Monday evening was spent at the brilliant London Writers’ Café with a talk from Scott Pack, publisher of Harper Collins imprint The Friday Project. As well as enthusiastically promoting Harper Collins’ online community for writers, Authonomy (authonomy.com), Scott gave loads of really clear and practical advice for would-be authors.
For anyone, like me, dreaming of one day seeing your name facing out from a bookshelf, his observations on the most common mistakes made by unpublished writers are worth thinking about. Reproduced here for your entertainment and edification…
Common Mistake 1: Over-writing
In other words, using six long words where one would do, cluttering up your prose with tautologies and other unnecessary verbiage, and… better stop there. Scott surmised that writers’ tendency to do this stems from a wish to impress: we all know how many people are out there scribbling away, desperately trying to get the attention of someone in the industry, so it’s not surprising that we sometimes go a bit OTT trying to ensure we stand out from the crowd.
Scott gave a couple of pieces of practical advice on how to exorcise your over-writing demons:
Pick up a book from an author you admire and type out a passage of their prose. Then type out a passage of your own. Unless you’ve picked Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis (clearly not favourites of Mr Pack), you’ll almost invariably find that the work of the established author is simpler in language and style than your own.
Re-read your work and do ten sit-ups every time you come across an adverb. You’ll either de-clutter your prose or get great abs. What’s to lose?
Common Mistake 2: Over-explaining
What it says on the tin – spending too much time telling your reader things they either don’t need to know at all or should work out for themselves. A close relation to both “telling not showing” and…
…Common Mistake 3: Underestimating your reader
You get what I mean, right? I don’t need to tell you that Andy Pandy hates Teddy for running off with Looby-Loo when he’s spent the last two pages carving AP 4 LL on tree trunks and doodling pictures of Teddy with his stuffing coming out of his neck.
Don’t patronise your reader. It’s rude and, worse, it’s boring.
Right, I’m off now to look again at draft three. My abs need the workout…