Years ago, one of my students returned from a semester abroad in Australia and brought me a little gift for helping her. It is a coffee coaster, and it has sat on my desk for years. It says, “Common sense is not common at all!” I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I think it warrants some further consideration.
French writer Christiane Collange once said, “Common sense is perhaps the most equally divided, but surely the most underemployed, talent in the world.” And when it comes to so many people’s writing aspirations, it seems to be so under-employed as to be practically non-existent. Let me explain.
Newbie writers can be intense. They follow the social media feeds of many other wannabe writers and writers who have garnered some success. They take part ins discussions on Facebook sites where everyone else is just as inexperienced and gullible as they are. They hang on every word of encouragement posted by every other writer and wannabe writer, and they seem, so often, to lose their sense of perspective―their common sense. Here are five times when I think writers need to get real and cultivate some common sense.
- Sending manuscripts to publishers and agents who don’t publish or represent your genre. Often, not only do they not represent or publish your kind of writing, they actually loathe it. Why would any aspiring writer do this? It shows a significant lack of common sense. And don’t have the audacity to think that your brilliant piece of work will sway them. Not going to happen. Remember, publishers and agents take on only a tiny fraction of the work they’re sent that they do like.
- Interacting only with other “writers” on social media to sell books. This makes no sense at all. If you’re trying to connect with readers, connecting solely with other writers isn’t going to get you there. Everyone on those SM sites wants what you want: they want you to read their book, but they’re not likely to read yours.
- Interacting on social media writers’ sites to get advice on your writing. If you’re interacting in the hope of improving your writing, unless you know the strengths and credentials of those on the site, you might as well ask you brother for his writing advice (this would demonstrate common sense only if your brother happens to be a well-established writer or writing teacher!). The best writing advice comes from successful, well-established writers not from barely literate members of Facebook groups for beginning writers. Use some common sense!
- Not spending every minute you can when not writing or working on whatever else you do reading. If you’re spending more time watching Netflix than reading, you are not demonstrating common sense. We learn to write by reading widely―which means not just in you own genre. Open your mind. If you don’t read, you’re going to be a shitty writer. End of discussion.
- Thinking that writing just comes naturally. In what world does it make any sense that you don’t’ have to learn your craft? There is such a thing as talent, but talent is not enough. Talent needs to be cultivated and supported. Many talented writers never get anywhere because they fail to see that there is still a lot they have to learn. There was a learning curve in learning to drive a car, knit, bake cookies, ride a horse. Writing isn’t any different.
“Common sense” is generally defined along the lines of sound judgment applied to practical matters. Apart from the actual writing effort itself, much of what we do as writers is of a practical nature―editing, marketing, searching for agents and publishers, making publishing decisions etc. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to apply sound judgment?