Advice to writers

My friend is working on her latest book. She has published several. Advising others on their writing, she found that they assumed the reader knew too much. You need to guide the reader from the beginning. Writing, she finds that she needs to check herself: she lives with certain ideas, and moves on from them; so she might lose her readers. Don’t tell your conclusions without your premises.

That’s one of the advantages of the internet. We can go into our hugboxes, where we agree, generally, and one word can allude to many complex ideas we have thrashed out together. Like “hugbox”, an internet forum where all agree, where conformity is rewarded with agreement and extremism may fester. WordPress is not quite like that, but readers may return to my blog when they share my understanding.

And, she says, the life is in the writing when she is developing ideas as she writes; she has provided a synopsis for the publisher, but finds her ideas firming and changing, her arguments strengthening, new words and modes of expression coming to her. She balances writing that with what was promised.

(I did not take notes at the time. I had had two glasses of wine. Her ideas are filtered through my understanding and expression.)

I was low on Wednesday. On Thursday I was energised with a task: I had an article to write. It is a response to one in a magazine far above my league. I have emailed it to that magazine. They don’t bother with rejection letters:

We welcome submissions from journalists and others and will get in touch if we are able to use your piece. Unfortunately, due to the high amount of correspondence we receive, we are not able to respond to all submissions individually.

They might glance at a sentence or two of it. Unless it immediately grabs the attention of probably a fairly lowly employee, it has little chance of proper consideration. There is a great deal of luck in this. There are no submission guidelines on their website, so I did a brief cover saying “I write for The Friend, the Quaker magazine”. It is my best boast, writing so far.

After I emailed it- I wanted a quick response- I read it again and found I had not sufficiently explained the links to the article I was responding to. It is not a free-standing article on the matter, but a response.

It is gone. There are other things I can write, which may mean I have to make less effort here.

A man who had succeeded in angling competitions said he sometimes walked around the lake and showed the anglers their mistakes. He would tell them how to hold the rod, etc, and their technique would improve; then he would see them a week later, all their previous mistakes restored. I read wonderful articles on maintaining a relationship- communication is important, apparently- from men several times divorced and currently single. Seeing you are not taking the Good Advice is a first step.

My generous published writer friend had a look at my piece, and said I should use more interesting verbs and less careful, lawyerly exactitude. Oh dear, could I be seen as pedantic? I have to sit with that for a time if I am to learn from it.

Renoir, the two sisters

2 thoughts on “Advice to writers

  1. There is a danger, when writing and submitting that we take others’ comments too much to heart. We each have our voices, and I, for one, very much value the clarity and exactitude of your expression, in a world where, increasingly, people write ‘for grabs’. It’s just that, in the mill of life, and especially in (most) journalist circles, exactitude gets a little lost in the business of publishing.

    All power to your elbow.

    Fran (((XXX)))


    • I wanted to take the suggestion of lawyerliness to head rather than to heart, because people have consistently seen me as pedantic since childhood. I always take criticism as well-intentioned and in good faith unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, and while I don’t always follow it I am interested in my friend’s saying we should guide the reader through the argument and assume nothing, because I instantly assumed in my own writing only four days later.

      I so want to get the precise idea over! And feelings are precise, and can be conveyed with precision! Yet in the lawyers’ phrase, “I hear what you say”.

      Liked by 1 person

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