By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent
This is a continuation in a series of columns about mistakes that even the greatest writers make. If you’d like to check out that the earlier posts, please click here:
#7: They Procrastinate
I am without a doubt guilty of doing this myself. It is amazing how many unimportant tasks that I feel the need to work on instead of the main one at hand. You are emotionally attached to your book project; likely you are not so invested in your distractions. Your motivation (or lack thereof!) is understandable. I hear you. But now I’m telling you to STOP IT.
If you have a proposal you need to put together, some sample chapters, a whole manuscript or even a query letter, it is time to finally check this off of your list. You need to be honest with yourself and determine what time of day works best for you. Are you a morning person? Are you only able to write at night after your spouse and children have gone to bed? ONLY write at that time! This will minimize the likelihood of getting distracted. Also, choose a place that allows you to focus. Are you a Starbucks regular? Can you shut the door to a particular room in your hose? Are you able to write at your desk at your day job? Finally, find an accountability buddy. This is a person who is trying to accomplish a similar goal to yours. Agree to certain goals and then call each other twice a week to check in on one another’s progress. Encourage each other and help yourself to stay on task!
Also, one of the areas that authors procrastinate with the most is that of platform. Whether you are a fiction or a nonfiction author, there is no time like the present to get started! Even if it is taking baby steps. It can take a while to establish an audience, and you want your platform to be as strong as possible when you start pitching agents.
#8: They Have Too Much and/or Unrealistic Dialogue
While some writers struggle with writing dialogue, many writers find this part of your book the most fun to do. Dialogue is a great way to establish rapport between your characters, while also conveying theme, mood, and emotions. With that being said, there is such a thing as too much dialogue. Conversations between your characters need to serve a purpose – if the exchange doesn’t establish something about the story, plot or character development, edit it down or out completely. If the conversation simply rehashes events that have happened in earlier scenes, consider taking it out. The more dialogue you have, the more likely it is that the readers’ eyes will start to wander and the real verbal jewels you’ve created will get lost in the shuffle.
Also, please consider reading your dialogue aloud. It can be you by yourself at your desk, it can be you and your girlfriend, it can be you and a group of friends. Either way, try reading some of the exchanges between your characters aloud. If a character sounds unrealistic, readers will have a harder time relating to them and wanting to continue alongside them on their journey.
#9: They Have a Protagonist Named Jake
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I was at a writers’ conference recently and had to laugh out loud when the agent doing the keynote brought up this very idea. I thought I must have been the only one who was tired of reading about dozens of young, good-looking guys named Jake! (Jake is almost always a writer, too, which I’m sure is not coincidental.) I have nothing against the name itself, but rarely does anything set these guys apart from one another – they just aren’t interesting and don’t bring anything new to the table.
Other examples of this include women in science fiction books described only as having red hair and “voluptuous chests” or collections of essays about people the author has dated. You are not like every other person on this planet – why shouldn’t your protagonist or book idea get the same chance?