My partner and I ran a workshop at Eastercon last week, called ‘Punching the Shark!’. It was a taster session for a (probably) 5-day course we’re planning which combines life coaching techniques with writing craft work. We had a wide range of people attend, ‘off the street’ (or at least, out of the hotel bar), e.g. someone who’s written for US TV series, another who’s having great success with her self-published Romance novels, and those who are right at the start of their writing journey. We had a lot of very positive feed-back, which was great, plus some very good suggestions; plus, of course, lessons we learned ourselves from the experience.
A couple of thoughts I had which came out of this session:
It seems there is a strong desire in a lot of new writers to not only get published but get published with the sort of success that some big-selling commercial writers have. However, without going into the ‘subjective’ debate, a lot of best-selling books are, frankly, badly written. This doesn’t affect commercial sales, of course, but it can obscure the truth. Which is that for every badly-written book that is taken on and becomes a best-seller, there must be thousands that don’t make it. In other words, to pursue this path is the same as doing the lottery.
Related to this, what I found myself saying to the workshop is that the one thing you can work on and which will have definitely positive results, even if publication is slow to follow, is your craft; that and deepening what it is you have to say through your writing. So, if you’re say writing short fiction, and you enter the incredibly competitive market of pro-paying SF/Fantasy/plus other genres magazines, you may get tons of rejections (everybody does) but you will at least know that what you’re sending out is excellent, publishable, work.
The other thing, which I’m still working on, is the realisation that some of the key areas of craft – like POV/person, Show Not Tell, prose/syntax, etc – are actually all the same thing. Yes, you have to separate them out in order to look at what they’re made of; but that is essentially an artificial process. In one sense, you are the point of view character who is showing/telling you as the story; it’s just that you’ve shifted the focus slightly, to an ostensibly fictional story; but it isn’t really – it’s about the truth of you.
Incidentally, Eastercon is a particularly friendly event. I’m a chronic introvert but found it almost impossible not to spend all my free time there talking to people, many I’d never met before.
This is really interesting, Terry. Of course, most writers (though not all) want to be published but there's a huge difference between wAnting to be published because you want readers to enjoy your work and connect with what you have to say, and wanting to be published for its own sake, I.e for fame and fortune
I agree. What's perhaps hard to see (and easy to avoid) is that everyone of us has to make the decision about why we write - no one else can do it for us. Then we live or die by that decision.
What I've seen, however, is that a lot of writers don't seem to fully make the decision. They get published almost by chance, then they continue in the hope that more of the same (whatever that actually is) will also get published. Except that in the modern world, it often doesn't, because it lacks the commitment and consistency of the commercial writers. So, they get dropped by their publisher and perhaps turn to teaching. But what exactly do they teach? Whatever it is, it often seems to be prescriptive, perhaps because they haven't developed their own versatility which would lead on from the decision to be truly creative. It worries me that so much creative writing teaching appears to be built around fixed views.
Oddly, commercial writers can be much more flexible when they teach. Not because they're more creative necessarily but because a) they are actually producing, and b) they will consider anything that gets the job done.