Square Brackets


I’ve embarked on the last episode of my latest work, so I’m in a generous mood. I’m prepared to share what little knowledge I have of writing, starting with the most important tool a writer has at their disposal – The Square Brackets.

Square brackets are a useful editing tool.

Now as someone who isnt yet published, isnt a groupie of writers festivals, writing clinics or creative writing classes and doesnt have any English or Journalism qualifications, its fair to say I could be leading you astray. However, I do know almost everything there is to know about the submissions process and the most important thing to know about that is,  while you may be confronted with a page of rules by an Agent or Publisher, there will normally be two unwritten rules that supercede all others.

Rule Number 1: Dont piss them off.  If you stray too far from what they ask for in your submission then you are likely to have the reader offput from the beginning. I have not learned this the hard way. I simply know better. As eager as a new writer is to show their manuscript to the world, be patient and don’t spam every one in the Yearbook. This stuff is commonsense but when you’ve just put the finishing touches on the next ‘Lord of the Flies’, You will no doubt be so giddy as to lose the run of yourself. Be patient and if no-one picks up that manuscript, they will surely pick up the next one.

Rule Number 2: Surprise Them (Without pissing them off).  I know, there’s a running theme here. Once you have crafted your perfect covering letter and short synopsis it is easy to fall into a trap of continually using them without review. Every Agent and Publisher has different requirements and because of this must be approached in an individal way. It’s no use subscribing to just one opinion on how a submission should be made because although that was probably how that author got published, you will be published from a slightly different approach. And that approach varies wildly. The simplest I have heard of was by John Boyne, Author of ‘The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas’. For one of his earliest novels his approach was:

‘Hello,…I’m a new writer and I’ve written a book. Any chance you’d take a look at it?’

the reply was as straight forward

‘All right then,…. Send it over’.

Eighteen months later his first novel was published. The trouble is knowing what your reader wants to hear and by default, that could be absolutely anything. Some suggest using biographical details in covering letters others want to know about you in a more personal sense, perhaps getting a feel for what makes you tick by hinting at other interests. There is no right or wrong way to submit, just read carefully the suggested requirements and then imprint a little of your personality on the submission. Simples!! Remember that once you get them reading that manuscript, thats the job half done. The other half of that job is the story itself and while I feel I’m a man with plenty of good ideas, I wont spoil the surprise and tell you what that story is. It will come to you.

For those who have started a work but not finished and are in the midst of a battle with momentum, let me introduce these: ‘[…]’. There is no point writing and rewriting every paragraph until you get it right before moving on. Remember that when you think too much about every individual phrasing you may, by accident, lose the story. Keep the story at the forefront of your mind and if you are unsure of a passage or phrase then wrap it up in some brackets. You will find that without unnecessary lag you will start moving through the story apace and although there will be the not so small matter of returning to all those brackets at some stage, You will have a rough draft. Now to fashion the first draft put left square bracket (‘[‘) into ‘Find’ on your word processor and you will swiftly attend to each one. Let me show you some examples:

The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in [1986].‘ will later become ‘The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in 1985′…..Thank you Wikipedia.

It was a [nice day].‘ will later become ‘It was a genial occasion’…..Thank you Thesaurus.

‘Van Halen was originally called [Genesis]’. Stays as it is, because believe it or not Van Halen was originally called Genesis. Apparently there was a band in England who already had the name so Eddie just used his surname.

You will find that by using brackets, you are not settling for less but merely moving the story. You will decide later what stays, what goes and what changes. It is not for me to tell you how to find your own voice. That comes with more writing. You will hear time and again the advice that you should ‘try and write everyday’ but what
they forget to say is ‘don’t rewrite that same paragraph everyday for a week’ which is just as important in my mind. There is no doubt this is a pragmatic and methodical standpoint. It is up to you to decide the ‘form’ your writing takes, I just hope these brackets help you with your ‘function’.


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