Self Taught Troubles.
A little while ago I tweeted about how first novels were invariably subpar, and yet the author would remain convinced it would leave the world in awe of their talent. A couple of people responded, pointing out that many writers have an objective eye from the off, aware of their work’s shortcomings.
And now, just perhaps, I understand a little better why.
When I first started writing, my biggest frustration was Word highlighting sections of prose, and I had no idea what to do about it. You see, I’d had a quarter century hiatus from formal education and all but the most basic of grammar knowledge had abandoned me. More than that, I didn’t understand the concepts of flabby prose or the more technical elements of pacing, speed of reveal and a myriad other devices that help authors relate a story in a benign fashion. I’d been convinced a ‘great story’ was all it took. How wrong I was…
So I’m not surprised how many people throw their first books at Amazon, and then spam social media to urge us all to buy a copy. Many are so awash with self-belief that they must feel they’re on a righteous crusade to browbeat us all into agreeing. This isn’t just an observation, it’s personal experience as I too was convinced I had a novel the world should read.
I was wrong. Yeh, I still believe my first story was fantastic, but it was so well hidden behind clunky sentences, bad grammar and bloated prose that it didn’t come across quite the way I imagined.
But a trained eye, someone with a formal education in literary matters, will be far less likely to experience the delusion the self-taught can face. Their first novels may not be good enough for publication, but they will be far better positioned to understand that. They won’t have to wrestle clunky sentences with their hands tied behind their backs and nor will they bat an eye over which grammar rules to break. What they will do is work a novel with a full toolbox, and the final result will be a lot ‘cleaner’ than the likes of I could ever have hoped to produce in those early days.
I’d give anything to have someone with such knowledge poke at my prose and, luckily, there are plenty out there who do just that.
They’re called literary agents.