Nitwit of the Day!

Dear Miss Snark,

Reading your blog is a thoroughly pleasurable experience, for which I thank you, but I can't help feeling like a masochist when I catch myself clicking onto your URL. Don't you feel like you're giving a lot of these very misguided aspirants false hope by indulging them? 98% can't even write a query--how do the expect to revise MSS?

Giving people tools to improve isn't false hope.
Giving people information isn't false hope.

Get your head out of your *. Great writers don't spring from the womb fully formed, clutching a thesaurus and a publishing contract; they learned how the industry worked and practiced a lot.


Anonymous said...

It takes a lot of courage to ask for criticism on something you worked very hard on.

What a jerk.

Anonymous said...

"Great writers don't spring from the womb fully formed, clutching a thesaurus and a publishing contract"

I was! but then THEY had it surgically removed...

Shutting up...

Anonymous said...

Writing a query isn't easier than writing a novel: and it's not what aspiring writers are practising in the years of apprenticeship. It's a different skill altogether, more akin to advertising, and as the recent hook competition shows, one that doesn't at all necessarily translate into good novel writing.

Fortunately, here in the UK the most basic letter - wordcount and genre - plus chapter/s and synopsis, still rules when it comes to submissions. We Brits get to concentrate on writing the novel well, which is just as well, since some of the best novels are the hardest to shrink down to soundbites.

Anonymous said...

"98% can't even write a query--how do the expect to revise MSS?"

We learn to never forget the basics, like the importance of proofreading. Or were you just waxing Shakespearian? I for one know I can't write for shit. But that doesn't mean I don't want knowledge. I appreciate what I get here. -JTC

Heidi the Hick said...

Yes! Thank you Miss Snark!

It's true, the more we write the more we improve. I just finished a novel that I started two years ago. yesterday I started the much needed rewrite and discovered that it's total crap. There are some nice images buried in there, but it's overwritten, boring, and plodding.

I'm so glad I've been studying up here on this blog.

I'm a better writer now than I was two months ago.

Ok back to my thesaurus...

Anonymous said...

I think that you're giving that nitwit false hope that they will ever get their head out of their *.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you just love to have this guy as a neighbor? He'd be the type to think if you didn't wrap your garbage in a Fifth Ave. bag you must have lied on your application.

Zany Mom said...

I think all of the query-writing guidelines are very general, which is why we saw such an array of hooks, some of which looked like synopses, some like book jacket copy, and everything in between.

My original hook met with approval from a suspense novelist with a multi-book deal. It did get requesets. Evil Editor and his minions tore it to shreds.

I revised it and posted it here, and it wasn't specific enough (I was guilty of the nameless, faceless evil). I've revised it again, working with the template, and with the hooks that worked (conventional or not). I hope that the final version will be much more successful.

If not, on we go, to the next project (nearing completion) to the third project (in the idea stage).

Writing well is the result of practice, unless you're just a born genius.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Miss Snark. I learned almost as much from reading reviews and listening to agents and editors at conferences (and your column) as I did by taking advanced creative writing classes in college. I appreciate the time you spend with us wannabes. I'm published, but I wannabe much better and still have my novel to finish, the synopsis, the outline, the cover letter to write . . . oh man.

Heidi the Hick said...

Okay, I just need to reiterate:

This blog is so very helpful.

I'm rewriting Novel #4 right now, which I completed 1st draft on Dec 31st.

I'm up to Chapter 4. Nothing has happened. Lots of backstory, lots of character sketches, lots of description. Way too damn many words.

I'm slashing whole sentences. I'm seriously considering chopping out the first 4 chapters, and splicing some of the details into the book later on where it's needed.

And you know what? I'm grinning like a deranged killer as I delete all these precious gems that I wrote. I love it. I feel so good!

I can't wait to finish this 2nd draft and then dig into the 3rd draft!!!!

I have to go get rid of more crappy writing. I know there's good stuff in there somewhere and I'm going to find it!

Anonymous said...

We learn to never forget the basics, like the importance of proofreading.

And the importance of not splitting infinitives.

Anonymous said...

"98% can't even write a query--how do the expect to revise MSS?"

They start by writing and then revising - like the author of that question should have done. It's 'they' not 'the.'

Bernita said...

Dear Nit-twit,
I write a GREAT query - thanks to Miss Snark - the jury is still out on the novel, however.
They don't automatically equate.

MichaelPH said...

Dear Clueless,
C'mon! Give me a freekin' break. What's wrong with you? Are you crazy?

Without my hook writing skills, which I honed for the Happy Hooker Crapometer, I wouldn't have written a hook for a different project (non-fiction) that has "agent interest" from a Real Live agent in NY. Without the skills, I'd still be swimming in a sea of cluelessness, which of course I still dip my toes in...okay I wade...fine I'm doing the backstroke...but this blog has kept me out of the deep-end!

Anonymous said...

Oh, anonymous, I am a grammar fanatic myself, but nowadays infinitives may be split. It's of course the case that "We learn never to forget the basics..." would have been preferable in this particular sentence; yet sometimes one needs to split the old infinitive.

Anonymous said...

yes, oh, right, the rime of the ancient amateur: "i'm too busy writing brilliant things to worry about query letters, synopses, spelling, grammar, and other such pedestrian matters. i can't afford to let that stuff get in the way of my muse! my genius! my apostrophes!" it makes sense to seek out those who can guide. everyone could use insight now and again. even don henley once sang, "the more i know, the less i understand." but it can't be an accident, now can it, that the real writers with MFAs, serious MSS, contracts--and yes, even published books--have a better sense of what works, what doesn't, have asked the questions, have done the research, and aren't flailing around in the internet dark, begging hapless miss snark to explain it all for them?

i guess like those of us who are fans of the food network, watch good eats episode after episode, yet can't tell a bechamel from zooey deschanel, just because you tell an idiot how to do something doesn't mean he's going to know what to do with the information, much less apply it.

Anonymous said...

Preach it, Miss Snark! None of my real life babies came out full grown and holding a college degree the day after the pregnancy test came back positive. These things take time, a lot of learning, and a whole heck of a lot of work.

Oh, nut, you are so funny!

Kimber An

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Miss Snark. I sometimes teach, and sometimes wonder if it's useful to do so, and you've just reminded me why it is.

Anonymous said...

And the importance of not splitting infinitives.

Actually, there's no rule against split infinitives in English.

Anonymous said...

I think he's got a point, which is that some people will never be good enough writers to be published, regardless of how much they practice; but he misses the more important one, which is that it's not the teacher's job to make that assessment.

When a teacher starts handing down judgments of who can or can't Be A Writer, that person has stopped being a teacher and started claimed guru status.

Practice is a huge part of success. What no teacher can know is how determined and talented the student is at practicing.

Offering information that's true--or, at least, as true as the offerer can make it--is the best anyone can do to help people who are trying to practice. I don't need anointment or excommunication. I'm a grownup. I need truth, and it's hard to come by.

Not that anyone asked me.

Anonymous said...

This guy is probably scratching his ass with a bag a Cheetos on his gut while he passes gas and judgement. Booker prizewinner DBC Pierre was sleeping under a bridge in Houston a year or so before winning that prize. O. Henry was in jail in Texas before getting out and writing magnificent short stories. Raymond Chandler was in his late thirties when he was fired from a 9 to 5 for basically being an alcoholic. The list of people who have over come adversity, without encouragement, or the help of a Harvard degree is long and varied. Don’t let some clown slow you down.

Anonymous said...

I have been published (children's book) and worked for three years reading slush at Penguin, but still wasn't able to write a decent query letter until this past week. It happened only after reading all those crapometer entries with the comments.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I wish, I wish, I WISH somebody would post a blog in which writers could put up the first version of their first work which they were sure, sure, SURE would get them a call from Stockholm.

After the laughter dies down, writers could put up the version of the actual work that finally got them through the door.

Lighten up, Letterwriter. Many a third year med student who near impaled himself on a syringe has turned out to be the guy who developed the definitive diagnostic test, the lifesaving surgical procedure, or the latest wonder anti-viral.

ORION said...

mg tarquini -- yup...I agree...
and ya'll I'm a perfect example.
Four years ago I had nothing.
Well, check out my blog.

Georgiana said...

the real writers

As opposed to the imaginary writers so many of us have invented as characters?

The one lesson I've tried very hard to teach my kids is that it's okay to be a beginner. I think that we live in a culture with very little patience for those starting out and that's sad to me.

Most of us fell off when we learned to ride our bikes but most of us went on to become pretty good at it. We all have to start somewhere and we all have room to improve.

For a more on topic example I was at the Goodwill with my middle son the other day and I saw this ancient manual typewriter. I said, "See that? I used that very same model to type and submit my first short story when I was fourteen. It was singlespaced and in italics because I thought it looked cool."

He cringed and said, "Oh Mom, you're kidding, right?"

My point is that although we start out making mistakes we certainly learn from them and can then pass on our lessons.

God bless those who give us the tools and have the patience to help us move from beginners to experts.

Just Me said...

MJ Tarquini said: "I wish, I wish, I WISH somebody would post a blog in which writers could put up the first version of their first work which they were sure, sure, SURE would get them a call from Stockholm."

I once had the privilege of seeing the original handwritten manuscript draft of Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina", the one that famously begins (in Russian): "Happy families are all alike. But each unhappy family is unhappy in its own special way."

Tolstoy had begun with the first sentence. It was followed by nearly a page of writing about families. I longed to know what the Master had said there. But each subsequent sentence, one by one, had been crossed out. "But each unhappy family..." was followed by nearly a page of more excisions.

And this is from the guy who wrote the 400,000 words of "War and Peace"....

Et in Arcadia my friends.

Anonymous said...

Provocative question. Now think it through.

Darwinian selection will take care of writers who don't write, practise and learn -- and those who do.

Miss Snark's advice doesn't fall into the false hope category. Try the kick in the pants, WTF? and solid info categories.

My best incentives came from WTF? reactions. People said I couldn't write, and it was true. So I learned how to write. Now I have books in print and I'm still learning.

As for falling off bicycles, I had to stick my foot in the spokes to see how they worked. I didn't just fall off, I flew 20 ft. We all learn in our own ways.

Evolve. You can do it too.

Anonymous said...

"And the importance of not splitting infinitives."

I don't even know what that means. If I could post a picture you would see the distress on my face. -JTC

Anonymous said...

This guy is obviously a book critic.

fat larry said...

Damn, I thought I was the nitwit of the day.


Anonymous said...

JTC: "I don't even know what that means. If I could post a picture you would see the distress on my face."

That's OK. I've been having a convo with a writer and journalist who confuses 'effect' and 'affect'. When I explained that the first is usually a noun and the second a verb, he responded that he never did get that grammar thing to know what a noun or verb was. This is not a young person, either. In fact I think he's as old or older than me!

Split infinitive defined:

Anonymous said...

"...just because you tell an idiot how to do something doesn't mean he's going to know what to do with the information, much less apply it."

Okay, so I won't bother telling you what I think you should do with your negative comments.

Anonymous said...

Honest to dog, what an arrogant a**hole. What's your track record, you nitwit?
Boodstore shelves filled with YOUR timeless works?

vmnuzo-The coolest Italian kid in High School

LorMarie said...

I guess I'm one of those misguided aspirants according to the masochist. Oh well, whatever. The first step on the road to success is admitting that you need to improve. In fact, I still cringe whenever I look at the first draft of my novel. With time and practice, my writing will get better and better and better and...

I'm hanging on to true hope.

Kim said...

To be honest, I would much rather write the book than the query. I HATE queries (hate, hate, hate them!). Even after being published, it doesn't get any easier - though I have learned a ton from this blog. I still hate it. But, it's a necessary evil, so I grit my teeth as I struggle to stuff 400 pages into 4 and make it interesting.

On the flip side, with each one, I eventually accomplish just that. Practice makes almost perfect, I guess... but I still hate it each time I have to do it and it's the last thing I do before submitting anywhere.

Mark said...

That was a very negative assertion, however any great talent is usually inherited genetically, and through practice and hard work flourishes.

Those with less to start with can apply more of the latter to compensate. It's a craft that can be learned.

Anonymous said...


KONA... no ka oi.

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, desert snarkling! That whole split-infinitive is one of my favorite word-geek issues. And I luurve Bryson's "Mother Tongue."

For those who didn't follow the link, here's the relevant quote:

"In his book The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson points out that virtually all recognized authorities on English ... agree there is no reason to put the needs of the infinitive above the needs of the adverb. Still some people cling to the idea. The problem, of course, is the troublesome tradition of imposing rules of Latin on English. While it's true an infinitive is never split in Latin, there's a simple reason: it's one word. For example, amare (to love) and crescere (to grow)."

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nitwit:

Miss Snark doesn't know enough about an individual tireless soul to knowingly provide false hope. On the contrary, I'd say she's pretty direct.

There is pure talent and then there is writing that is good enough to be published, which can be studied and learned.

Even for the gifted, it is always helpful to learn from others' mistakes.


Anonymous said...

Well, I have the hardest time with pulling together a query, because condensing one of my works into 250 words or less is painful.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of my writing.

Kathy Rainwater said...

Thank you, Miss Snark. You stand up for us, even though we probably don't deserve it.

I...I'm tearing up again...I need to go now. *sniff*

Sean Lindsay said...

Though I'm late in coming to this thread, I'd just like to disclaim any notion that I wrote the email from which Miss Snark quotes.

I don't think that hope (false or otherwise) is in short supply in the writing community. Writing is the transcription of hope.

Anonymous said...

Talent and genius in the arts is a myth anyways. In all the studies that have been done involving the arts not a single one I've found has shown any merit to the concept that some people are more naturally talented than others in the ways that matter.

Most of the time the biggest difference is in the very early stages of an artist's career, where one might jump straight into the lead, but in studies of professional musicians, painters and writers, those at the top of the world career-wise practiced far more than those considered to be a level lower.

Anonymous said...

To the poster of this comment:

Have you been published? Anywhere?

If you have been published, and I have to leave out self-pubs etc..and you did not spend hours, days, years, decades, researching your chosen publisher or market for your book and just had it fall into your lap, well, then good for you.

As for the rest of us snarklings, I am extremely thankful for her unbiased and sometimes painfully honest opinions. Get your ego out of your **** as she says and think about what you just wrote. And then spend some more time in the corner thinking about what you just wrote.

And if you are indeed John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks etc.. Well, then good for you.

The rest of us will keep working at our pathetic little query letters.