, you totally disregard the fact that spellcheck nearly implodes when it runs through your piece, and you have no idea if that semi-colon should in fact be a comma or not.
This is fine, as you aren’t bothering anyone but your immediate circle of family and friends.
But then you go the next step.
You start up a fanpage for yourself, stating that you are an author. You search for submission places and you find some obscure internet e-zine that is run by ex-hippie/LSD tragics, and they like your short. That’s good. They too ignore spellcheck and run it as it is. Suddenly you are a ‘published’ author. Technically.
Now you start sending out invites to ‘like’ your fanpage…way too many invites.
Then comes the daily (and sometimes many times a day) messages and status updates and all the rest. All of a sudden, your friends list drops radically and you find yourself blocked by 75% of the Western World.
Oooops.
Don’t spam!
If you want to get a fanbase, then write and submit.
Shorts in magazines can get people reading you.
Getting accepted by a commercial publisher and getting your book out there, giving away review copies (and hopefully receiving good reviews) etc.
That will get you readers.
Begging your 1,347 FaceBook friends over and over to read your stuff will not. All that will achieve is getting 1,341 of those friends to block you in their newsfeed. Six family members don’t count.
It takes time, people. Time and effort, combined with patience, perseverance and a belief in the quality of your work that gives you the drive to keep writing and keep submitting. Keep the faith, and the acceptance letters will come…

2) Spelling, grammar and punctuation in your writing

You never finished high school, but you know you can write.
You have now retired and have decided to write the greatest novel known to mankind.
You are a trained slaughterhouse worker, but you know you can write.
You fucked up your knee and can no longer play football, so now you know you are going to be a writer.
You can write all you like, and you may be good enough, but don’t take it for granted that you will get published. Ideas and imagination are necessary, but you need the skill to transfer it to paper and from there allow the readers to share your vision.
You need language skills.
It takes some form of training to write successfully. Basics skills such as spelling, grammar and punctuation are not inherent traits, as some seem to believe. Neither are they skills which are ‘optional’ if you want to take writing seriously. Yes, some authors take certain liberties with these things, but you need to know the rules well before you can begin breaking them. Readers are funny creatures. As a rule, they actually like their stuff to make sense to a certain degree.
Be warned, spellcheck is NOT the be-all and end-all. It has been known to make mistakes. Do not trust it. Check over your piece manually, then check again, just to be sure. If you don’t have the formal qualifications in English or creative writing, then read about the craft.
There are plenty of books on structure and style, punctuation and grammar.
Read them…read them carefully, and then read them again.
Many lauded writers have put out books on the process; Stephen King’s On Writing, Richard Laymon’s A Writer’s Tale…there are many, depending on your chosen genre.
Read them…then read them again, as well.
Know your craft.
Editors and slush-readers will always notice grammatical and spelling errors. They most likely won’t be impressed, either.

3) Spelling, grammar and punctuation on your FB page/blog/website

I see this all the time, and it annoys me to no end. People calling themselves authors while making the most basic errors in English on their page/website/blog. There, their and they’re, all mixed up and out of place; your and you’re in blatant disregard for their intended use; too many ‘too’ and not enough ‘to’; commas missing, words misspelt, basic stuff that a quick edit/reread of your piece should pick up.
In my case, semi and full colons are my kryptonite, so any error in the previous sentence is completely my fault…mea culpa.

4) Text talk

In messages and posts on blogs, and in comments on threads at social sites, I see it all the time.
‘Hi thr. How R U. Lov’n ths stuff. Gr8 wrk. Chcek out my blog. THX!’
This is not a good look.
This is more of a pet peeve with me…I’m not sure how others look upon this practice, but it annoys the hell out of me. Language is our tool, people. Do you see tradesmen misusing their tools outside of work? Imagine if soldiers went around drunk and shooting up the place while on leave? If people see you disrespecting your trade’s tools in any way, it probably doesn’t look like you are as qualified or as professional as they would like you to be.

——————————————————————————

This is my current list of ‘Things to Avoid’; I’m sure I will think of more and amend this list soon.
Again, these are all just my own personal opinions, but isn’t that what blogs are for?

Ā 

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20 thoughts on “Basic mistakes new writers make… IMHO

  1. Madison Johns says:

    I agree with what you wrote about spamming. I can't tell you how many fan pages I have removed myself from because of the endless emails. I struggle to write these days because of my own grammar issues. I'm very careful about what I write on FaceBook. If you write a grammar error someone is just waiting to make a comment and tell you. Nobody is perfect, and we all make them. I usually go back and fix errors after I have posted my blog. More than once.

  2. Charlotte says:

    Great post! I like how straight to the point you are as well as informative. You have summed up some of the biggest issues/questions a new writer has. Thank you for sharing.

  3. GNBraun says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Madison. Hi to Nick!Grammatical errors are more forgivable than basic spelling, punctuation or misuse of words such as their/there. We all make mistakes with grammar. I tend to go and repair my own mistakes as well, usually noticed as soon as I hit publish.

  4. GNBraun says:

    Cheers, Charlotte. Hope it is some help to people seeking to break into the industry. I am far from the most informed blogger, but I am opinionated…

  5. Jamesmcshane says:

    Opinionated is cool. Being correct in your opinions is way cooler, though. And you are correct in your opinions,I re-started my journey as a writer two years ago and hope to make the journey from writer to author within the next year.I'm all too aware of the dangers of over-exposing yourself on Facebook and Twitter, but if you choose your friends well, i.e. other writers, proper exposure can benefit.Thanks for posting this, Nina.

  6. carltonmellick.com says:

    Hey, great article Geoff. A lot of good points.However, I have to completely disagree with: "This particular point doesn't apply to outsider/bizarre/extreme fiction, as these authors usually have little choice but to self-publish."Writers far too often believe they can't get published due to the extreme/unusual nature of their work, when in reality they can't get published because their writing sucks. It might be more difficult but if a book is well-plotted with engaging characters that create a real emotional reaction in readers while at the same time has a unique and interesting premise then it will find a publisher no matter how bizarre/extreme. Plus, there are many small presses that specialize in this kind of fiction these days. While there are a couple reasons to self-publish (like already successful authors with established fan followings release their own books in order to make more money), this isn't one of them. It just gives new writers an excuse to self-publish when they really should be focused on improving their skills and learning from their rejections.

  7. GNBraun says:

    Thanks for the kind words, CM3.I still fall somewhere between the two extremes on the self-publishing point. Usually, I feel that self-publishing is just another form of vanity publishing, but there are the occasional exceptions…But yes, writers should always be looking for ways to improve their skills…

  8. welcometotheasylum.net says:

    Speaking of publication…we're still looking for submissions for the pilot edition of "Welcome to the Asylum," and I like your style. When you get a chance, check out the guidelines and keep us in mind. I won't clog your comment thread with a link, so if you're interested, just click on my name and it'll take you to The Asylum. Be forewarned, it isn't a paying venture (not the first few issues anyway).

  9. J Gilliam Martin says:

    I disagree with 90% of what I read before I stopped reading it. First: Facebook is a tool for "networking". Social networking specifically, but networking none the less. Spamming is everywhere and done by everyone who has something to sell. People use the mediums they have access to, and for the most part the average writer cannot afford banner space on every genre-related website.Second: The english language is nearly a dead one. To be using archaic grammar guidelines in this day and age is just silly. Also, if the publishing is done correctly (and not simply a downloadable .pdf)an editor is to blame, not the author.Third: Leet speak and txt-talk are fine for these social sites, especially considering most of them have a rather small word limit on posts anyway.Of course, as the above was "IM(your)HO", this is just my opinion.

  10. GNBraun says:

    @J Gilliam MartinSo, I assume you don't spam people on FB (judging by your fanpage there, anyway), and by looking at both your page there and at your blog, I see no spelling or grammatical mistakes and your writing is good. Good enough to pick up fans the 'old fashioned' way…getting shit out there for people to read! That's what writers did before facebook.English may be changing, but it is not a dead language. The 'archaic' rules are still the rules. In regard to correction trolls, you're right and they ARE just a pain, but I tend to remember that editors and publishers scan facebook as well…Thanks for taking the time to read SOME of this blog, shame you couldn't put that extra effort in and actually finish what you are disagreeing with.Nice work on getting published by Severed Press, as well.

  11. J Gilliam Martin says:

    Thanks for not taking it as a personal attack and coming back with nonsense. Now THAT is impressive. I by no means meant any offense, but I do disagree with you about the "rules". I think part of being a true artist, regardless of your medium, is bending or breaking the "rules". Which is extremely easy when the rules are severely out-dated.I read "Bubba" a long time ago, I believe you had posted it to SP's forums, and I am just now realizing that's who you are. I really enjoyed the story back then, and shall further investigate your blog when I have time.I will admit at first it seemed to me that this article was coming from someone bitter about someone else's (likely undeserved) success. I skipped the "self publishing" section of this particular post because frankly, I think you could have simply left it at "Don't self publish."And of course, thanks for all the kind words. My writing career is way ahead of me at the moment and I have a mountain of work to do. So you should be at least a little happy that I clicked and read any of it at all!

  12. GNBraun says:

    I don't post these things to gather sycophants. However, I do like to create dialogue amongst people. No offence taken at all.I really do appreciate the time you have taken to read and formulate a response based on what you believe.No bitterness here. I'm happy with the way my writing is progressing, and the interest I have gained from people within the industry. I plan to have a longer piece out late this year.Have a great day, JGM…

  13. clockworkfather says:

    Thought I'd repost my comment from facebook:i started off in the music and film world. for anyone who knows me, it should come as no surprise that i gravitated toward the more underground stuff. i became heavily involved in the CDR/cassette tape scene, all of which permeated (and still permeates) with a really exciting DIY ethic. i could reel of hundreds of artists who started out releasing homemade recordings who went on to enormous success. ditto with filmmakers. there are plenty of great directors who got their start by self-financing brilliant indie films. why isn't this so with publishing?it seems to me that publishing lags so far behind that it's actually a little embarrassing. it's infused with genuine, elitist snobbery and the vitriol aimed at self-publishing is absurd. like film and music, i prefer to view writing as an artform and treat it as such. of course, there's oodles of horrible self-released music, films and books, but at the same time, there's a horrendous number of officially recognised and released music, films and books. i dislike an awfully large amount of what i read, hear and watch and it doesn't matter how much money was 'invested' into it by those who (for some reason) 'matter'. it's idealistic, but i will always value the art over the commerce and have so much respect for authors who set out to do it all themselves. they might release terrible shit, but hey, so do random house or leisure. i think the vitriol toward self-publishing is a remnant of old vanguard snobbery and establishment idolatry. for me, the most damaging aspect of publishing (for both readers and authors) is the tendency toward obscenely expensive and repulsively limited editions. i don't mind this if standard runs are also printed, allowing the average consumer to experience the writing. i just hate the thought of the same small circle of people spending all their money on this stuff. how is the author supposed to get themselves out there? other than a quick, reliable buck, what purpose does it serve? i'm sure many of these buyers are deeply fond of the objects they invest so much in but i'd much rather hear about the quality of the story than the fucking binding.as for the issue of picking the gold from the dross, i still rely on reviews, personal connections with authors and samples to make my decisions. i won't pick up a book sight unseen unless i already know the author. i don't see why this should change.wow – quite a rant.

  14. Vegetarian Cannibal says:

    Yup. I agree with all you've said. I can't stand doing beta-reads for authors who use text speak in their work! I mean…are you KIDDING me?! But really pisses me off about new writers is all the PURPLE PROSE! UGH! It's enough to make me want to gauge out my eyes with spoons sometimes! šŸ˜€ Cheers!

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