Picture the scene: a young writer, hands poised above the keyboard, staring intently at the screen, ready to unleash his finished opus on unsuspecting readers. When? As soon as he corrects that spelling mistake the spellchecker has underlined. Then again, what does that piece of dumb software know about fancy words! Satisfied, the writer sits back, confident his readers will know what he is talking about. Who wants to bother with editing. Time to post the thing on Amazon and Smashwords and get on with the next blockbuster.
The other day, I finished reviewing a book by a hopeful writer, and wished I hadn’t read the thing. It left a sour taste in my mouth, leaving me shaking my head in wonder, bemused by the experience. The thing had a number of spelling mistakes, it was riddled with grammar bloopers, awkward sentences, stiff dialogue, and some plot elements simply ignored reality. Admittedly, the book contained several passages of elegant narrative, but it was a fig leaf that couldn’t hide the terrible body. Reaching for my cup of coffee, I sighed and scratched my head, wondering why writers persist punishing readers with bad books. I like reading a well written novel, and I am certain others also enjoy a good yarn, allowing them to escape, if for a time, into another world, another adventure, romance or intrigue.
Of course, we all know why bad self-published books litter Amazon and outlets like it—self-publishing is open to everyone without any restrictions or content checks. One can wrap a shopping list with a cover and publish it. Which makes finding those well written book all the more difficult to find, but perseverance will be rewarded…one hopes. I sometimes wish that Amazon and Smashwords had a proofreader program that vetted every submission before the manuscript was accepted. That would be cool! Unfortunately, such a thing doesn’t exist and readers are subjected to mental torture. To be fair, some books unleashed on us by traditional publishers make me want to tear my hair out. It just goes to show that a publicity machine backed by lots of money can make a blockbuster out of that shopping list.
Okay, what to do?
The Internet is littered with articles that dissect every element of writing and what distinguishes a good book from a bad one, each article written by a writer who knows what he or she is talking about—sometimes. The problem is, that young writer I mentioned, hands poised above the keyboard, he never read any of those articles and has forgotten everything his English teacher tried to instill into him. He knows he is a good writer, so get out of my face. I don’t know if it is possible to salvage someone like that, short of taking him out back and pounding those grammar and plot sins out of him. There is a sort of self-correcting mechanism in play out there: reviews. A string of bad reviews might act like a tonic and make our writer reflect. One can only hope.
I can offer writers my own views, but it is up them whether they choose to heed them or not. How to polish up your writing?
• Master your tools. Every craftsman uses a set of tools to produce whatever he is making. For writers, those tools are the English language and rules of grammar. There is a bit more, like sentence/paragraph construction, the old start-middle-ending bit…you get the idea. And the only way a writer will master those tools is by practicing his craft.
• Be professional. Although ample evidence suggests this is not the case with many, every writer should try to do the best he can, taking pride at having written a novel he himself would enjoy reading more than once, getting the same excitement and satisfaction when read for the first time. He should not be satisfied with a second-rate work. This requires discipline and will, but applying them will be rewarding.
• Become an editor. I believe every writer should become his own worst critic. It is difficult pruning that dead word, sentence or paragraph—cut off my arm instead! A writer must learn to be coldly objective about his work, become a surgeon cutting out bad flesh in order to save the body. The worst thing a writer can do—and we see that attitude reflected in books out there—is to become possessive about his work, deluded by a notion that his book has no flaws.
• Have that novel edited. No matter how skilful an editor a writer may become, there is always something he misses. It is a matter of human perception; the brain tends to automatically correct errors, and this is very difficult to overcome without professional training. Not having that training, send the manuscript to an editor before publishing. You will be amazed what can be picked up in a supposedly clean copy.
There is lots more I could say what a good writer should practice, but there is nothing like discovering some things for yourself. So, go for it!
Here are some articles on my blog (Category: On Writing) that may help your literary efforts:
If you liked this post, check the rest at my blog. Sign up and receive monthly newsletters, keeping you up to date with the latest on my blog, book reviews and useful writing tips!