Writers' Seven Deadly Sins
October 22, 2012
I’m one of the most pro-writer guys you will ever find. I love authors.
However, as I writer, I have learned several things that can be the kiss of death for anyone who is attempting to put words on paper. Here are a few of them.
The seven deadly sins for writers
1. Waiting for the Muse to send you that perfect first sentence.
The Muse is a fickle, cruel volunteer goddess. She spends half the year on vacation with James Lee Burke. She doesn’t appear when you need her. Forget about her and write the damn first sentence, and the next one and the next.
2. Quitting after the first (fill in the blank) pages.
There are tipping points in writing. They come at different places in the manuscript. Some people write killer first chapters and then hit the wall. Some make it fifty pages. Some finish Part One.
3. Quitting before you type “The End.”
This sounds like a subset of number 2, but it isn’t. When I look back, I find that the single most liberating and energizing day in my writing life thus far was the day I wrote “THE END” on my first full-length manuscript. I don’t know why, but that event opened the door for me. Until it happened, I was just a guy working on a book. After it, I was an author. Please don’t deny yourself that wonderful experience. Push forward to the end.
4. Failing to polish your work in the final production stage.
Tons of stuff has been written about this so I won’t belabor it. But I will give you one example. Recently, an author asked me as a favor to format an eBook for him. “It’s already been edited,” he said. So I began plugging it into Scrivener and fine-tuning the formatting. Guess what? I found a lot of misspelled words, punctuation snafus, malapropisms, etc. What’s the moral to this story? The only thing I can say is that an author needs a good team to handle the final stage of production. If someone doesn’t do his job right, the whole book suffers. If you pay for editing and the editor doesn’t do a good job, suck it up and hire another editor. And don’t use DIY cover art.
5. Seeking an agent.
I know this is heresy. Stay with me. There are only two ways this can go. Either you get an agent or you don’t. If you don’t, you will have spent months or years in the pursuit of one only to experience rejection and frustration. If you do acquire an agent, the agent will face the almost impossible task in today’s publishing climate of finding a publisher for an unknown author. The old ways are passing away. Embrace the new world of digital publishing and put your book up for sale. Let the reading public cast the only votes that matter.
6. Quitting writing after you finish Book One.
The one principle upon which most people working in digital publishing agree is that a one book author has the hardest time of it. We’re not talking about fair here. We’re talking about the prospect of succeeding as an author. The road to success is paved with multiple books. The more books an author has in his inventory, the better his chances. It’s as simple as that.
7. Allowing other people to throw cold water on you.
It’s your dream, not theirs. Smile, be kind, accept their words of criticism, glean anything positive you can from their remarks. Then, put your shoulder to the plow and keep writing.
If it was easy, anybody could do it.
(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author of legal thrillers.)