Don’ts of Writing
by Kellee Kranendonk
Originally published February 2013 by Silver Blade Magazine
Seven don’ts for submitting:
– Don’t assume that just because you’ve been published your work is perfect.
I had one submission that had a typo in the two lines of a cover letter. The story sub started okay, but the further I read, the more typos I found which put me off the story. This was a published author who should have known to check the work before submitting. One or two honest typos are okay. Your editor will know, and it’s not her job to fix them. “Most importantly of all, if you think what you wrote is perfect, look again. We are all still learning, always. Don’t get comfortable.” – Anthony J. Rapino, author of ‘Soundtrack to the End of the World”, and “Welcome to Moon Hill”.
– Don’t contact the editor after a rejection.
You’ve probably heard this before. Whether you get a form letter or a personal rejection don’t do it, even if you disagree with the editor’s reason for rejection (if one was provided). She probably doesn’t have anything to say that you want to hear, and she doesn’t have time to debate the issue with you.
* I’ve had authors contact me after a rejection, asking if they could resubmit if they revised the story (with regards to editor’s comments). I’m agreeable to that. The worst an editor can say is no, and you’ve already been rejected. However, many magazine guidelines ask specifically that you don’t submit a revised story, or email them with such a request. Please DO follow that advice.
– Don’t submit without reading the guidelines.
Sometimes, even after you read a magazine’s guidelines, you still feel like you’re taking an educated guess when you send one of your stories. But if you’re submitting a children’s story to a children’s magazine, you’re already a step ahead. Your story simply may not be the editor’s cup of tea. However, if you’re sending a romance to a horror magazine you’re showing your lack of respect. Please don’t.
– Don’t write to the wrong editor.
If you’re going to use the editor’s name, make sure you use the correct name. If you’ve checked the magazine’s site, facebook page, masthead (if it comes in hard copy) and/or anywhere else the magazine and it’s contributors are listed, and you still can’t find an editor’s name, or you’re still not sure, simply addressing to “Editor” is acceptable.
– Don’t expect an immediate response.
Sometimes an editor can respond within days or even hours. Most can’t. Please be patient.
– Don’t appear to be an amateur even if you are.
You don’t need to explain if you’ve never been published before. It’s okay if you haven’t, unless the magazine requires you to be. In that case, you shouldn’t even be submitting to them. You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever done related to writing. If you’re an adult, the creative writing class you took in grade 9 doesn’t matter. If, however, you’re a grade 9 student, that class could be relevant. You don’t need a copyright mark. The moment you set your work on paper, the copyright is yours. Editors know this.
– Don’t confuse multiple submissions with simultaneous submissions.
Multiple submissions are several stories and/or poems sent to a single magazine at once. Most don’t want this. Be sure to read the guidelines to see if it’s acceptable for the magazine you’re submitting to. Simultaneous submissions are a single story sent to several magazines at the same time. Many magazines don’t want these, but there are some who will accept them. If the guidelines don’t state one way or the other for either, don’t assume. If there’s no contacting email the sensible thing to do is sent one story to one magazine. Please note that multiple submissions DO NOT mean you can neve send another story to the same magazine. Just not at the same time.
Seven don’ts for your story
– Don’t write about body parts.
If you’re writing a zombie story, body parts are fine. They may also be fine in fantasy and sci-fi as long as they have a purpose. However the body parts I’m talking about here are those ones that move about all on their own. (Again, this may be fine in fantasy if magic is being used). Eyes can’t dart, roam or move otherwise anywhere. Feet and hands don’t lift themselves. Write about characters and their movements, not their animated body parts.
– Don’t intrude on your own story.
Arthur heard a squeak from the other room. He crept up the stairs, the hair on his neck standing stiff. Did I tell you Arthur was a dog? He’s my little black dog that hated mice, and he thought that squeaking might be a mouse. Snuffing, he topped the stairs and peered into the room. All of the intensity was lost when the author intruded to tell the reader that Arthur was a dog. Keep the intensity by showing that Arthur is a dog: Arthur heard a squeak from the other room. He crept up the stairs, the hair on his neck standing stiff. His ears pricked forward, he snuffled the floor as he topped the stairs and peered into the room. In this version, Arthur is shown to be a dog (or an alien) since it’s not likely a human would have ears pricked forward, or be snuffling the floor.
– Don’t write the reaction before the action.
Crying, Janice watched the sad movie. It sounds like she was crying before she started watching. Why? What made her cry. Better to write: Janice watched the sad movie and cried. This way we understand that the crying is her reaction and not the other way around. Sometimes it works, though, because people are multi-taskers. Just be sure it does work in the order you have it. Crying, Janice reached for another handful of popcorn. (This sentence is, of course, assuming the reader already knows Janice is watching a sad movie).
– Don’t overuse names, especially in conversation.
People don’t constantly call one another by name, unless it’s a telemarketer. (I think they’re taught to use a person’s name over and over because it compliments them). How many times have you had a conversation like this with your best friend: Hello, Helen. How are you, Helen? Are you coming over, Helen? You also don’t need to use your character’s name every time. Don’t be afraid to use he/she, him/her, hers/his. Also, people identify one another by voice. You can do this in your story too, by giving your character his or her own distinctive voice and/or quirk.
– Don’t do the impossible.
Nellie typed up her resumé and drove to the office to drop it off. Apparently Nellie is very talented, being able to type and drive at the same time. “And” means simultaneously. I can walk and chew gum. I can listen and breathe. I can’t type and drive. I’m pretty sure Nellie can’t either. What she did do was this: Nellie typed up her resumé, then drove to the office to drop it off.
– Don’t overuse ellipsis.
This doesn’t mean not to use them several times in one story (although you shouldn’t do that either). What this means is not to do this: Elinor grabbed her purse then . . . . . . . . . . . . You only need 3 dots, 4 if it’s the end of a sentence.
– Don’t overuse the same phrase or word.
Find different ways to describe things. Don’t have several characters repeating the same information. Readers will remember. Having a catch-phrase for a character is acceptable, but still don’t use it every time the character talks.
Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a newbie, these “don’ts” can be valuable. The difference is, once you’re a seasoned writer, these should already be second-nature.