Friday, February 20, 2009

Editors Comments on Beginner Writing

I just saw this article (Agents and Editors: A Q&A With Four Young Editors by Jofie Ferrari-Adler) and wanted to post this excerpt:

On the flip side of that, give me some things that you find beginning writers doing wrong.

NASH: Not listening. Not listening to the world around them.

GARGAGLIANO: Trying to sell stories that aren't really a book. They're not a cohesive whole. There's no vision to the whole thing that makes me feel like this person has a reason for writing a story collection other than that they had twelve stories.

NASH: Assuming that having an attitude equals...anything.

CHINSKI: Or assuming that good writing is enough. I'm sure we all see a lot of stuff where the writing is really good. It's well crafted and you can tell that the writer has talent. But, again, you don't really feel like the writer necessarily believes in his or her ability to open it up into a novel. I know the old adage "write what you know." I'd kind of rather somebody write what they don't know. And figure out, beyond their own personal experience, why what they're doing should matter to the reader.

BOUDREAUX: I've always wanted to give people that advice too. "Do you have to write what you know? If you know it, I might know it. Which means I've already read it. Which means that your book is the nineteenth novel about a mother-daughter relationship. And I. Don't. Care." The crudest way to put it is the "Who cares?" factor. Why, why, why do I need to read four hundred pages about this? The necessary thing, and the authentic thing, and the voice thing are all much better ways of saying it than the "Who cares?" factor, but it's basically the same thing. "What is the necessity of reading this? What are you doing that is different?"

CHINSKI: I'd rather somebody be ambitious and fail a little bit than read a perfectly crafted, tame novel.

NASH: I have published novels, especially first novels, that I knew failed on some level because of what they were trying to do. I felt that that was okay.

CHINSKI: That's more exciting.

NASH: But what would be the version of that that actually answered your question?

CHINSKI: "Have courage"?

NASH: Don't try to be perfect. Don't be boring.

CHINSKI: That's really what it is 99.9 percent of the time—good writing, but boring. And it's the hardest thing to turn down because you think, "This is good. But it doesn't do anything for me."

BOUDREAUX: That's the thing. You're like, "There's nothing wrong with this. I've got nothing to tell you to do to fix it. It's just...there."

CHINSKI: And that's a hard rejection letter to write, too. Because it's not like you can point to this, that, and the other thing that are wrong with it. It just doesn't move you in any way. It doesn't feel necessary.

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