Monday, December 6, 2010

I don't know what I don't know

I came across a "new" writer online recently. By "new" I mean that this person could feasibly have been writing for years, but they didn't know the rules very well.

By rules, I mean: proofread before you put your work out. Don't put material online that you eventually hope to publish through a traditional house. Punctuation makes a story easier to read. Things like that.

I think the internet has turned out a generation of very well-prepared authors who have all done their research and know how to put a sentence together, along with the ins and outs of querying agents, etc., but this particular run-in got me thinking about when I was new and fresh to writing. Sort of.

In December of 2008, I was lamenting to my now-husband (then-boyfriend) about a book that I'd started writing about six years prior on my waaaaaay old dinosaur of a computer. The thing had Windows 98 and I lacked the experience to get it running and get the files off the computer, but I really, really wanted that information. It had been a long time since I'd written anything, but I tried to write my first novel when I was nine. I'd been reading since I can remember. Writing was in my blood.

Anyway, he kindly and patiently took my old hard drive out and extracted the files and there it was-- the first fifty pages of WIND FURY, the first novel I would complete. When I re-read those pages for the first time in six years, I got really excited. This isn't bad, I told myself. In fact I think it's pretty good. (Of course I did).

Then I was trying to pick a class to take for the spring semester at my college and discovered that Novel Writing was a course they offered. Hey, why not take that so I would have motivation to keep going?

So I did. Most of the class was share-and-critique, and the first few people to read their work were the people who had been taking the class for a while already, some of them for years. And I cringed. They critiqued a guy a couple weeks before it was my turn, and I saw a lot of the things they nailed him for in my own work.

I went home and re-wrote the first fifty pages and had them in to the teacher to distribute before my class-wide critique.

Embarrassing? Sure. A little. Important? Absolutely. This was probably the biggest learning curve for me in writing, though I would say my level of learning has stayed roughly the same since then. I did my research, and I started following agents online, and eventually I arrived where I am today: still learning, still finding things to teach myself.

My little run-in with the "new" writer this weekend got me thinking, though, about all the things I used to not know about writing. All the things I still don't know, which scare me more, because as the title says, I don't know what I don't know. But I look at those early mistakes with fondness, and resolve to keep moving forward as a writer. Keep working on what I don't know and learning wherever I can.

Do you have any stories to share about things you used to not know?


Nicole said...

Plenty!! *lol* and still learning. Though when you say they're writing was on the net do you mean on a blog or published somewhere? Because I consider blog writing pretty informal.. The first big wake-up call I got was when I sent my *blush* first draft to an editor and she made notes on the first 3 pages... *hee* never gonna forget that!!

BirthRight The Arrival, on Amazon 1.1.2011

L. T. Host said...

Nicole-- It was on their blog, but it was excerpts from a MS, like, whole chapters. I've heard from a few people that if you're pursuing traditional publishing, a few pages is okay, but not whole chapters, because it could mess with first rights.

Just one of those things where she probably doesn't know that because it's kind of obscure. Heck, I know it now (and won't, whether it's a hard and fast rule or not, just to be safe) and I'm still tempted to on occasion.

Congrats on the editor feedback! That's super exciting :)

Natalie said...

I was totally clueless too (and I still am about some things). One thing I didn't realize at the beginning is that the submission process can take Forever! I think I thought it would be a quick yes or no from agents or editors. Ha ha!

L. T. Host said...

Natalie-- that's probably one of my biggest fears, is the misinterpretation of how it is vs. how I think it is. But I am trying to stay grounded, and keep on learning! Thanks for sharing :)

Susan R. Mills said...

It's a never ending journey. I continuously have those moments.

Eric W. Trant said...

Every year I think I'm smarter than I was last year, and looking back, I can see that I've been wrong just about every year.

As for improving my writing, I certainly hope it's been improved! I'm low on the learning curve for agenting, though. That dang business side of writing... what a pain.

- Eric

Linda G. said...

What I didn't know would fill a book. Come to think of it, it did. ;)

The online writing community is the perfect classroom for anyone interested in improving his/her craft. I'm learning more every day. :)

K. Marie Criddle said...

I agree with Linda! I have no idea where I'd be as a writer without blogs and twitter (well, without twitter I'd probably be a little more productive...)

I'm just grateful for the brave publishing souls who've gone before us that take time to detail what they've learned and what they know online. It's an amazingly huge classroom.

Davin Malasarn said...

I love that feeling of discovery when you learn something you didn't know or even didn't know you didn't know before. I think I pick up something like that in almost every class I take. I like being on a steep learning curve, but I hope it isn't always so steep. At some point, I do hope to feel like a master of my writing.

Alisa Callos said...

Love this. I'm all the time finding little gems. Most of them cause me a good deal of chagrin when I look back previous postings or stories I've written. But that is one of the things I love most about "learning my craft"...that sense of discovery and learning.

(I'm ever grateful to a handful of wonderful ladies who critique my work and call my BS on a regular basis. :)