When I first started writing, there was already a writer in the family. Where other people had House Beautiful as coffee table magazines, he had The Writer. With those digest style covers that The Writer had for many years, and finally had to change because it was too old-fashioned.
Things have changed so much since those days. We can find writing advice really, pretty much, everywhere. But should we follow it? Will it make us better writers?
Not Everyone is an Expert—But They Think They Are
The more I write, the more I realize how little I actually know. I’ve been taking a workshop called Plotting with Depth and learning about tags (which is not what you think they are) and am astounded at what I’m learning. All I need to do is pick up a book like the latest Jack Reacher one and I can start finding examples. I’ve been trying to incorporate what I’m learning in my current project, and it’s challenging. But it’s a fun challenge.
Meanwhile, there’s a writer who I know from a blogging class way back at least seven years ago. She’s teaching online classes on how to write fiction. So I wandered onto Amazon to check out how many novels she had written.
None. Zero. Zip.
But she had written a whole lot of non-fiction books on how to write fiction.
For a while I made the circuits of the various cheapie writing classes that are all over the place. They were $30 and about 4-6 weeks. Usually had 20-30 people in the class.
I tried to screen them. I checked the writer background to see if they wrote fiction. Yes. As a pantser, I also asked if they taught to pantsers. I was always told “Sure! I teach pantsers and outliners.”
That turned out to be code for, “I have no idea what to do with a pantser. I was expecting you to outline.” There was one horrifying class that I almost quit four times (and should have. The Army soldier kicked in and said, “Accomplish the mission” when I should have just blown up the bridge and been done with it.). I did not understand at all what was being taught. The instructor kept telling me I was doing it wrong and explaining the same thing, really, like I was stupid for not getting it. The problem was that it required outlining to understand, and I was never going to understand it that way.
Being Vigilant With Learning
But those classes taught me to be vigilant and selective with what I was learning:
- To make sure that what I did do was a good use my time. Way too many writers don’t think that their is valuable, or perhaps a better phrase is they’re not even aware it is valuable.
- To always ask questions about what’s being taught, and if I don’t like the answers I’m coming up with, then to walk away.
And probably the most important thing of all: Push the skills. Always push the skills. It’s hard and can be painful. I spent almost three years trying to get setting into my books, and now I don’t have to think as much about it. But part of being a better writer is wanting it.
And earning it.