Monday 20 December 2010

Guest Blogger Maureen Lynas: If You’re Incompetent And You Know It Clap Your Hands.

Part Two of a series
Read Part One - Writerly Incompetence Can Be Cured

Noooo! by Fabbio
David Attenborough would probably describe the cry of the Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author as a wail, commonly preceded by a thump on the doormat or a ping in the inbox. It goes something like this –


Two types of behaviour have been noted following this cry. It isn't known why some Authors exhibit the first and some the second. It could be nature. It could be nurture.

The first is a slump, possibly involving a wall to slide down and a floor to land on.
Thanks to Zygman for the image

The second is more violent involving throwing, thumping, stamping and usually punctuated with expletives.

At an early stage in their development, Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors begin to flock together, forming

Collectives of Conscious Incompetence.

These authors know what it is that they don't know.

Or they think they do (they may only have scratched the surface of what they don't know. They may not have read How Not to write a Novel yet.)

At this point the cries of the Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author changes. The cries become longer, they contain words but often spoken so quickly as to be almost unintelligible.

I have to learn WHAT? HOWMUCH? REALLY?!?

But won't the editor check the spelling/grammar/punctuation? Isn't that their job? What do they do for their money?

Is the protagonist the goody or the baddy or is that the antagonist and what's an archetype?

What's a metaphor/simile/analogy and how do I know if I've mixed them?

What's wrong with stereotypes because isn't everyone a bit of a stereotype really, you know, like, whatever?

But why can't I use adverbs sneakily.

What do you mean, pace? What do you mean, structure? What do you mean, plot?

Sew speling is importent? Reely?
Eventually, as the Authors tire they often sob, 'Why won't someone just tell me how to do it and I'll do it!'

This is the moment in their development when Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author's can often be observed clustering together on courses. A flock of wannabes, a swarm of hopefuls - A pride before the fall.

Or they frequent the local bookshop or library (we don't have time for the destruction of habitat discussion here, unfortunately.) searching for the short cut to publication -

The How To Book!
The Writers Journey, Seven basic Plots, On Writing etc etc etc.

OR they scour the internet for

The How To Video!

See - Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Now, instead of writing, the hungry Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors devour the hints, the tips, the gems that drop from the pens of that rare breed - the masters – the Greater-spotted Authors.

They learn how these superior beings plot, structure, create huggable protagonists and antagonists worth boooooing. They are in awe of their ability to create laughter and tears, to tell a gripping tale, to leave the ideas of their books in the minds of readers, long after the book has been closed.

'Ah!' they cry, 'Almond does it this way! Then I shall do it this way, for this is the way!'


'But no! Rowling does it this way,' they cry. 'I must follow the path of Rowling. For indeed this must be the way.'

'But lo! What is this I see? Donaldson does it this way and it is neither the Almond Way nor the Rowling Way. It is – ANOTHER WAY!'

And the cry now becomes, 'Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!'

But as the sound dies away a whisper can heard, a scary whisper, a challenge of a whisper. It goes like this- 'Maybe, just maybe, in order for each Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author to transform into a Greater-spotted Author they have to find – THEIR OWN WAY!

Some Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors never recover from hearing this whisper. The challenge is too great. They've invested years in being a Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author, but they turn away from all of the paths and take up knitting fingerless gloves for nanowrimo victims. They vow never to pick up a keyboard again. The work goes in the drawer, the cupboard, the attic where it lurks.

The few who remain often experience shock, indecision, nightmares. They worry over their writing, they pull it to bits, pay for critiques, join crit groups, analyse, analyse, analyse. They despair of ever finding THEIR OWN WAY. They hate having to find THEIR OWN WAY. They peck and peck and peck at their work until they have lost sight of why they were writing in the first place.

And then, they get a bit of feedback. From a Plumed Publisher or a Masked Agent.

On the twelfth day of Christmas an agent said to me-

My, you have potential
Twelve tales of telling!
Eleven kids a-cursing!
Ten metaphors mixing
Nine drafts is nothing
Eight edits later
Seven plots a-pacing
Six super similies
Five stereotypes!
Tut tut.
Four pigs - too many
Three's just right
Two's not enough
and your hero should solve his own problems.

Encouraged by this show of interest our desperate Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors check their abilities against How Not to Write Novel and discover that, joy of joys, they have actually learnt something about writing, because they can go, I don't do that, don't do that, don't do that, definitely don't do that, oops, maybe I do that, don’t do that. Yay!

This is a time of celebration for the persistent Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors. The cry goes up, 'I'm not as incompetent as I thought I was!!!!! Hurrah!'

They have realised they have created Stephen King's writer's toolbox. And having a full toolbox is excellent. It should be celebrated, polished, exhibited.

But a chisel is just a chisel. A hammer is just a hammer. A Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw is just a Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw. As every worker probably gets sick of being reminded, it's what you do with your Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw that matters.

Coming soon – I’m so flippin' competent, I'm not even thinking about it!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Maureen Lynas is an ex-teacher and literacy consultant who believes that with a bit more work and a load more willpower, resolve, fortitude, doggedness, tenacity, persistence, diligence, grit and determination, she will eventually win a publishing deal for Boggarty Bog’s Tasty Teeth. Or Kissy Wissy. Or Hatty’s Splendiferous Hats. Or one of the many other stories in her ‘finished’ folder. Maureen is currently feeding her writing obsession by associating with members of SCBWI British Isles and has taken on the role of North East Regional Advisor. You can see Maureen’s reading scheme at the Action Words website

Read part 3 - Happy New Competence 


  1. That was brilliant! Especially the 'on the twelfth day of Christmas and agent said to me ...'

  2. Maureen should perform it in a video!

  3. Only if you pay me lots and lots of pennies and use someone elses voice!

    The images are great Candy, I particularly like/empathise with the child!

  4. Brilliant, Maureen.
    Thanks for making me laugh.

    And I still firmly believe you will get that publishing deal.

    From one of your biggest fans!!
    Tracy :)


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