About a week ago during the weekly meeting of Toledo Writers Group, Mary Shipko passed out
and hit the floor with a meaty smack a proposed FAQ for her latest release, AVIATRIX: First Woman Pilot for Hughes Airwest. The group took a few minutes to read it over, then our esteemed group leader opened the door to the usual flood of criticism.
To make this mercifully short, I’ll omit the levity. When my number came up, I offered what I fervently hoped were a couple helpful suggestions and disposed of the whole thing. But instead of moving on, Mary asked me if I found the questions on the FAQ interesting and stimulating.
“In a word, no.”
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Back in the early ’70s (that would be in the last century for all you digital natives) I read Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer, the little tortoise who could. The only two words in his book that are underlined are: Get Paid. That phrase stuck with me for the rest of my life, but it took me a while to learn to put it into practice.
To this end, Larry Correia of Monster Hunter Nation has written several articles that are well worth reading. The series begins when some unknown contributor with nothing but time on his hands manages to ruffle Larry’s feathers. Here’s the link to this story, which should be read at your own risk: File 770 Is Mad At Me Again. Larry goes on to explain exactly how authors get paid (or not, as the case may be) in How Authors Get Paid, Part 1 and How Authors Get Paid, Part 2. All of these articles are easy reads and well worth your time.
The part that Larry doesn’t cover is that, unlike the rest of the world, the typical author isn’t fighting with an employer or a client about a contract, a bounced check or the real meaning of net-30. The typical author is battling obscurity, and in order to Get Paid you must first beat obscurity three falls out of three.
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Mark your calendars! Jessica’s annual Writers Workshop holiday party will be on Saturday, December 13th.
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I am interested in offering one-day workshops for children and/or teens. These would be free of cost. Possible workshop topics include writing poetry, writing dialogue (in the short story), how to read and research (reading critically), and how to edit/revise and offer feedback to others.
These workshops would be both fun and informative. If anyone is interested (or knows people who are interested), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Another Winter Wheat Festival has come and gone. Several fellow writers from the Toledo Writers Workshop and I attended, and, yes, even with the echoes of a hazed-filled night of karaoke, we left Bowling Green with a generally positive experience (you can read more details in my blog post).
Thanks to Mid-American Review for hosting the event. And thanks to the presenters who volunteered to teach us slacker writers what we thought we already knew.
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When writing seems more like slogging through swampland than carving graceful turns down snowy slopes, take a break and read a book. About writing. About craft. It amazes me that so few of the writers I see coming through the workshop have read a single book on writing. I know, I know, the story is burning a hole in your brain and you can’t be bothered to slow down and learn anything – you just have to spew it forth.
Me, too. I went through two-thirds of a novel before the story started grinding to a halt all by itself and I wondered if I might be missing something, after all.
I was. Turns out the whole story gig is 25% inspiration and 75% formula. Depressed the hell out of me, too. Didn’t my flights of literary genius count for any more than that? My lush descriptions, my crackling dialog? Seems not.
I managed some solace from reading back through Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. No hint of the formula. So, if I ever get to that level, I guess I won’t have to worry about craft crimping my style. I’ll let you know when I get there.
But when I sneaked a peek into my wife’s Kindle library of best sellers and genre novels? Formula, formula, formula.
This formula has a long history of success, dating back to Greek drama, and hasn’t seemed to lose a beat for the last four thousand years. And it’s not just the story, but the chapter, the scene, the paragraph and the sentence – there’s a formula for writing each of them!
I was despondent. This would take all the fun out of writing for me. I’d have to sacrifice my art or keep hacking out stories that didn’t go anywhere.
But guess what? It didn’t. Instead, my stories began to unfold much more logically and naturally. Everything started making more sense. And I really wasn’t doing much more than tweaking my original stories in the general direction of the formula, being aware that the plot would shine brighter if I did certain things at certain points.
Steven King, on his excellent book on the writing life, says all this is horseradish – just let it flow, be true to your inner story. This is all well and good for Steve – he writes fantasy. When the plot slows, he just pulls something out of the air. It’s fantasy, after all! For the rest of us, however, things have to more or less make sense.
There is no end to the supply of very good books on writing out there. Even the bad ones give you the same formula, just less well packaged.
In the resources section of this site, I list a number of writing books and authors, many of which I have read and recommend. Do yourself a favor: slow down and read a few good books on writing. You’ll get where you want to go much faster in the long run. Don’t believe me? Listen to a few experts:
“Style and structure are the essence of a book. Great ideas are hogwash.”
– Vladimir Nabakov
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
– Ernest Hemingway
“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them…”
– Truman Capote
Happy writing (and reading).
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