Sunday 5 December 2010

Guest Blogger Maureen Lynas: Writerly Incompetence Can Be Cured

Part One of a Series
Read Part Two - If You're Incompetent and You Know It Clap Your Hands
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 

Incompetent – moi? No!

Tick if you have ever done any of the following:

 Slumped in an emotional heap crying, ‘Do I really have to know the difference between an idiom and an idiolect – what sort of an idiot would think that was reasonable?’


 Thrown the laptop with frustration - or wanted to, but thrown a cushion instead. Laptops don’t bounce.


 Chosen to show your nearest and dearest exactly why they shouldn’t have said, ‘Yes, but what’s his motivation?’ Instead of merely telling him.

Do not despair if you have ticked any boxes.

You are merely suffering from incompetence. It can be cured.

The first step is to identify exactly how incompetent you are and from then on you must be treated with care.

There are four stages of incompetence, no matter what the subject or activity. But as we are all authors I thought I’d focus on writing, if anyone wants to contact me on how to be a brain surgeon then – you need to have your head examined.

Cartoon copyright Mike Luckovich from Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Stage One is Unconscious Incompetence.

Ah, bliss. A wonderful stage to be in. We do not know what it is that we do not know.

You could say we are delusional at this stage because we actually say things like – I have an idea! For a book! Wow, I’m going to write a book! I’ll be rich. I’ve read lots of books therefore I can write a book. I used to write a lot a school and it was good. I’ll be rich. I can use a pen. I have paper. I’ll be rich. I can use Word. I’ll type it. I’ll be rich. And it shall be a great book, and it shall wow the world with its uniqueness. AND I’LL BE RICH! After all, how hard can it be? It’s not brain surgery, is it?

Poor us. We have no idea. No idea of what is involved in the process of writing a book, how to approach a publisher, or what a writer’s life consists of. Ignorance is bliss! But not for long.

At his stage we also do things that demonstrate our ignorance.

We write the book. It may take as long as a couple of months (Phew! That was hard!), or if we write quickly (picture books are short) a night.

We stick a pin in a list of publishers and cry – He’ll do!

We kiss the book, printed off in Gigi (such a pretty font), single-spaced with COPYRIGHT 2010 on every page, and send it off to the publisher recommended by a friend who’s had a book published called History of the Railways 1898-1899 Vol 1.

And we wait.

And we wait.

And we wait.

Then we cry. Literally. Then we cry a different cry of – ‘Why!!!! Why have they rejected me! Why do they not love my book?’

I shudder when I recall myself at this stage. I want to curl up and die when I remember the first submission letter I sent out. Forty pages long. No, that’s an exaggeration for comic effect; it’s just grown that big in my head over the years. But it was about six pages. I even seem to remember, and how I wish this was not true, I even seem to remember calculating (with an actual calculator) how many picture books I’d read over the years as a reception teacher, and quoting this number as evidence that I knew my subject and was an author worth publishing. They were so kind, they did reply. It was a no. But it was a very supportive no. However, I was too busy crying the, ‘Why!!!!’ cry that I didn’t recognise it as supportive for many years.

Maureen cuddling up to the
lovely David Almond,
author of Skellig
This stage is the beginning of the writer’s journey. The idea has been planted. We begin to write a book not realising that we have started on an exploration of what it is to be a writer of many books, not an author of one book.

The next stage is a little bit more complex and will require another article.

Coming to you soon.

Help, I’m Consciously Incompetent!

Read Part Two of this series - If You're Incompetent and You Know It Clap Your Hands

Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas


  1. I loved that video and the cartoon! I find most writers quit trying after the first few rejections and never get past that unconscious incompetence stage - which is too bad. Looking forward to the next stage. Hope there's a stage for me that involves persistence, stalking and rewriting! Three key things for a writers arsenal! Love the new blog layout btw!

  2. Have so been there. My most cringey moment? Actually submitting a 'story' that not a story but a character description with a few funny ideas that might have turned into a story...thank goodness I sent it to Natascha Biebow who kindly suggested I joined Scbwi....

  3. @Jan - it's not too bad when people give up after the first few rejections - well, not too bad for the rest of us who keep trying. it took me a long, long time to get out of the unconscious incompetence stage mainly because i had no idea about everything. it was only when i began attending talks about the industry that i realized that i was thrashing around in the dark. thanks for guest blogging, maureen!

  4. I have made all the mistakes. I think it is a stage we all have to go through. Reckon I may have reached the Consciously Incompetent stage. Can't wait to read it.

  5. It will be coming soon Anita. I have the first draft but I'm conscious that my competence is still a bit incompetent in places!
    And Kathryn, my first critique from Cornerstones pointed out that although I was a very funny writer - there was no plot! I know you'll definitely make it through the next stage, you have to get Dylan out there, the children will love him.


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