Bad mistakes, I’ve made a few. But truly, is there such a thing as a bad mistake? Well, that depends on you and whether or not you’re prepared to learn from. In writing, as with most things in life, it is so very important that you learn from them.
Mistake, the first – ‘anyone can write a book’
I wanted to write a book. I had an idea, that was all, but surely it couldn’t be that hard. In fact, I was right, partly: anyone can write a book. It’s just, some books are better than others.
I started writing. I had no plan, just a vague idea. The scenes came out, the humour built,the characters grew. But there was no direction and I didn’t really know what was going to happen. Looking back, all I really did was write a fairly chunky story outline. There is still a vaguely good premise, and maybe one day I will revisit it. The mistake I made was misjudging the Herculean effort it takes to create a piece of art. I wrote an adult, humour science fiction book. It was 25,000 words long… I had a lot to learn.
Mistake, the second – ‘my story is finished, time to find an agent’
So we’ve already established that my story wasn’t finished! 25,000 words a full manuscript does not make. But, brushing that aside, I grabbed a copy of the Writer’s Handbook, found a few names and picked the agent I wanted to query… What a lucky guy John Jarrold was about to be!
I wrote a brief email, attached my entire manuscript and sent it off. Incredibly, and I think I lucked out here, John came back to me quite quickly with a response. It was a no (no surprise there!), but he was kind enough to give me a little advice – it was too short, and not really up to scratch, I needed to work on my writing skills.
I asked if I could resend it after a bit of work, but it was a negative on that one. A very kind, honest response.
Mistake, the third – ‘my writing sucks, what a waste of time’
I carried on writing, but this time working on a children’s novel. This time I finished it in record time. I gotten few comments from writewords.org members, lots of positives, lots of help, and then had finished my children’s novel! Amazing, all in the space of a year. To tell the truth, I hadn’t even written the ending, I was just impatient and left it on a cliffhanger.
Then, I got some more constructive criticism, but took it too negatively. I grabbed my toys, threw them out of the plan and vowed never to write again. Literally. I deleted all my word files, deleted my account and all electronic versions from the online sites that I was working on. I had denied all existence of the writer inside me and carried on with my life.
Mistake, the fourth – ‘my story is finished, time to find an agent II’
Four or five years later, I decided to revisit my writing. My first child had just arrived, I was renewed with enthusiasm for life, and so I set about rewriting and finishing my children’s novel. I wrote a short story this time and sent it out to a few names that I discovered through supersleuthery on the Internet.
Again, I was unprepared, my manuscript was full of telling and very little showing. The story was sound this time, I had an actual plot and a pretty cool concept. A couple of friends read the short story and said I should expand it, so I mixed up the short story with my original and had a pretty jumbled up, jaggedly, haphazard story that kind of went from A to Z via 7, London and Pluto. But I sent it out anyway. This time, I wrote a proper query letter and followed submission guidelines. Surprisingly, I got several ‘no’s’ in response.
Mistake, the fifth – ‘no one will ever represent me, time to self-publish’
So, there I was, down and out, sure that no one would ever want to represent me. I discovered that I could self-publish. It wouldn’t cost the thousands of pounds that it would have five or six years ago. No! This time, there would be no outlay. Createspace would publish my novel for free and sell it through Amazon for me! I was on to a winner and would sell a million copies before dawn!
So I put together a relatively basic word version of my manuscript, uploaded, created a cover and submitted it. The version was my short story, set before the original children’s story and ran and less than fifty pages. It was pretty rubbish looking back at it and should never have seen the light of day. Needless to say, I sold zero copies. But, then I discovered the writerly community through Twitter and things began to change.
Mistake, the sixth – ‘to be continued…’
I started to do things differently. I managed to acquire a few good critique partners through the magic of pitch began querying properly. I bought Scrivener, which really helped with setting things out. I engaged with an editor, who has helped to transform my novel. I’m still learning everyday and making mistakes, but nowhere near as primative or naive as my earlier ones. I still dream of publishing, I’m still putting myself out there. Maybe one day you’ll get to read a book written by me. Who knows. But for now, just try and avoid the childish mistakes that I’ve made along the way. There are a few more to add, but I’ll save those for another post. They were much more adult mistakes, and could possibly be more costly if I ever get them really wrong!