Common Problems in The Work of Beginning Writers

By Michael Neff

I was perusing that recent article at Poets and Writers, the one where they put four agents in a room and got them talking. Most of it is 101, of course, but useful advice nonetheless.

I liked the following because it reflects my own frustrations with writers who are too ignorant to be truly dedicated to the craft:

Tell me some common problems that you see in the work of beginning writers.

ZUCKERBROT: In a lot of cases, the story just sort of wanders off. You can say, "Well, there's great dialogue. There's great this or that." But if there's no real story anchoring it, who really cares, at the end of the day? You can have great characters, you can have interesting ideas, but there needs to be some narrative momentum, some narrative thrust.

LAZAR: I would say to start the story where the story starts. So often, the story doesn't actually start until page five. Sometimes it doesn't start until page fifty, but page five can be just as bad. As a reader, you just don't get that far.

KLEINMAN: The big problem I see is that people don't spend enough time with their books before they send them to agents. People are way too focused on getting published and not focused enough on really working on their craft.

BARER: You should revise it, and then you should put it away, and then you should revise it again. If you're going to come back to me in three months and say, "I have a better version that you should look at," then you should not have sent it to me in the first place. It's amazing how many people do that.

KLEINMAN: Or they say, "I knew there was something wrong and I was hoping you wouldn't notice."

ZUCKERBROT: I get those queries that say, "I just finished my novel...." And I think, "Well, now you need to write it three more times."

BARER: Keep working on it for another year. Show it to everybody but me.
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