Linda Maye Adams

False Experts and Writing Classes


Down angle of Four Mile Run

In Virginia, a stream is called a run. This is Four Mile Run.

I’m going to be taking a writing class starting today, and it’s got me thinking about who is qualified to give writing classes.  There’s quite a few writing courses out, but a lot of them are given by “false experts.”

What’s a false expert?

It’s a person who says they are an expert in writing without having any or enough of the right experience.  For example, a non-fiction writer who has never written fiction explaining how to write fiction.  Or an indie writer with one book self-published and a trail of books the publishers wouldn’t accept explaining how to write the beginning of a story.

I blame platform for this.  When platform became the trendy word of the day, everyone threw it at fiction writers and said, “You need to come up with a platform.”  Platform starts with being an expert in something, and that’s hard when you’re writing fiction.  If I do fantasy stories, what would I be an expert in?  Unicorns?  Who’d care?

The result though is that we’re deluged with writers who have proclaimed themselves as experts in writing and are teaching classes.

I took a lot of writing classes because I was searching for a solution to some of the weird problems I was having (the classes didn’t help).  Most of the classes were pretty inexpensive, and I think that’s a lure, too.  Which sounds like something I can do faster — the $20 class or the $300 class?

What I found was that a lot of these writers are teaching their writing process, not story writing techniques.  There is a difference.  A lot of them also weren’t terribly professional.  One instructor flounced into the class, all excited about it, then started revising it as she went along.  She then disappeared for a few weeks, and everyone complained.  She came back, apologized, said she had been sick, and would give the class to us again (hasn’t happened).

Yet, I took an Odyssey class last year, and it was the most professionally handled classes I’d ever been in.  Everything about it said professional.  We didn’t get treated as ignorant writers who needed to be told the basics; we got treated as knowledgeable people who were here to learn.  Looking back at it, I have no doubt if the instructor had gotten a cold, we would have heard about immediately, and workarounds might have been done, or the schedule adjusted a little.

I think that’s where writing one book versus being well-published comes into play.  One book means that maybe the discipline hasn’t been fully developed, so it’s easy to be uncommitted.  Plus, I believe a lot of these classes are for the purpose of making the writer money.  It isn’t about their reputation, or word of mouth to get other people to attend the class.

So I’ve had to apply my false expert filter to classes.  I’d done it with how-to books, but that was to mainly flag non-fiction writers.   I start by checking the writer’s background.  Have they written a lot — and been professionally published.

One of the new questions I’ve had to ask — and I am glad for all the classes I took that got me to ask this question — is “Is this pantser friendly?”  Then I listen very carefully to the answer with my bull dodo meter.  The outliners who don’t have a clue about pantsers will tap dance around the answer and say “Sure!” as if one size fits all.

What kinds of things do you look for?

4 Comments

  1. I think the same about classes can be said about writing references–books, articles, and blogs. The exception is when the author makes his or her inexperience clear, and that is part of the article or blog. I’ll admit, I’ll look at those type of articles readily enough.

    That being said, I have a question. You wrote you took classes seeking “a solution to some of the weird problems.” I think you commented on a Dean Wesley Smith blog something similar, which is why I followed you back to your blog. I’m weird too. My ADHD and tachyphemia affect my writing; it does so in ways other writers don’t face. So I’m wondering about your weird. 😉

    Jodi

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    • My weird problems are related to the fact that I’m a big picture thinker, which is the opposite of detail-oriented. I don’t really see or notice details, or at least not the same way as a detail-oriented or middle of the road person does. I can make great intuitive leaps and completely miss that I didn’t take the time to get the character from point a to point b. When writers talk about “details,” they talk about things I would generally find meaningless: how a man holds his hat or what time a person drinks their tea every morning. My tendency is to make it very obvious so I can see, and I usually end up overdoing it. Or some cases, two sentences later I forget that I mentioned the height of the island. Something triggers the need for it, so I add it again, and then a paragraph later, it gets added again — it’s been folded up into the big picture, so I don’t realize I’ve repeated it so many times.

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  2. A very pointed post, and a message shared by Kristen Lamb. This is why I stopped blogging about writing and started blogging about more personal things. Who the heck would listen to a total newbie? And it’s a whole lot more fun to write because I’m an expert on my own life! 🙂

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