Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Writing Tip from Holly Lisle: learn the tools of your trade

So I received this e-mail...

"were not haven trouble written sences and its two of us written
it... thats why it dnt really get boring i mean like theres alot of
action... were never really bored.... everyone thats read it tells
us to hurry up and finish it.. but we are calling it exspect the
unexspected.. its good. we know how were going to end it so we can
start the next book.what all does it take to get a book published?"

That was the complete email, except for the writer's name, which
I'm withholding out of kindness, to protect the identity of the
creator of this monstrosity.

You want to know why editors and agents take to drinking?

That e-mail---and the million others like it---is why.

This writer---plus one colleague---have committed fiction with
intent to publish. And now they want to know how sell the beast
they have created.

And yet...

There is no rule of professional writing (or even simple writing
with intent to communicate) that is not broken in that one
paragraph. Capitalization, punctuation, spelling, grammar,
content, actual creation of actual sentences, even basic coherence
---it doesn't have ANY of them.

Imagine yourself as en editor, as an agent, or as a publisher, and
imagine that you receive not just one entire book written at the
level of that one paragraph in the mail, but dozens of them every
day. Plus countless query letters, e-mails, and proposals.

You would find yourself expecting the imminent fall of civilization.
Maybe even wishing for it.

If you are currently writing anything that looks even remotely like
the paragraph above, stop worrying about publication. "I want to
sell my book" has no business in your vocabulary yet.

First, learn the tools of your trade, because until you can write
coherent, meaningful sentences one after another, punctuate them
correctly, put capital letters in the right places, spell the words
properly, use apostrophes well, and in all other ways present your
work in a professional manner, you have not written something good,
no matter what you might think.

Writing is first and foremost about communication. Before you can
communicate anything of value, you first have to be able to
communicate at all. You have to be able to make yourself
understood, and capital letters, spelling, punctuation, and grammar
are the ways we have agreed upon to standardize the presentation of
communication so that we can transfer meaning, and expect it to be
understood by the recipient.

When you write, you are putting the products of your mind into
symbols. When someone else decodes those symbols, he is reading
your mind. Mindreading is a delicate, tricky business, and you want to
make the path from your thoughts to your reader's brain as clear,
simple, and litter-free as possible. If you don't use the code correctly,
don't expect to your thoughts to be understood.

Educate yourself, raise your standards, and present yourself as a
professional if you wish to be treated as a professional.

This article is Copyright (C) Holly Lisle, from Holly Lisle's Writing Updates: http://hollylisle.com/newsletter.php All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with direct written permission from the author.

1 comment:

Athena said...

This article made me smile. It's nice to know that the movement to put an end to horrible writing technique isn't limited to a bunch of struggling writers, that actual, successful published authors are driven nuts by craptastic writing too.