On their website, The Writer’s Workshop say: “When you send your stuff off to an agent, 9 times out of 10 your work won’t actually be read. It’ll be ‘looked at’. What does that mean? It means that an agent (or junior reader) will simply glance at the first page or two of your submission. In a large majority of cases, authors will give themselves away as amateurish in the opening chapter. If you’re one of them, then the agent will read no further. Sure, the agent doesn’t know about your story, your characters, or your brilliant ideas. The fact is that if your writing style is poor, then those things are irrelevant.” The website goes on to give lots of advice about writing style and techniques. This makes sense: after all The Writer’ Workshop is selling their editorial services. Their message is, ‘use our service and agents will read your manuscript’.
On the iUniverse website, there are tips from fiction authors, and I found it somewhat surprising that there were only two tips that mentioned writing style or technique. These are:
“Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” — Jonathan Franzen, and
“Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.” — Elmore Leonard
I wonder what Franzen means by ‘interesting verbs’. If he means ‘unusual verbs’, why not say “Unusual verbs are seldom very effective”. In which case, I agree. I’m not sure Leonard’s advice is actually helpful. What is ‘the knack of playing with exclaimers’? And if there is a knack, why have a quota?
iUniverse is a self-publishing company, so maybe they want to be associated with important authors. Anyway, here are some of the tips that caught my eye:
“In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain I agree!
“Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” — Will Self Maybe I should start carrying a notebook, but I doubt I would use it.
“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen; and “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” — Zadie Smith I disagree. If one is writing fiction that is intended to be’real’ in time and space, how can you do it without Google? Unless, of course, ‘good fiction’ is not real in time and space.
“Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).” — Diana Athill I’ve got to do more of this.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov Beautiful.
“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self Very true.
“Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates A necessity.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman True, except for publishers’ editors.
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman This sums it up.