Archive for May, 2016

Teaching Writing

I’ve noticed on Facebook recently some postings from at least one (possibly more) famous author(s) that are essentially advertisements for writing programs that purport to help the person who responds to the ad learn to write novels like the famous author.  Some even say “I’ll teach you to write like me.”  I’m a little concerned that this may lead people who read the ad into thinking that once they take the course they’ll end up being able to write novels that will sell millions of copies and make them as famous as the originator of the writing course.  I hope most people already realize that isn’t going to happen.

Taking a writing course, whether taught by a world-famous author known for selling books, or by a much less well-known author who resides comfortably on a publisher’s midlist, isn’t guaranteed to endow the student with the ability to write spectacular, prize-winning, top-selling novels.  Those programs are designed to teach the student the basics of writing, and even some of the more advanced concepts.  It’s up to the student to produce a novel of his/her own design.  It’s my opinion that regardless of what the famous author says, writing a novel that sells millions can’t be taught.  All you can do is learn the basics, and then it’s up to you.

That famous author, indeed all famous authors, are famous for their style, their flair, their innate ability to string just the right words together into sentences and paragraphs and chapters that condense into novels that are a reflection of themselves.  Contrast Faulkner with Hemingway, for example.  That’s what a novel is; it’s a reflection of an individual.  It’s as individual as a reflection in a mirror.  J. K. Rowling can’t teach you to write like her even if you did learn how to “show” and not “tell,” and what the difference is between first and third person POV.  If you learned music from Beethoven, you wouldn’t necessarily compose great symphonies even though you might be able to put notes on treble and bass clefs that produced lovely, lilting, ethereal music.  Learning art from van Gogh wouldn’t teach you how to paint great masterpieces, even though you could apply paint to a canvas in a beautiful and expressive manner.  There’s more to writing than the basics; more than putting one word after another.  If you want to take the course from the famous author, by all means go ahead.  I have no doubt the course(s) is/are legitimate.  You may learn a lot.  But you aren’t likely to write a best seller with your first novel, and you sure as hell won’t write just like the famous author.

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Pike’s Peak Meeting, 2016

Well, I’m back from the 2016 edition of the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference which was held in Colorado Springs around the middle of April.  Always a good meeting.  Plenty of good workshops to attend, speakers to hear, and people to talk to.  I usually have something to say in this venue about one or more of the workshops I attended, but this year I’m not going to single out any one or a few of them, except to say that the most intriguing one was a discussion on contracts.  Assuming you get a publisher to agree to take on your book, you have to sign a contract with the publisher that spells out what is required on the part of the publisher and what you get in return.  Contracts can be tricky, though large parts of them are negotiable.  The tricky part is knowing what is and what’s not.  I can’t go into details here because I’m far from expert in this matter.  All I know is that contracts can have clauses in them that, if you’re not careful, can get you into areas you probably don’t want to go.  Like, for example, binding you to one publisher for the rest of your career as a writer.  Or not paying you what you really deserve.  I’m more likely to go to an agent to interpret the contract and advise me about what to negotiate and what to leave alone, though it should be said that an agent isn’t always necessary.  You takes your chances.

That being said, the most significant thing that happened to me at the conference was the meeting I had with an editor from a major publishing house.  I go to the Pike’s Peak conference largely for the chance to pitch my science-fiction novel to an agent or editor.  This year I selected an editor to pitch to rather than an agent, because I felt she might be most receptive to my particular style of sci-fi writing.  She was, to a limited extent, and asked me to send her the first fifty pages of the novel.  I did that immediately after I got back.  But what was most interesting about this editor was that she seemed more impressed with my credentials than anyone else I’ve met in the publishing business.  I’d heard many times that writing and publishing scientific papers was largely unimportant in the mass fiction market.  It doesn’t make any difference, they said.  It’s not relevant to publishing fiction.  But having a PhD degree, and some experience in meeting deadlines, familiarity with proofs, and a brand that can be drawn on when it comes time to market and publicize the book, seemed to carry more weight with her than with anyone else I’ve met.  The real question is, how will my book (or at least the first 50 pages) do?  Is it good enough?  We’ll see.

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