Common Errors

Got an email from an agent today, which was exciting until I realized that I had submitted my work to the agent the same way. Still, I’d never had an email from an agent before, so I dared hope.

The message read, in part, “You have a nice storyline and a flair for storytelling. The problem is you’ve made a number of common errors that most writers fall victim to.”

Of course, there is no enumeration of what those common errors are. Clearly the agent is not prone to false pedantry about non-rules like ending sentences with prepositions. This is one reason I spend time critiquing a book after I read it, so I can identify those “common errors” and address them in my own work. In this case, the common errors may not even exist. This might just be the standard rejection email, praise and criticism alike. Everyone who submits may have a “flair for storytelling”.

So, how does one spot and stamp out these common errors? First, of course, is friendly but critical feedback from friends. If a few of you out there would like to read The Monster Within and you promise to criticize it ruthlessly, I’d be happy to send it along (although I’m reworking the first three chapters a bit at the moment, to better stun prospective agents).

Second, there’s writing school. I’ve been thinking about writing school for a while now; as with almost any other discipline professional instruction has to be beneficial. Nowhere would I find such consistent criticism than at school, and I would have a chance to air out my more literary musings. Putting a Masters of Fine Arts onto my biographical data in submissions would likely help as well, at least some of the time. I guess it’s time to look into what something like that would cost, and where the likely candidates would be.

Of course, once the Dark War screenplay is turned into a blockbuster, my worries will be over. Better get back to work.

17 thoughts on “Common Errors

  1. I would be more than happy to gently yet ruthlessly criticize your work. But I do have one question; the “common errors” to which this agent was referring, did the agent specify that they were errors common to the writing part of the equation, or to the submission/business of art/procedural part of the equation?

  2. Judging by the rest of the message, I’m reasonably certain she meant errors in the writing itself. Then again, that may just indicate that the errors were in my attempts to sell the writing.

  3. And what was the name of the old Jessica Mitford expose, something like, Let us now criticize Famous Writers? What sort of critical review do you look for and would the standard comma-chasing and cross-checking edit be of use to you?

  4. I know the essay that Pat refers to … I tried to find the anthology that contains it, The Dolphin Reader, early to mid 1980s. That reader was very short-lived, because it contained too many subversive works — the one that I remember best was “Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts.”

    Alas, the book has gone missing.

    But I do remember the essay about the “Famous Writers School.” (I’m pretty sure there was an apostrophe in the second word, and it wasn’t where it should have been.) The ads for the school promised editorial help from a bunch of famous writers, including Benett Cerf, with whom our grandfather hung out many long years ago.

    The hitch was that all of these famous writers had lent their names to the so-called school without actually giving their services. So people would sign up for the school thinking that they would get personal advice from Cerf and others, but what they got was a nearly useless correspondence course that didn’t give them anything they really needed.

    Once upon a time, I sent in a writing sample to one of these companies that advertises to people hoping to become writers. I got a response that was at least a little bit tailored — somebody chose the right pieces of boilerplate to paste together. (“Your grammar is excellent, and your formatting is nearly perfect.”) But then the letter went on to tell me that I had no chance of actually getting published unless I enrolled in the company’s correspondence course. I’m guessing that anybody who sends in a writing sample to this company will be told that there are shortcomings that can be overcome through the company’s correspondence courses.

    That much said, I read your manuscript about two years ago, and I never saw anything that I cound conceivably construe as a “common error.” Most of the deviations from standard grammar and usage were clearly intentional and served a rhetorical purpose. Since then, you have certainly had a chance to make changes to your manuscript, and I’m guessing that those changes would not have introduced glaring levels of error.

    I don’t think you need writer’s school, or at least, I don’t think you need that sort of writer’s school.

  5. Hi CA,

    Per your request, here is the report on MOH 9-triple-oh 1:
    He or she comes to us from the U.K. looking for guidance on “delicition” (a word Jer invented in 2006) which means our current MOH is either some sort of petty criminal (delict: a misdemeanor, tort, or offense) or spelling challenged. Either way, I’m sure you all will join me in saying “Welcome to MR&HBI”.

    By the way, someone from Zianet tried really hard to snag the title this time; there were four zianet visits surrounding the winner’s visit.

    For those of you playing at home (or, like me, at work), the next big number is 91,009.


  6. new poll please!
    I propose a poll to assess some reader metrics. Like, “Do you scan the sidebar for new comments?” “How often do you check for new entries?” “Do you follow the MOH?”
    Things like dat.

  7. I think the “common errors” referred to are more in the art of (commercial) noveling than in grammar, as I am pretty solid with the mechanics of the language.

    Writing school in my case would be a degree program from a major university. I checked a couple of U’s that have permanent presences in Prague, but they’re all about business communications and that stuff. (LOTS of U’s have summer programs here, but as far as I can tell, you have to be in their program back in the states to qualify.

    Honestly, I don’t even know what it takes to get into an MFA program; by the time I got my BS degree I was done with school for a while, and my undergraduate degree is from a school that was not renowned for its humanities. I might have to get a BA in creative writing before I could get into a post-grad program. At this stage, I have no idea.

  8. SJ,
    Is Bob playing true with you, or is it really 100,007, and he just wants you out of hunt early? On something as blog-shatteringly important as this, you would do well not to underestimate the nefarious Mr7k.

    Are you warm and dry in Coleville? Are you having flood or slide problems?

  9. Hi Keith,
    SJ is much too squirrely to be taken in by your slanderous accusations. Besides, I’m sure he knows that 100,007 is just another name for 97 x 1,031.

  10. On a more serious note, there has been no significant flooding around Colville, but thanks for asking. Things are much worse over on the coast. I feel for people who lost loved ones and homes. The most telling quote I’ve seen was “The wind meter read 81 mph and then it broke.” WA state is not used to hurricane-blizzard combinations.

  11. As we contemplate the arrival of visitor # 100,003, we’d do well to work out in advance what we shall call that person.
    The Millennium Office Holder title (and its variations) serves well enough for roughly 1,000 visits at a stretch, but we’ll need something more.
    Since we are also in desperate need of a new poll, I offer the following (additional/better suggestions more than welcome):
    1-oh-oh MOH (English, sort of)
    10-to-the-fifth OH (Scientific)
    Laksha OH (Sanskrit)
    Céad Mile OH (Irish)
    Peti OH (Mumbai underworld slang)
    P.S.: Isn’t Wikipedia fun?

  12. And there I was about to do a poll to decide who should write the next poll. Thanks, Bob! I’ll give a bit of time for other suggestions, then put the poll up.

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