You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

untitled.pngEnough already! At least that’s how I feel sometimes. I’ve been through my book more times than I can count. In my own defense, no one taught me how to write. I had a great story idea and decided to give it a whirl.

I thought it was ready, and then real life happened.  My wonderful work was rejected by the five agents I sent it to. One of them must have seen something promising. She took it upon herself to provide me feedback about what I was doing wrong (there was a long list), and what I needed to do to improve my work.

I was totally humiliated. Grammatical and Structural errors are kindergarten stuff and completely unacceptable. Even I should have gotten those right. I could understand my issues with head-hopping and on-the-nose-writing. Those terms were totally foreign to me.  I wasn’t a professional novelist. I thought all you had to do was put words on paper and create a wonderful story that everyone wanted to read. How was I to know there were rules?

And what was the deal with dragging dialogue? My people were talking. How was I suppose to know dialogue moved the story forward or had to have some significance?  I couldn’t believe I sent an agent such inferior work!

When you’re a newbie, you don’t know how bad your work is because you lack the knowledge and skills necessary to produce publishable work. While there may be a few prodigies out there, chances are, you aren’t one of them. Sorry!

Like myself and many others, you’re going to have to pay your dues and learn the craft. Then you will be ready to write that New York Times bestseller.

One of my favorite sayings is, you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m not sure where I picked that up from, but it’s true. I wasn’t intentionally sending out bad work. I just didn’t know.

-Jan R

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Writer or Author-You Decide

Authors who are published take the craft of writing seriously.  They understand the work involved to prepare your manuscript and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and dive in. So what do they do?

They read countless stories and analyze what’s going on in them to make them successful. When they read, they  ask themselves the following questions.

  • How does the author make me want to turn the page?images-8
  • Why am I drawn to the lead character?
  • What makes the scene work?
  • What’s the key conflict?
  • How does the author handle dialogue?
  • How does the author integrate minor characters?
  • How’s the pace, can you feel the tension building?

Authors also read books on writing, take classes, and apply what they have learned. They have people give them feedback-editors, critique groups(Scribophile,, trusted and objective friends. They work at becoming better writers.

You will never get where you need to be to publish that first novel, if you don’t learn your craft. Like any other job, writing requires work. You don’t wake up one day  and you’re an author, just like you don’t wake up one day a brain surgeon.  Just because you want it to be doesn’t make it so. Pay your due diligence and learn the craft. It will save you so much time and heartache in the long run.

Being the novice with a really good idea, I thought all I had to do was write my story down on paper. I knew how to string sentences together.  I did a minimal amount of research, and got a mediocre story set up for rejection.  The responses I got from the literary agents shocked me and hurt my feelings. I didn’t realize how bad the work was at the time, because I didn’t know any better, and I obviously didn’t take the time to learn the rules. Yes there are rules! Hard fast rules! I broke every one of them.

One of my rejections letters was from an agent who I’m sure knew I was new at this writing thing, and she took the time to point out the major issues with my work. “It’s just not ready. You have a really good premise, but it is riddled with grammatical and structural errors. You are head hopping,  and your dialogue is dragging.”

What was I suppose to do with that? I didn’t even know what head hopping was, and I understood dialogue, but I never knew it could drag. If I had researched and taken the time to learn the proper way to write a novel, I would have known exactly what she was talking about.

The question you need to ask yourself: Do I want to just write or do I want to be published?


-Jan R

Writer or Author-You Decide