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View Full Version : Your most dreadful writerly sin



rebmacrath
01-16-2011, 05:06 PM
(N.B.: I've asked the mods to move this to the AW Roundtable.)

Not to be confused with the thead "Funny literary mistakes". Nor are we looking for silly little venial sins like gift-wrapping a manuscript or phoning an agent like clockwork each week simply to see how s/he's doing or enclosing a vial of your own blood with your vampire novel. No, no, none of that. What we want are mortal sins in their full magnificence--sins you paid for dearly, perhaps, but sins of which you now can say: "The price was high but worth it, 'cause I'm a better writer now."

That said, I'll begin with a sin of mine that is flat-out notorious. It is the stuff of legends. Even now, years later, when agents go to summer camp to roast hot dogs and swap horror stories, they still recall the Rebster's sin. This is scary stuff. Be warned.

After my fourth book, when I'd just begun to start over, I took a wrong turn. I ended up in Hell Town, where I grew--somehow--convinced that, as an award-winning author who had been optioned for film...and as a former journalist who'd had a nationally syndicated column...I say, I grew convinced somehow because of these and other things that I no longer needed to proofread as intensely as anyone else. Don't get me wrong, I proofread. But I no longer went through each page 50 times--frontwards, backwards, upside down, etc.

The time came to send out the first pages of, I thought, my breakthrough book. A hardboiled mystery that would turn the genre on its head. I was surprised by the form rejections. But then I started getting a handful of personal notes: 'Hysterically funny! But not quite for us.' and "Dementedly delightful, but..." Etc. WTF, I wondered. Then came, like a thunderbolt, one agent's revelation: she'd drawn a jeering Happy Face beside one word she'd underlined. On the first page of my masterpiece--oh, God, the shame and horror!--my failure to proof had resulted in...this:

'Her red dress had a wide, plunging neckline. And I stared in delight at her beautiful beasts.' :cry:


All right, it's your turn. Confession is good for the soul.

RobJ
01-16-2011, 05:42 PM
'Her red dress had a wide, plunging neckline. And I stared in delight at her beautiful beasts.' :cry:
That's brilliant. I once knew a woman like that.

Amyre
01-16-2011, 05:51 PM
hahaha
I haven't gotten far enough to have a blunder like that, but that one was too funny!

jhanger
01-17-2011, 07:22 AM
Ok, true confessions. As the editor of a small town paper I too failed in proofreading and ran on the front page, above the fold, in a huge font:

Bradford awarded AU Bassball Scholarship

(Bradford was a well-known local high school baseball superstar)

blacbird
01-17-2011, 09:00 AM
Once, long ago, believing that I could get stuff published.

Daniel A. Roberts
01-17-2011, 01:32 PM
The first time I uploaded my new novel to Smashwords called "Passion of the Different", I had just gotten it back from my proofreader. I followed his comments and made only a few changes, he didn't find too much. Normally, I proof read the proofreader's work to make sure 'he' didn't miss anything.

I said to myself, "Naw, you did alright Dan. Just upload it and get it started." So on November 9th, 2010, I uploaded the novel without taking the extra steps.

I got 5 starred on the first day, but then a good friend of mine sent me an email. Not the one who 5 stared me. She said, "Do you have a proofreader or not? Yadda yadda.." So I downloaded the copy like a customer and started to read it... and I nearly freaked out.

I fired the old proofreader and found a much better one. I made the corrections and uploaded it, but around a dozen people got to read my sin of arrogance. That is a sin I will never do again.

gothicangel
01-17-2011, 01:45 PM
Think of it this way Reb: you made a few stressed out and underpaid readers/agents day. :D

jaksen
01-17-2011, 05:09 PM
I once wrote about a 'Mercury Firebird.' (the car)

It was published that way, too. When we noticed the error later, I hit myself upside the head forty-two times. Then I wrote a companion story. In it the character once again refers to a Mercury Firebird, upon which a different character slaps HIM upside the head, and says, "Damn it, it's a PONTIAC Firebird, you idiot."

(Btw both characters were guys and one of them drove a Firebird.)

TheTinCat
01-17-2011, 05:25 PM
When the actress doing the book on tape for my first (already published) novel called me up, wanting to ask about the pronunciation of some of the names, she also asked me "How do I say this roman numeral on page --?"

I sat there staring at it for a long time, slowly and horribly realizing that it wasn't a real number: I had just strung some C's and I's and V's together, meaning to go back to it later and correct it, and then forgot all about it. Somehow it had slipped past the editors as well.

I asked her to just read the letters in stead of saying a number, and if anyone questioned it I was going to claim that it's fantasy, it's my universe, and I can have alternate roman numerals if I damn well please!

Anne Lyle
01-17-2011, 05:27 PM
Nice recovery, jaksen!

rebmacrath
01-17-2011, 06:09 PM
Well, we're getting some interesting sins here. And I thank y'all for contributing. You're a lively, interesting gang. I'm still hoping that we can open this up to sins aside from proofing. After all, no one is likely to ever the top the old Japanese sign announcing 'We pray for MacArthur's erection!'

Any terrible errors of judgment? Embarrassing sins of behavior? I've got a doozie involving--but nooooo. I don't want to hog the stage.

Phaeal
01-17-2011, 06:36 PM
Any terrible errors of judgment? Embarrassing sins of behavior? I've got a doozie involving--but nooooo. I don't want to hog the stage.

Well, I'd give you one of mine, except I don't have any. Apart from once putting the climax of a novel smack-dab in the middle, then wondering why the hundred or so pages that followed seemed so anticlimactic. But that was just a draft that went mercifully unseen by anyone but me... :gone:

Oh, and go ahead, hog the stage and tell us yours. ;)

rebmacrath
01-17-2011, 08:10 PM
Well, all right, then. One sin more. Then I'll have to pull back for a while for fear of frightening the lot of you off:

Writers are sooooo vulnerable at the very start. I had an agent who believed in me and who managed to land a two-book hardback contract with a reputable publisher. Like any other writer who'd been ignored for too long, I became confused about the nature of the business. Though I tried my darndest not to overdo my contact with my agent, I jumped at the chance to become Best Friends with my editor...who occasionally made disparaging remarks about my agent not living in Gotham. Around the time of my second book, when I too was having some trouble accessing my agent and I was feeling some concern about the next book contract...the editor, my Best Friend, put the matter in the strongest terms: I really needed a new agent, one who was available for lunch and could be reached. I could waste a lot of time putting the best face on this, but the fact of the matter is clear to me now: though I left one final message for my agent, that wasn't enough. I should have written her the loveliest letter on earth to thank her for all she'd done and to see if we arrange for a lunch to talk about anything she might have on her mind, to fine-tune our relationship wherever she felt tuning was required. Instead, I changed agents, too quickly--scarcely considering whom I wanted to work with in the panic I now felt. I ended up with an agent who made me some quick pocket change...by moving me to another house where she had better contacts. And so it was that I went from hardback to paperback originals.

My first agent wasn't entirely blameless. She had been unresponsive for months. But I didn't try hard enough to save a good relationship. And I didn't understand that, by the very nature of the business we're engaged in, editors can be our allies but never our Best Friends.

TheTinCat
01-17-2011, 10:42 PM
Any terrible errors of judgment? Embarrassing sins of behavior?

Well.... *cough* ... Going through a bad period in my life I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with the last half of my plot in a manuscript and I very cleverly decided that I would just borrow some elements from the last half of a Stephen King book and just kind of toss it together.

After all, wasn't I a good enough writer to pull off an ending that seemingly had nothing to do with the first half of my book? And if the ending worked for King, it would work for me, right?

Needless to say, my editor completely tore it apart, and I spent the better part of a year crying, downing antidepressants and rewriting the last half of the book completely.

Turned out great, though! And you'd never know the old ending was ever there.

Alitriona
01-18-2011, 03:58 AM
It's still early days for me. I'm sure I do something cringe worthy in time. I think the most I've done so far is send a chapter to someone for notes only to have it come back with a section highlighted. My teenage MC was admiring the male MC from afar and contemplating melting into a poodle of goo if he every spoke to her. My reader was confused about what I was going for.

I meant puddle.

Stijn Hommes
01-18-2011, 04:00 AM
Back in the day when I was still winging it when it comes to outlining, I had a character wear shorts and a T-shirt. That doesn't sound like a problem until you know the working title was "Lost in Snow".

The story was set in the middle of winter and while I equipped all the other characters with electric blankets, heaters and warm clothing, somehow this character slipped through.

I learned my lesson. Now I plan, and I always proofread my work.

SPMiller
01-18-2011, 04:04 AM
In my earliest attempts at pro-level writing, I wrote a story that opened in the aftermath of male violence against a woman.

I'll never do it again, honest.

LOG
01-18-2011, 04:26 AM
Not writing when I should be, how's that?

blacbird
01-18-2011, 08:23 AM
Back in the day when I was still winging it when it comes to outlining, I had a character wear shorts and a T-shirt. That doesn't sound like a problem until you know the working title was "Lost in Snow".

The story was set in the middle of winter and while I equipped all the other characters with electric blankets, heaters and warm clothing, somehow this character slipped through.

I learned my lesson. Now I plan, and I always proofread my work.

Not a problem where I live (Anchorage, Alaska). Tonight it's about -2F (last night it was -14F when I went to bed), and I can guarantee there are teenagers out on the streets downtown here in shorts and T-shirts. It really is astonishing how often you see this. And half of it (jacket, hat gloves and knee-length shorts or skirts) is ubiquitous, in the worst winter weather imaginable.

rebmacrath
01-18-2011, 08:28 PM
Well.... *cough* ... Going through a bad period in my life I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with the last half of my plot in a manuscript and I very cleverly decided that I would just borrow some elements from the last half of a Stephen King book and just kind of toss it together.

After all, wasn't I a good enough writer to pull off an ending that seemingly had nothing to do with the first half of my book? And if the ending worked for King, it would work for me, right?

Needless to say, my editor completely tore it apart, and I spent the better part of a year crying, downing antidepressants and rewriting the last half of the book completely.

Turned out great, though! And you'd never know the old ending was ever there.

I'm glad it worked out for you. There's a lesson we all learn at some point or other, about the temptation to borrow. And you feel better for confessing, right? I like to think that somewhere there's a thread just like this one for editors and publishers...one that would enable the culprit responsible for not listing my first novel in their season's catalog. Try to imagine how it feels to go out, all aflutter, looking for your new baby on the shelves and finding it nowhere. Then, finally, you learn--confess, you rascal, whoever you are, you slimed by first baby!

There's a really cool story about what I did to save my baby's life...but I'll save that for another day and another thread.

Winterwind
01-18-2011, 08:52 PM
I haven't published and I am new to the game, but when I was in school, I signed up for a Novella class. It was by invitation only and required an example of your best writing.

Well...I had a short story I was infatuated with- thought it was so creative and different, yadda, yadda, yadda. It was a literary collage of sorts, very autoboigraphical, but you know, young love and all that. I sent it in as my example.

I got my rejection with the recommendation that "I sign up for a basic creative writing class, as it is clear I do not understand the fundamentals of fiction."

Ouch. I went back an reread. It was then that I realized that not only did my timeline/collage make for awkward reading, I had changed the MC's name halfway through and forgot to edit.

Yeah, that sound was me, kicking my own butt.

I still like the story and the concept, but it remains a WiP.

kate1song
01-19-2011, 06:56 AM
I am not a writer, at least I do not consider myself a good one, but one year I volunteered to create our Elementary School's Yearbook to help out the art teacher. She was going through major health problems at the time.
I'd read through the final draft but did not proofread it properly. In hindsight, I REALLY should have shown it to someone before I had it printed.
After looking through one of the 500 printed copies, my principal announced that we would not be able to distribute them and would have to give the money back to the students.

It turned out that on one of the pages I'd written
Office Personal instead of Office Personnel

I think I accidentally chose the wrong word in spell check.
We ended up putting a sticker in each yearbook to correct the mispelling.
Man I mortified.

TheTinCat
01-19-2011, 03:46 PM
I got my rejection with the recommendation that "I sign up for a basic creative writing class, as it is clear I do not understand the fundamentals of fiction."



Ouch! Damn.

TheTinCat
01-19-2011, 03:48 PM
. There's a lesson we all learn at some point or other, about the temptation to borrow.

Borrowing is a great tool! You just have to make sure that the stuff you borrow fits with what's already there...

shadowwalker
01-19-2011, 08:05 PM
When I first decided to be a 'real writer', I was in high school. I had this glorious idea for a thriller. I hand-wrote it in five large notebooks, taking months to get it just right. Finally, it was finished! I bathed in self-glory for a couple weeks and then read it from start to finish.

That's when I realized I had rewritten (ie, practically plagiarized) the entire novel that had motivated me to be a writer in the first place.

All five notebooks went in the trash, and I didn't write again for decades.

Eddyz Aquila
01-19-2011, 08:13 PM
All five notebooks went in the trash, and I didn't write again for decades.

All five notebooks went to the trash? Wow.
At least you could have used them as paperweight.

Victoria
01-20-2011, 09:24 AM
Mine isn't as horrific as some above, but it's all I've got at this stage of the game. I relied on AgentQuery to give me an accurate submission guidline, neglecting to check out an agent's website. Newbie mistake, but one that got me a not so nice rejection. The agent pointed out the obvious fact that I had not done my research, and went on to say that she NEVER worked with unpublished writers. Oops.

Libbie
01-22-2011, 09:42 PM
I consistently type "account" as "acocunt," and somehow, even though I know I do this all the time, I always miss it in proofreads. It's like my brain refuses to see the error. The word account seldom appears in my fiction (although it has!), but this was a real problem back when I was running an Accounts Payable department and had to write lots and lots of professional emails every day.

jenga
01-23-2011, 07:36 AM
An anthology was putting out a call for synopsis/query submissions, and I (in all my amateur wisdom) put forth two of the bestest short story synopses in recorded history.

I was totally mystified when I didn't even get a form rejection--until I reread those synopses a year or so later and realized they were novel length, not short stories. (the summaries were 1000 words EACH).

KerylRaist
01-24-2011, 05:50 AM
Not sure if this is a grave sin of suppurating evil, but I was kind of shocked when I noticed it.

In the revision stage I decided to use the find function to locate all my ands, buts, ors, etc... and make sure I had correct comma usage with them all. In my 270k manuscript I had over 10k ands, 4k buts, and on and on. Some very serious rewriting happened at that point.

Tsiamon
01-25-2011, 07:18 PM
I'm jealous of all of the 'oh no, I made a typo!' sins I see here, though I guess these things are really subjective.

Me, I self-published a novel. I was in high school and didn't know any better. I was cocky and, but also under a lot of pressure from family and teachers to be exceptional, so I got the idea in my head that self-publishing was the way to go. Now I really wish there was a way I could erase the whole thing from Google because I'm afraid it will hurt my chances at a real career. It's not the worst thing ever, but it's not good -- unpolished, some plotting issues, amateur prose mistakes...

Some day I'm going to re-write it and do things, you know, properly. In the mean time, I'm working on better stories and I hope the fact that I now know I was stupid means I'm becoming more professional.

anydayshirley
02-02-2011, 07:58 AM
I'm not far along in my career yet to have made many serious or noteworthy blunders, but I have committed writerly sins of another sort.

I've committed and continue to commit "sins" in the name of writing. Among the people who know me, I'm notorious for having been a hedonist (I've slowed down by now---can't even finish a cigarette these days). What they don't know is that most of the time, my willingness to experiment with drugs and sex among other things was ultimately affected by my desire to become a better writer. That isn't to say that I wouldn't have done those things anyway, it's just that in the end, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go forth with my arguably terrible decisions to learn about...being human, I guess, so I could depict those actions, as well as real human beings.