Monday, March 18, 2013

Warning Signs

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we are subjected to warning signs: road junction ahead, low bridge, deep water, or, as in my photo here, look out for low-flying gliders. (In case you’re wondering, the footpath cuts across the approach to a local airstrip that gliders use, and, remember, gliders don’t have engines, so they tend not to make any noise.)

In the world of writing, we tend not to have huge metal warning signs, triangular in shape and with red borders. However, there are some signs budding writers should look out for:

  • Excitement at finishing the first draft of something: don’t be tempted to submit your work now. The excitement of completion is blocking your clear vision. Put your work aside for a day or so, and then look at it again when your excitement has subsided. You will be grateful for heeding this warning, because the mistakes you failed to see then will now become apparent.
  • Thinking it doesn’t apply to you: if you’ve gone to the effort of analysing your target market, then apply what you discovered. If every article is 900 words, why is your piece 1,000 words? Heed the warning and cut the 10%. It’ll be easier than you think. If you spot that the magazine doesn’t use unsolicited manuscripts, don’t send your complete article. Heed the warning and write a query letter/email.
  • Complain that an editor has changed your words: whenever your work is published, take the time to sit down and read your published piece. Compare it to the version of the text you submitted to the editor. Has anything changed? Editors sometimes change opening paragraphs, rewrite sections, change spellings, or with fiction they have been known to change character names and even the ending of a story. Don’t pick up the phone, or open up a new email message, and give the editor a rollicking. Accept the warning sign: that your work needed a little adjustment. See what you can learn from it. If they changed the opening paragraph, what have they done? Does it engage the reader more quickly? Does it clarify more succinctly what your article is about? If they’ve changed a character’s name in your story, can you see why they’ve done that? Is the character’s name more reflective of their age, or the age of the readership? Have they produced a better ending to your story? There are many reasons why your text may be changed, but if you read the warning signs, perhaps they indicate a weakness in your writing. Scrutinise the exact changes. What can you learn from them? It could result in more sales in the long run.

There are many warning signs writers should look out for, although they’re not always obvious. Heed the ones you spot and your writing journey should be a little safer.

Good luck.