I was struck yesterday in the comments by how many of us are taking workshops for various aspects of craft and – in my case – sales related to writing. And then I thought that for something that doesn’t have formal training, we writers sure take a lot of learning.
Time there was that you knew the writers for their two or three shelves of writing books, some of which weren’t even advertised, but were passed from writer to writer like panaceas in the incurable ward. Now we go from blog to blog, on the same kind of recommendation, and we take workshops.
I’m not dissing Kris Rusch’s and Dean W Smith’s workshops. If I were I wouldn’t have taken a number of them and frankly the only reason I don’t take more is that well… they cost money (as they should, btw. They’re providing a priceless service at a relatively low cost.) And money is one of those things writers hear about but rarely see, like unicorns, fairies and publicity.
In fact, so far as I know, Kris and Dean are providing the best workshops for writers targeted for the new landscape. Yes, places like Writers’ Digest are still doing their workshops, but they’re still targeting to have you break in to the world of publishing as it was – before the great changes started. Perhaps they’re waiting for the great changes to stop long enough that they can retool. If they are this is going to take a good, long time. (Also they’re prohibitively expensive. I know. I took one way back.)
And yet… and yet writers need more help than ever. (Yes, okay, we always needed help. Most of us. The psychiatric kind. Not that we’ll get it. Because you know, when they fix what’s wrong they might also take away the writing thing, and ain’t no way we’re sitting still for that. Even if it made us into normal, perfectly adjusted people. [ And you can tell you’re a writer right now, if you’re cringing at those words.])
It’s not that writing itself has got more difficult – though it has, too, in a way – but that the job keeps growing subjobs. There’s publicity – and I wish someone would teach workshops on doing that (if it’s still needed/effective, which frankly I’m not sure of.) Now there’s coding your ebooks (and the same kink in my brain that makes kitchen math – but not higher math! – well nigh impossible means I have a heck of a time with html.) We need to know how to write back of the book blurbs – true story, for the longest time (like five years) I simply didn’t send novels out [though I continued writing them, natch] because I had no clue how to write a query letter. Just because you’re a writer, doesn’t mean you can write everything. We need to know what categories to put our stuff under. We need to know elements of cover design (I still stay we should force Mark Alger to teach a mini-workshop on that? What do you say kids? Oh, wait. He’s refractory to authority. We probably can’t force him…)
So we, the overworked horde, lurch trying to learn more and more jobs, so we can do for ourselves. Because, well, it’s needed.
But Kris and Dean are teaching – as proven by my commenters – a batch of things that are needed for writing itself. And this is because writing has got more complicated. And also way simpler.
It used to be that you could teach someone how to appeal to editors in one long workshop. And since that was the sine-qua-non of getting into print and getting readers to see you, that was what you learned.
Now you can go to the readers directly. And you’re guaranteed to appeal to at least some readers… if you don’t write in badly spelled Martian. Simpler.
But we writers are… creatures of ignominy. While we might not have a thirst for power (Some writers do. I never understood that) and few of us have an all-consuming greed for money (if we did we’d be doing something more lucrative, like making buggy whips.) we do have an all-consuming-greed for “people who read my work.” The final ambition of every writer is to have every person who walks on two legs (or rolls in a chair. Or lies in a bed) and is capable of reading, read his opus.
This means we need to learn those old techniques from back when writing was an ungentle art where people actually expected to – gasp – make a living. You know, beginnings. And cliffhangers. And plotting.
Because this is the thing. Laymen have a very odd idea of writing. Well, some writers, I suppose work like this. Or at least their biographers (and sometimes their autobiographies) insist they do: writer has an idea. He works madly to figure out how best to express it. Then after much noodling, he puts his immortal words on paper…
Again, maybe some writers work like that. I’ve met a couple who claimed to my face that they do. But why would you trust people who lie for a living, anyway?
In my experience and that of writers close enough to me that I’m sure they’re PROBABLY telling me the truth with minimum embroidery the process goes more like this: I was sitting at home minding my own business (or in the more traditional gangsta excuse for coming into emergency with one’s *ss shot to pieces mode, from that terrible interns site that my friend Kate sends me to, and where I lose days and days reading entries in horrified wonder) “I was sitting on my front porch reading my Bible.” (And then it varies from the standard “When two bad dudes” with) when this crazy book just came by and crammed itself into my head and demanded I write it.
(This is more or less literally what happened with A Few Good Men. I was sitting… er… minding my own business, and suddenly I had the whole book in my head [and more irritatingly, it only let me see a chapter ahead.] I tried to tell it “no.” I tried to make it tell me whom it thought would be the audience for this very odd volume. I tried to tell it Baen would never buy it. It kept just pushing and pushing and blocking everything else I wanted to write, till I gave in and wrote the d*mn thing.)
In my experience, we’re imperfectly tuned transmitters. Those books don’t know where they’re aiming. They’ll come and crouch in a head that might know zilch about writing that kind of book. Say, an adventure book will sit in the head of a poetry major. And all you can do, when that happens, is get the dang thing out.
Which means you need forceps. Which, in this case are tools. Knowing how to write openings. Knowing how to hurt your characters without breaking them. Knowing what to do about multiple character novels, if one of them becomes dull… etc. Oh, yeah, knowing how to kill for effect.
I’m not going to set myself up to rival Kris and Dean (h*ll, I’m taking their workshops.) But I know they’re just two people and teh awesome though they are they can’t cover everything. Besides, we all have different ways of turning corners, and perhaps I can add something to your perspective on something?
This is the holiday season and next week all my guys are home for two solid weeks. I have a few themes to write about because one of you – you know who you are! – has been sending me news articles that are the equivalent of poking a bear with a sharp stick. (Thank you. Sometimes I need that.) But I’m bound to run dry now and then. Besides that series of posts I did, on writing interesting books has got collected and edited into a self-pubbed ebook, and it keeps selling. NOT spectacularly, but a few copies a month, which is good.
So, if you should prod me and I should do another series or two that I can collect into books, this is not a bad idea, either…
And therefore I must ask: what writing skills would you like me to write about and tell you how I personally do it? Preferably something more involved than just “how do you write fight scenes?” (with difficulty) and less general than “how do you write adventure?” Something that will be meat for five posts or so. (And no, not “how to write rambling blog posts before being awake.” Shuddup.)
Yes, I am blatantly asking for fodder for blogging, but maybe in the process I can also further your continued education as writers (or amuse you if you are – just – readers.)
School not only isn’t out for summer. School is in forever. Whether we set out to do this or not, whether we hated school with a purple passion or loved it with sloppy wet kisses, we writers are now in the adult learning/teaching business forever.
That is the effect of catastrophic technological change. (I wonder when it will hit education fully. And won’t that be fun to watch.)
So… throw ideas at me. And then go work. I need to finish Noah’s Boy because I have other books trying to write themselves in my head.
And it’s not fair. I was sitting on my front porch, reading my Dwight Swain, minding my own business, when suddenly two big ideas…