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  1. While this video is based on helping people write a novel, or to at least be happier while trying, I have to confess that I did not feel happier after watching this. The overall tone did not make me want to run to my keyboard and start working on a new manuscript (forget that I’m already at it typing this post). On the contrary, I kind of got depressed. [MORE BELOW]
  2. In the topic thread below you will find several responses by veteran writers and authors critical of Stephen King's personal opinions regarding plotting, and further reaction to his disparaging of authors who themselves utilize plot and story planning techniques (for example, J.K. Rowling). We here at Algonkian Author Connect believe the dialogue concerning this issue is important, especially for writers relatively new to novel writing. Feel free to contact us with any thoughts you might have. Thank you.
  3. DISCLAIMER: if you believe you are part of a fruitful writer group, Godspeed you. Most likely you are not, but it's a social distraction at least. Regardless, please consider the information below as being useful for reality checking your situation both now and in the future. If any of this rings true for you, you are advised to beware, especially if you are serious about writing a publishable novel. "Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws." Before we read my own dark, embittered opinion (just kidding) on the many downsides to writer groups, let's watch a video, then include a few reviews on this topic. Reviews of Sites Discussing Writer Groups - Inherent Fallacies A writer site which shall remain anonymous due to the fact I utterly disagree with their criteria for judging any given writer group as beneficial, shall now be examined. According to them, the following five "qualities" must exist in order to judge any particular writer group helpful. As I note each category, I will also ( .. ) the fallacies inherent in each: 1. Constructive Feedback (Amateur writers by definition cannot possibly know, under most circumstances, whether or not any advice concerning any element of their writing or story is valid in the first place. The chances of the advice being counterproductive are high, especially when a groupthink circumstance takes place. Also, studies prove that humans are far more likely to accept "critique" when it flatters them or corroborates what they wish to believe about themselves or their creations.) 2. Positivity (What does this really mean anyway? At what point does advice become "negative"? Who decides? What are the group politics that define this term? Hearing the productive truth should set the bar, not what sounds or appears to be arbitrarily "positive." I can just hear one of the more erudite group members saying, "Now, Amelia, that's really not a positive way to look at Dan's work, is it?") Overall though, between being "positive" and wallowing in "chemistry," the writer group has beached itself on the Hopeless Coast. 3. Big and Small Picture Comments (Let's go back to number one above. The same logic holds. Additionally, the very act of dichotomizing the interweaving complexities of novel development into "big and small picture" is itself maddeningly arbitrary and functionally useless.) 4. Thick Skin (Yes, by all means, we know this subject well. Avoid narcissist contamination by all means necessary. Still, thick skin presence does nothing to balance out the risks and downsides.) 5. Chemistry (I understand what the author of this review of writer groups means, however, "chemistry" is yet another way of creating more risk. The more chummy the group, the less likely as a whole they will be to deliver that one "negative" comment (presuming it is also correct) once every few months that might actually do a bit of good. Overall though, between being "positive" and wallowing in "chemistry" the writer group has beached itself on the Hopeless Coast.) Review Number Two - The Slow Boiling Frog Effect This piece consists of a writer group review by a writer who seems to have plenty of experience with such groups. He loves Facebook as a source for finding groups. He goes on to name four different kinds of destructive writer group personalities (see our BAD EGG list below); however, his overall vision of writer groups is one of helpfulness and community. He fails to recognize the inherent shortcomings and risks in receiving potentially damaging advice when it comes to novel development and writing. My viewpoint on this is adequately expressed in the five points above. I know this fellow means well, but his viewpoint is almost childlike. He will Pied Piper others into sanguinely tailing along with a writer group on Facebook, or wherever, until one day they either wake up or cross the line into seeing the group as an end in itself. At least the slow-boiling frog effect will comfort them. Review Number Three - No Escaping Rank Beginners I love the title of this one on Quora.Com: "How to find a creative writing group which isn't full of painfully bad writers?" Brooke McIntyre, Founder of Inked Voices, leads off by providing generic and maternal guidance on finding writer groups. Other members of Quora follow suit. None are critical of the writer group concept in the first place. They all seem to hold the belief that the significant risks the aspiring author faces in the midst of amateur group dynamics swirling with ill-formed opinions just don't exist, or at least not enough to matter. They all seem to hold the belief that the significant risks the aspiring author faces in the midst of amateur group dynamics swirling with ill-formed opinions just don't exist, or at least not enough to matter. They recommend writing classes with competent instructors. Nothing wrong there, however, they fail to provide any kind of real litmus test for choosing one group over another other than to note being in one with similar genre interests might be helpful. But what about the credentials of people in the group? Publications? Reputations? The odds of hearing a bit of useful advice are increased in proportion to the quality of the members, especially if they're professionals (but how rare is that?). Unfortunately, the overwhelming mass of writer groups in their thousands, meeting at homes and in coffee houses all over the country, are filled with rank beginners (btw, who can still qualify as beginners after ten or more years). God bless them, they don't know what they don't know. The Author's Review For many years I've realized the futility of obtaining useful and project-evolving advice from the average writer group. In consideration of this epiphany, I recommend that writers limit any given writer group to a critique of prose narrative, and seek response in defined categories (e.g., clarity, imagery, dialogue, originality, pacing). Assuming the group members as a whole are reasonably intelligent, non-axe grinding, non-narcissistic, non-mentally ill people (and don't include the SIX BAD EGG TYPES below) as well as avid readers of your specific genre, they should, in theory, be able to provide a measure of helpful feedback to you regarding your narrative. Regardless, you must look for commonalities, and not take everything at face value. At some future point, a dedicated novel writer should seek advice from a professional. Why? Because the professional can provide nuanced advice on proper narrative composition, openings, novel hooks, etc. that are beyond the reach of the standard writer group. Substantially better advice comes from successful acquisition editors or literary agents who have been in the business for many years. Their ability, honed by experience in the ms submission trenches, and via immersing in their chosen genres, outweighs the opinions of of even published authors who can only speak from a limited frame of reference. In a recent Algonkian workshop, for example, an invited author recommended to one of the attendees that she start her novel in a car. Unknown to the author, this was terrible advice. Yes, terrible. Each year, thousands of new writers start their novels in cars. It's a running joke with agents, and I can't think of a better way to get an instant rejection than by starting a novel in a car. Even more ridiculous circumstances are created by money hungry colleges that match academic-trained literary authors as instructors with student genre writers. In a recent Algonkian workshop, for example, an invited author recommended to one of the attendees that she start her novel in a car. Unknown to the author, this was terrible advice. Yes, terrible. A good example of this is the Stanford Online Certificate Program ($7000+ for six courses). Not only will the writers get highly questionable advice from non-professional instructors not in their genre, but they will pay through the nose for the privilege (while also receiving online "critique" from a group of non-professional writers, many or most of whom are also not in their genre). From "Why Critique Groups MUST DIE": Also, editing is best done on a keyboard, or with a red pen. Not out loud in a social group, where peer pressure and weird dynamics can screw up a draft in two seconds flat. YOU MAY NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "HELP" AND REAL HELP. Consider. Would you try to build a livable and quite stylish home on your own without an architect and a professional home builder simply because you had the ability to hammer a few boards together with nails? Of course not. You would acquire the expertise and skills before you began. And yet, new writers approach the creation of a thing equally or more complex, such as the writing of a competitive commercial novel, in the belief they can do so because they have a story idea, can type words on a page, and have read a few magazines about writing. They consult with other new writers as ignorant as themselves and proceed to build a house called a novel, but one that will not risk their lives because fortunately for them, it is all on paper. Below are select and important views on writer groups culled from around the web. Naturally, we have chosen to keep the writers anon, cause it's safer for them. I found myself reviewing all the reasons why I hate writing groups (screenwriting or otherwise). In a nutshell, I find them to be anything but helpful to writers. Most of the participants are bad writers to begin with and have no real experience or expertise to offer other writers. Members typically are unpublished or unproduced, unschooled in screenwriting craft themselves (that’s why they’re in a group), and they almost never know how to give constructive criticism (i.e., “make the Mercedes a pickup truck”). Input from group members usually falls into three categories: empty praise, vicious critiques, or banal suggestions. I also find that, over time, familiarity within the group between members begins to undermine any real advice that might be offered, as cliques form... _________ I know I’m not in the majority when I recommend that you get involved with a writers’ group. Dean Koontz apparently loathes them, Harlan Ellison despises them, and I’ve read advice from dozens of other pros whose work I love and whose opinions I value who say writers’ groups will do everything from steal your soul to cause your writing to break out in pox. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend that you get involved with a good writers’ group when you’re getting started. I credit what I learned from my early groups (plus enormous amounts of hard work and persistence) with leading me to publication... _________ I’m also uncomfortable with the group-think I’ve seen develop whereby one person says, “This really isn’t a mystery. You should recast it as a mainstream novel.” And pretty much everyone else keeps making the same criticism, adding their own twist on it, even though you know in your gut that they are absolutely wrong. Yet the pile up continues and you start to doubt yourself. Then afterwards when you ask one of them about it, the person will say, “Oh, well, I didn’t really think that. Not really. I mean it might help, but I doubt it. You probably just need to make it more of a psychological mystery, you know?” _________ Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure. Traditional critique groups can tell you nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context... _________ I know two writers who stopped writing for years because critique groups convinced them they do not nor ever had “what it takes” (though the one of them who’s resumed writing has more what it takes than I do.) I’ve known a half a dozen writers who became obsessed with whatever the particular bugga boo of their group was, like “Don’t mix latinate and anglo-saxon words” to the marked detriment of their prose. I know writers who continue writing stuff that obviously will never sell, not because it’s what they want to do, but because their group has convinced them anything else is selling out. In fact, I’ve known more harm than good caused by writers’ groups... THE BAD EGG TYPES (from Ebooks4Writers.com) Beware these types of writer group beings. Bad Egg 1: The “expert”. Often this person joins a group that they perceive as “amateurs” and get their satisfaction from tearing everyone else’s work to shreds. They seem to have met plenty of editors and agents, and know intimate details of what they’re looking for – never what you’re writing though. When you pin them down, usually they either don’t write at all, or write badly and have never been published (or not anywhere that counts). Bad Egg 2: The “mouse”. She or he sits quietly, smiles, makes the coffee, brings cake. Is always working on something too big to bring for critiquing right now. And is way too polite to actually comment constructively on anyone else’s work. You’d almost forget they were there … except they are and you wonder why. Bad Egg 3: The “boss”. This is the person who wants the group to take minutes, to form a “society” of some kind, to have a timer so no one gets a second more than their allotted time. Oh, and s/he decides how much time you’ll get, with his/her calculator. The group ends up spending so much time on official trivia that critiquing falls by the wayside. Bad Egg 4: The “needy one”. This person means well, but their need for reassurance and encouragement leads to everyone in the group feeling like they can no longer give honest critiques. And that tends to leak outwards so that critiques generally become softer, less realistic and less helpful. Bad Egg 5: The “defender”. Even if your group has a rule (a common rule, by the way) that the person whose work is being critiqued is not allowed to respond until the end, this person will argue and defend every comment you make. They always have to explain why their character acts that way, or says those words, or what that gaping plot hole is for. This can lead to some awful scenes all round! Bad Egg 6: The “mentally ill”. Sadly, occasionally you will see this person in a writing group. When they are honest about their condition, it’s usually fine and the group can help. But often they refuse to acknowledge they have a problem, and can blow a writing group apart with their behaviour. I’ve experienced this personally, and we were lucky to save our group (and had to ask the person to leave).
  4. Have you ever been in writer workshops and reacted to criticism of your writing or story by demanding the other writer defend their decision in such detail that it served your purpose of making certain they never gave you unfavorable critique again? Hell hath no fury like a thin-skinned narcissist with a needy manuscript... But wait! Could you be one of them? In case you're not sure if your skin qualifies, Algonkian psychologists have developed a few skin test questions below. Feel free to respond honestly to yourself as you read each one. Everyone wishes to avoid time-wasting instances of Offended Writer Syndrome (OWS) that often takes place in writer workshops all across America. Even at this very moment! Now, time to take THE THIN SKIN TEST: Has any writer ever prefaced their critique of your work by first saying to you, "Don't hate me, please?" Do you sense that writers who unfavorably critique your work are "loading the gun" and taking aim? Do you rush to defend your work when a reader gives you criticism rather than absorb and weigh it carefully? Do you feel a need to say unkind things about a writer's work if you perceive she or he was unkind to you first? Have you ever chastised any writer for what you consider to be improper or incorrect critique of your work? Have you ever been in writer workshops and reacted to criticism of your writing or story by demanding the other writer defend their decision in such detail that it served your purpose of making certain they never gave you unfavorable critique again? Do you receive critique you oppose in good humor, but routinely seek the negation of it from those you know will agree with your version of reality? Do you feel a bout of OWS coming on after reading the above questions? If you answered yes to three or more of the above questions, writer workshops are definitely not for you. Please discontinue attending such events. They won't help you and you can't help but make them less productive for everyone else. You might even make *yourself* miserable. ___ ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  5. Writing and editing a first novel of any kind is a long, hard slog even when armed with the right information and guidance. But if you're immersed in an atmosphere of foolish and erroneous advice, as most struggling novel writers are, the task becomes impossible. - Michael Neff __________________________ It's like acid rain. It never ceases to scar, harm the environment, and ruin vacations. We're talking about bad writer advice, of course (btw, see our first article on this subject). While perusing several collections of "Worst Writer Advice" found sprouting like toxic tulips after a simple Google search (most of it authored by insufferable rank amateurs working for the ad-driven content industry, and who wisely appear between ages 12 and 17), I found the various fallacies and idiocies about novel writing contained therein to be worth pointing out. Much of it was reminiscent of childish Twitter rumor, and therefore, potentially harmful to aborning novelists. Should one even bother though to set this straight? It makes you feel a little like the baffled ex-astronaut prodded into revealing Earth really is a globe when addressing a convention of flat earth fanatics, i.e., "I can't believe I'm even talking about this." And btw, I also visited the kingdom of Reedsy, one of the more popular writer advice hangouts. I was investigating their article on writing for NaNoWriMo, aka National Writing Month, but I found the surge of cheerleading blather concerning this competition to be a grand welcome mat for bad advice scuffery. No surprise there (not *everything* was bad advice, though most points required far more elaboration, and enough dark neoplasms did exist to cripple a writer's ability to succeed, e.g., "Follow whatever crazy character shows up and leads you down the rabbit hole, and let yourself be surprised!”). Yes, yes, leave the plot behind, just follow that crazy down the hole, and once you've reached the bottom, sitting with your crazy on a toilet in a squalid gas station bathroom just south of Pismo Beach, look up and squint to see that small crack of light high above you. Overall, I felt as if I were being lectured by children who had just discovered how to type, and it made me think... Could I now toss aside decades of experience and acquired knowledge regarding the topic of novel writing, and quite simply, like them, sally forth and tap out a new "epic novel" in a month? We are awash in wunderkind. Where do they come from? What do they want? Not long ago, a Reedsy-like writer in a Zoom workshop enthusiastically erupted, "The best thing about writer groups is that no one is necessarily right. Writers are free to approach novel writing in any number of ways, even if they have to INVENT IT AS THEY GO." I informed her that was actually the worst thing about writer groups (btw, was the inverse "necessarily wrong" also true?), and the "invent it as they go" was itself an invention of ignorant narcissism on the "go" only to rejection. Next, I asked her if she knew the definition of a plot point, whereupon she evaporated into electronic memory. I never saw her again, but apparently, "no right way to write a novel" was an important standard for her, one she clung to tenaciously. And btw, she's not alone. Such "writers" don't wish their "creativity" to be "controlled" or "diluted" with rules meant for "some." In all fairness, it's likely she'd absorbed such foolish and ruinous maxims after ingesting the literary advice equivalent of cyanide, the kind one inevitably discovers puddling around the web (see Google search above). Where else?... Oh right, I forgot. She could have learned it from her writer group? Where is the nearest cliff? Maybe this act of investigatory literary journalism will rescue your dream from ruination, or not. As one of the wise sages we'll review points out, "don't listen to experts if it makes you feel bad.. just follow your instincts." Again, I repeat, where is the nearest cliff? Regardless, more favorites below, from mind boggling to laughable. WE will not provide them with free publicity by naming or linking to them. As follows: "Some people, however, will say that no book will ever succeed without an outline. This is terrible writing advice. If you don't want to use an outline and want to go straight to writing then go ahead - don't allow anyone to tell you otherwise." (Some people? In two decades I've never heard anyone make this sweeping statement; however, I do belong to the non-pantsing school. I adamantly advocate for productive planning and/or outlining in advance, especially for aspiring genre-specific authors relatively new to the field. WE article on this issue here.) Some people are fortunate and they don’t have a lot of time commitments on their hands. These writers might get their book written, edited, and on their way to publishing in just a few weeks. This in no way means it’s not good! It just means they were able to spend a lot of consecutive time on it. (Some writer people known to this writer person are able to conceive, write, edit, and publish their novel in a few weeks... Tell me who. Show me the novel. This reminds me of the ancient Jack Kerouac novel-typing-in-one-sitting stunt, but not quite as extreme. Nevertheless, preposterous no matter how you look at it.) Join a writing group either in person or virtually and give them extracts of your work. (We've debunked that solution here.) Write in your own voice, with your natural grammar. Let copyeditors and proofreaders worry about your grammar later. (Your "natural grammar"? As both a line and developmental editor, this green light to ignore reasonable grammar can result in eye popping hybrids. Consistent and obvious bad grammar is a red flag to professionals. There are irritating nuances to grammar, yes, but advising writers to ignore grammar rules in general is wrong.) Most of the writing and publishing industry is shockingly elitist, and most of what they teach is bad advice that doesn’t work. (The portion of the industry that might present itself to some as elitist is not that portion of the industry currently engaged in freelance editorial work, i.e., unless the editor in question happens to be a former publishing house editor or literary agent. In that case, they are feverishly searching for jobs and will not be inclined to act snotty. The broad brush allegation that "most of what they teach is bad advice" is plain ridiculous, if for no other reason than the allegation is too sweeping. Most? Really? No examples given here. No names. Who provides unproductive advice and who does not varies widely.) (FYI, the statement above, and below, was made by an instructional-and-self-publication website) Nothing about reading books about writing—or subscribing to blogs about writing—is going to help you do that... But I have yet to find a book about writing that’s a better use of your time than actually writing. (I'm still bandaging my jaw. Well said, I must say. The writer has yet "to find a book about writing" that's any good? Waste of time? For example, "Screenwriter's Problem Solver" by Syd Field teaches nothing worthwhile? "Art of Fiction" by John Gardner? And so forth? We addressed this issue quite well on WE. It's hard to believe this issue has to be debated. I've only ever heard one person say this in twenty years, and that was an MFA prof attempting to sell his program to a writer workshop. And I'll maintain that if you cannot communicate writing advice using the written word, then you cannot communicate it verbally either. ) Read as much writing as you can in your genre (the kind of books you want to write)?... I actually tell people not to do this... Instead, read only the minimum amount necessary to know what the general consensus is in that field. (Huh? This fellow actually finds harm in immersing in one's chosen genre? Read the minimum amount? What does that mean? How does he define? We never find out. It's just overall ridiculous.) Do you find it hard to believe that a portion of the above isn't just an invention? I'd prefer it that way actually. Far more disturbing to see fellow writers (or alleged writers) passing this pap around as if valid. God bless Novel Writing on Edge. ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  6. Isabelle Allende says writing technique, e.g. suspense, cannot be taught. The faculty at Algonkian say NONSENSE. Is Isabelle wrong? Or does she know something we don't? Actually, she doesn't. I realize we're supposed to bow down before her god-ness... only just can't do it. She's a great writer, sure, no question, but that doesn't mean she's intellectually infallible. Unfortunately, her viewpoint isn't unique. But who does it serve? Quite suddenly, we find ourselves face down and gasping for air in the dank pond of Iowa mantra: WRITING CANNOT BE TAUGHT. If Iowa's mantra possessed any substance whatsoever, then why does it always take so many years for a novel author to hone their editorial skills, technique, and knowledge base, if not for the fact that they're teaching themselves and/or being taught? Apparently, writing is BEING TAUGHT quite often, and I might add, ALL OVER THE WORLD. Perhaps Isabelle and Iowa cannot communicate craft nuances to writers or engage them in a manner that is sufficiently instructive. But that does not mean the task is impossible because *they* can't or won't do it.
  7. A Chris Stewart Classic from "Novel Writing on Edge." I recently ran across an article in The Guardian, where authors were asked for their personal dos and don’ts. There was no indication of how or why certain writers were chosen and most of it is repetitious drivel, but let’s go through the first bunch and have some fun, and in my next post we’ll take on a sort of companion article in Salon, about readers’ advice to writers. Here we go, starting off positive, with an open mind: Big Yes! to Elmore Leonard’s rules about ‘said’ and adverbs. Been guilty of both transgressions myself. They just creep up on you and before you know it you are ‘gasping’ and ‘grumbling’ and ‘coaxing’ and, God Help Me, ‘trilling.’ Yes, I once used ‘trilling.’ You can’t hate me more than I hate myself for that one. I love Diana Athill’s idea of looking at passages you love with ‘a very beady eye.’ She says to check which passages would be better dead. Perfect lead in for a more updated version of Arthur Quiller-Couch’s ‘murder your darlings’ (it was Arthur Quiller-Couch, not Faulkner who said this, though Faulkner did change it to ‘kill your darlings') – which passages are Better Off Dead? Think of your unhappy reader chasing after you like that paper boy on a bike, wherever you go, night and day, screaming, “I want my $14.95! I want my $14.95!” Next! I’m sorry, but Margaret Atwood is just odd. I’m not a fan of her writing (I can hear you gasping with horror – Oh shut up; it’s a free country), I only liked The Handmaid’s Tale, but that’s not really relevant. What’s odd are her first few suggestions about taking pencils on a plane and how to sharpen them and a reminder to bring paper (DUH. For heaven’s sake, are we first graders here? We can handle the writing materials part, Margaret, make yourself useful!). She wastes 5 of her 10 with nonsense, and the last 5 don’t contribute much either. Rudimentary stuff. The only useful thing: “Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.” So I’ll stop whining about Margaret Atwood and move on to whining about Roddy Doyle, who seems to have a similar brain fog as Margaret, advising us to keep the online browsing to a minimum, use a thesaurus, and give in to temptation to do household chores once in a while. Wow, this is mind blowing stuff, isn’t it? These are almost patronizing suggestions for those of us who are looking for some meat on the bone. His useful bits, “Do feel anxiety – it's the job,” and “Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones.” What’s odd are her first few suggestions about taking pencils on a plane and how to sharpen them and a reminder to bring paper (DUH. For heaven’s sake, are we first graders here? We can handle the writing materials part, Margaret, make yourself useful!) If you haven’t given up on writing entirely and decided to go to medical school where at least you get to dissect dead people and SEE something, here we are at #5, Helen Dunmore. I’m sorry, who? I actually know who Helen is, but at this point I’m wondering if we’re ever going to hit a really heavy-hitting, popular, mainstream writer that most people know and would therefore listen to. We need some name recognition here. Not everyone reads Orange or Booker Prize winners. (By the way I did that for a few months and was not impressed. I had to quit after Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which was wretchedly bad and is now being made into a movie! That book had more holes than a moth-eaten sweater.) Her advice starts off promising, “Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue,” “Listen to what you have written” (for rhythm, because jagged places could be clues to what you don’t know yet), and “Read Keats’ letters” and then fizzles out into things like: read and rewrite, go for a walk, know that you can write and have a family, join a professional organization, and more of the same. Yawn. Geoff Dyer is next and his entry is a turn in a new direction – a turning of the top 10 pieces of advice into a flash fiction piece of such edge and wit that we’ll forget we wanted to read a list in the first place and just admire him instead. Every suggestion is couched in a personal story to show how clever he is. It was entertaining, I’ll admit. His best bit, “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” Neil Gaiman stopped at 8 but should have stopped at one. His first one was, “Write.” Is that supposed to be funny? (Brief intermission: I think these writers should have had a word limit for each answer, and maybe some 'dont's' on how to give a good list so they didn’t get so deeply mired in the obvious suggestions that everyone and their grandmother can give you.) Anne Enright does a little better, and I like her tone. She seems very sensible and down to earth and wry. The kind of person you’d like to have in your critique group. She would bring booze and brownies. How can you not like someone who says right off the bat, “The first 12 years are the worst”? I wouldn’t say her advice is earth-shattering, but there is a recognizable kernel of truth and feeling behind each one. I will forgive her #9 (“have fun”) for #10, which is rather inspiring, “Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.” Do you hear that? Weekends off everybody! Richard Ford’s list is more the kind of quote a reporter would get from someone if they caught him coming unawares out of the men’s room. It’s full of don’ts. It’s usually better to tell writers what to do than NOT do. Don’ts are easier to think of, and if you’re on the receiving end, checking them off in your head because you’re guilty of them, you pretty much lose the will to live, let alone write a book. Dos are harder to come up with and make people feel more empowered. His best, “Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.” That’s a toughie, but it’s true. Neil Gaiman stopped at 8 but should have stopped at one. His first one was, “Write.” Is that supposed to be funny? Or is Neil giving us The Zen of Writing Lists of Advice to Writers? I will forgive her #9 (“have fun”) for #10, which is rather inspiring, “Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. David Hare. PD James. Al Kennedy. No comment. In the immortal words of a Monty Python sketch, I’d be deliberately wasting your time. Hey, they should have asked John Cleese or Terry Gilliam! Al Kennedy does give us something that I would suggest applying to these lists, "Older, more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don't automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else; they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you." I doubt that these are truly the rules by which these writers live. Maybe some of the ideas, but there’s a certain self-consciousness to writing a list like this. In compiling it, you’re not thinking of yourself only, you’re thinking of all the hungry writers who are going to print out your list and carry it around in their wallets, pulling it out on the dark nights of the writer’s soul (of which there are many) in order to cheer them, like The Little Match Girl with her matches. And we know what happened to her, now don’t we? Who wants to be responsible for that? So, no, I won’t be giving you my list. Read the article here: Advice to Writers Chris Stewart is program director for literary arts for the state Arts Council in Maryland.
  8. Here we have one of the darling fairy children of Reedsy teaching us how to just slap down that blank page and type out a marketable novel outline in no time flat! Miracle of miracles. I never knew it could be this easy!
  9. OUTSIDE OF NARCISSISM, IMPATIENCE AND BAD ADVICE ARE A WRITER'S WORST ENEMIES. If you ever attend writer events, you will never cease to hear utterances of bad writing advice, the popular kind that circulate like ruinous viral memes through the nervous systems of America's aborning novel writers. And each time you are exposed, you either chuckle or swear, depending on your mood and the circumstance. You might make a daring attempt to kill the meme in its tracks before it can infect someone else, or you might just stare at the writer with a dumbfounded look and ask, "Where the hell did you hear that?" Yes, the primal question: WHERE THE HELL DID YOU HEAR THAT? Inevitably, many will point to their writer's group. Ahhhh, of course, you think. Why just recently at an Algonkian event, one of my faculty (a former senior editor at Random House) and I were faced with an individual who adamantly asserted to us both that using only one point of view to write a novel was mandatory. No exceptions! I'm not kidding or exaggerating. I asked, "Where the hell did you hear that?" She'd learned it from her writer's group. It must therefore be true. No doubt because they had told her this for seven years, and her workshop leader affirmed it, and as further proof the preposterous assertion was correct, a member of her group held an MA from Johns Hopkins! So in the face of this onslaught we displayed the typical dumbfounded reaction, and to our further astonishment, the writer just dug in and continued to resist our many proofs to the absolute contrary. As a matter of fact, one of the novels the writer was supposed to have read before the retreat was HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. Of course, she didn't read it, but she did at least admit it contained more than one point of view. Uh oh! Moments later though, to bolster the writer group firewall of defensive ignorance, she said, "Well even F. Scott Fitzgerald screwed up once in Gatsby and shifted to a different point of view... So it just goes to show, anyone can screw up like that and use more than one point of view." Stunned yet again following this mind-blowing comment, the two of us finally recovered to note several more novels that contained multiple POV, from WUTHERING HEIGHTS to THE POISONWOOD BIBLE to THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES to various thrillers and even to Rowling's later Harry Potter books. We figured that somewhere between Emily and J.K. this extremely stubborn person might actually stop and realize that perhaps her writer group had been steering her wrong. Sadly though, I don't believe she ever learned. Perhaps the bond with the group was too strong and the consensus delusion regarding single POV helped maintain their social cohesion. Perhaps her own narcissism disallowed her? Both? Who knows? I just know that the writer never once admitted she was wrong. No sign of epiphany was ever forthcoming. Instead, she lapsed into borderline hysteria, though recovered the final two days and went to work on another novel. I sent her at least 20 examples of multiple POV following the retreat and received only a very terse note in return. All in all, it was the most singular and remarkable act of writer ignorance I've ever witnessed, but one cannot blame the writer out of hand. Bad advice was one of her worst enemies, if not her worst. If you go to a writer's group respecting the leader and your peers and they tell you XYZ nonsense year after year, how can you not believe it? Nevertheless, we workshop leaders and teachers tire of being the target of theatrical repercussions at such time the narcissist writer discovers the world is not flat and the sun doesn't revolve around them. On the plus side, the exasperating event above prompted me to finally work towards creating a master list of bad writer advice--something I've wanted to do for years. I searched on Google not only to help with my own recollections but to investigate anything I might have missed, and the first article I came across was in Lit Reactor: "The Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice You Will Ever Hear." Lit Reactor seems to be a decent place for newbie writers seeking community and inspiration, but I have to take a few exceptions with the article above. I firmly agree with a lot of it, for example, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW is really bad advice. How could speculative or historical fiction writers ever pen a page if this were true? But the author goes on to choose other literary adages we've all grown old with and claims that they too are actually very bad advice. One of them is SHOW DON'T TELL. So that's one of the worst pieces of writer advice? Huh? Now, let's pull in the reins for a second. As a writer I've never seen SHOW DON'T TELL as a hard and fast rule that covers all conditions and circumstances. Obviously, one may need to "tell" at such time a certain type of exposition needs to be artfully delivered and dialogue isn't sufficient. Like most writers I've known, I see SHOW DON'T TELL as a helpful guideline, especially for newbies who tend to lump pages of exposition in their opening chapter, or otherwise drone on and on about an important event in the story when they should be depicting in a live-action scene. As in other instances in the Lit Reactor article above, the author isn't necessarily wrong when she counterpoints the age-old literary adage, as I did above, but the difference between us is that she posits SHOW DON'T TELL as an unbreakable rule, and when exceptions are offered up they stand as proof that the adage is actually bad advice. Logic dictates, however, that one can find several conditions to counterpoint the negative examples and then we're even. My point is that the unfortunate act of singling out the SHOW DON'T TELL guideline as bad advice is, in itself, bad advice--my apologies to the author of the article, and she is welcome to debate this here, but seriously, how the heck would you apply the anti-SDT logic to screenplay writers or playwrights when so much more is SHOW DON'T TELL? Let's recap. We now have three slings of really bad writing advice to list. We'll build the list as we go: Only one point of view per novel Write what you know "Show don't tell" is bad advice Next. At every Algonkian event, I hear a writer state this to me sooner or later: "Writer's shouldn't use flashbacks in their novels." Yes. Another, Where the hell did you hear that? Of course flashbacks are acceptable, if used artfully. They are just one technique in the fiction writing toolkit, and the types of flashbacks vary from a brief memory to a full chapter, or more. Novels that use a framing device of looking back into the past after having first established a contemporary setting (e.g., A Separate Peace or I Claudius) are themselves one immense act of flashback. But like the first example in the beginning of this post, the writer's group can sometimes be at fault for spreading this unproductive advice, but in all fairness, is the writer group the true source? When questioned about origin, the writer spreading the viral meme regarding flashbacks more often than not says, "I heard it at a writer conference." And then I ask, from whom? And they answer, "Uhh, someone, an agent, um... on a panel." Trauma time! The soul-searing memories return to haunt me. Years ago, I sat on a panel with five other agents at the San Francisco Writer's Conference listening to a new and incredibly ignorant agent drone on and on about the craft of writing (though she wasn't a writer and had never been an editor--in fact, like so many young agents, her only past experience involved reading query letters and wading the slush-pile), and every other utterance from this person's mouth about fiction writing was just plain wrong. I sat biting my tongue as long as I could, and then attempted to qualify and gently negate her assertions, and succeeded to some degree, but despite this calamity, I learned something. Here before me sat over 200 people, writers in their early stages, looking for good advice. And were they getting it? No, a hundred times NO. Past memories began to gel and I realized that the single biggest source of bad advice for writers might well be the typical American writer conference--and of course, these writers return to their hometown groups to repeat what they've heard, e.g., no flashbacks, show don't tell sucks, don't worry about your title... Don't worry about your title? Back to a writer conference. I attended a panel at another large writer conference on the west coast in 2014. It was a panel of writers who had recently been published. There were about 75 people in the room. A poor neophyte stood and asked the assembled writers if he had to worry about his title before he was published, and the consensus answer from the panel? No. You don't... I sat there dumbfounded. So basically, these people told this guy that pitching his novel or nonfiction with a crappy, foolish, or hackneyed title was perfectly fine. Not to worry! Call it whatever you want. Must I spend any more space telling you why this was not only not perfectly fine, but perfectly stupid and self-defeating? A bad title is like a warning siren going out ahead of your pitch, whether it be an oral pitch or query letter. It makes a horrible whining sound of warning, and it seems to be saying to those who read or listen: This is a terrible writer, stop listening, stop reading, run screaming! Now, time to add three more to the list: Avoid flashbacks in your fiction Don't worry about your title Any writer conference is helpful Pitching the MFA Though I don't hear it as much as I used to, I nevertheless hear it from young writers who have been conditioned to falsely believe that they will never write well or be taken seriously as writers unless and until they possess an MFA. My response to this: nothing could be a bigger lie. I'm sorry, I can't mince words or dance around the reality for the sake of anyone. This isn't to say that the right student can't benefit from the right MFA program (e.g., at Florida State)--they can, of course. I'm addressing the members of the Literary Academic Complex (LAC), also known as the Literary Industrial Complex (LIC), who relentlessly promote the marketing myth that the odds are you'll never amount to much as a writer without an MFA. Yes, no fooling. Just click to the article at WE regarding the MFA, and when you arrive, click on the link to an MFA writer poll and you will see Gary Shteyngart quacking forth on this very subject ("You have to get an MFA"). No conflict of interest here? Gary has an MFA, and how could this smiling goofy guy be steering us wrong? Thanks, Gary, for doing your part to convince America's youth to incur millions in debt to obtain MFA degrees of highly dubious worth. However, if we could overhear Gary talking in whispers at one of his terribly boring academic cocktail parties, you would get the real skinny, and it would sound something like this: One of the fatal flaws of MFA programs consists of using a writer group of fellow students (who know as little or less than you) to critique your work for the purpose of improving it, which brings me around to another bit of really bad advice: JOIN A WRITER GROUP. I wrote an article here at WE that pretty much sums up why being in a writer group for critique and guidance can be a train wreck in any number of ways. Again, like the MFA, you're supposing that people who know as little or less than you (otherwise why would they be there?) are capable of providing constructive advice, but since you aren't knowledgeable enough to know one way or another whether or not the advice is good, you should never take it without follow-up investigation--and if you're going to be constantly reality-checking what you hear, why stay in the group at all?... Yes, it's a social fest, it can be fun, or it can be oppressive and even ugly. Did you know, THE ELEMENTS OF WRITING GOOD FICTION CANNOT BE TAUGHT? I didn't know it either until Isabella Allende told me so. She believes, as I do, that great authors are self-made, not baked from a workshop recipe, but she goes on further to say that students of novel writing are only capable of learning a limited subset of craft. Why? I'm not sure. She's not as extreme as the Iowa mantra that states "Writing Cannot be Taught, only talent developed," but she's closing in on it. From the video below (final 30%): Hmmm, why not? We teach it effectively in Algonkian workshops and in online programs--quite effectively I might add. Tension and suspense derive from a number of sources, and all these are knowable, and examples can be displayed. We can't fold on our teaching methods because Isabella Allende believes otherwise. To each his own. Btw, I love her writing. Finally, we come around to our number ten on the list: Don't plan or outline your novel, let the character write the novel, or even more simply, "Just start writing." How many times have I heard that? And guess where? At a writer conference, of course. A certain type of author is asked whether or not they plot or outline ahead of time. They smile and say something like, "I've been asked this question before, and I have to say no, I don't outline. It just all comes to me, the character inhabits me..." or some such drivel. But let's be logical. If you understand the primary foundations for writing a novel you know your plot line must develop certain points as it moves forward, and you know also that you must write separate scenes in the novel to perform certain tasks relevant to the plot line, as well as to the character arcs, etc. It's a complex undertaking, and one that demands a certain amount of planning. If you are some kind of genius and can keep it all in your head, more power to you, but if you are like me, you need to organize and place ideas on paper (or on the computer). Also, logic dictates that if your novel plot lines are a series of circumstances, reversals, and events that tie together, it only makes sense that you better know how point A gets to point M before you will know how point M gets to point Z. Consider, do screenplay writers or playwrights just start writing without any planning? Of course not. So why should the novel be different? And we're not talking about Beckett or Joycean flights of fancy, we're talking about the vast bulk of commercial novels, whether they be upmarket or genre. Btw, here we have a bunch of freelance editors confirming this awful advice. Interesting, yes, but if you look closely you'll see they are trying to sell you their editorial services. Perhaps the less you plan your novel, the more work they'll have to do? Now for the summary. The Writer's Edge top ten worst pieces of writing advice: Only one point of view per novel Write what you know "Show don't tell" is bad advice (OMG!) Avoid flashbacks in your fiction Don't worry about your title (someone else will) Any writer conference is helpful (beware--all events are not created equal) You need to get an MFA (or you wont' be taken seriously) Join a writer group (to improve your writing and get good feedback) The art of fiction can't be taught (and "writing can't be taught") Don't outline or plan your novel (let it happen) ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  10. Following a desultory lurch into relevancy on the part of the panel, one poor neophyte stood and asked the assembled if he should worry about his novel title before becoming published. Did it really matter? He'd received way too many opinions and desired a final tiebreaker. And the consensus answer? Don't worry about your title... Huh? Not long ago, I attended a panel at a mega-large writer conference. It consisted of authors who had recently been published (small presses, mainstream imprints, e-presses). There were about 150 people in the room. Following a desultory lurch into relevancy on the part of the panel, one poor neophyte stood and asked the assembled if he should worry about his novel title before becoming published. Did it really matter? He'd received way too many opinions and desired a final tiebreaker. And the consensus answer? No. You don't have to be concerned, and besides, "the publisher will most likely change it anyway." I sat there dumbfounded. So basically, these people told this guy that pitching his novel or nonfiction with a crappy, foolish, or hackneyed title was perfectly fine. Not to worry! Call it whatever you want. How about THE WHINE OF ROMAN DOGS ON CELTIC WINDS? Yeah, that's a good one!... Must I spend any more space telling you why this was not only not perfectly fine advice, but perfectly stupid and self-defeating? A bad title is like a warning siren going out ahead of your pitch, whether it be an oral pitch or query letter. It makes a horrible whining sound of warning, and it seems to be saying to those who read or listen: This is a terrible writer, stop listening, stop reading, run screaming! Regardless, what is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc. Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  11. Many years ago I stumbled upon a Sydney Sheldon book on the rack at a local grocery store. I picked it up, read a bit, and said to myself: I can write better with my eyes closed. Well, hyperbole or no, there was some truth in that statement. Most likely, the work was not written by Sheldon at all, but some hack ghost brought in by the publisher to poorly imitate Sheldon. Sound implausible? Not at all. Lots of big names are "hyperbranded" these days, i.e., they don't write their own stuff. They are a brand. Others write for them and the original authors simply wave a hand in approval, or nod their mythic head, or something such as that. And btw, yes, I know this is all old news. Regardless, new writers often make the mistake of emulating established authors who have grown lazy, hyperbranded, or just plain crappy over the years. They ape their characters, plots, and even writing styles, then become astonished or even hostile when agents or editors don't immediately praise them for their wondrous contribution to the American literary scene. God bless 'em, it's not their faults really! After all, the book was on the shelf, yes? People were buying it, yes? So what's the answer? New writers must learn to emulate authors who themselves are fairly new, and yet successful to a reasonable degree. Freshly minted authors are not only a better weather vane for what the market wants in terms of premise, settings, and characters, but also in terms of prose style. Recently I pulled a copy of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION off the rack at Union Station in D.C., just to check on the state-of-the-art in that genre, and was disappointed to see poor writing by name authors. And by poor, I mean very poor. One author, an established SF/F type (who has been chumming around for decades), not only made himself offensive with a hackneyed hook, but bombarded my brain with "was" so relentlessly that I wanted to call him and beg him to attend a basic creative writing class in order to learn how to choose verbs at level somewhere beyond that of a sixth grader. Keep in mind that the old gang of authors can cough on a page and get published. New writers cannot. They must choose their role models wisely! ________________________________ View the full article
  12. A question that comes up time and time again in workshops and with editorial clients, and it's always difficult to answer. Ultimately, the publication of bad novels, i.e., novels in any given genre deemed poorly written by any reasonable reader of that genre, is certainly not the fault of the reader, but of those involved in the actual publication process, from agent to publisher. How can it not be? Can one blame the gods or the stars in this matter? After working with scores of agents, I've met a few who really don't have a clue what makes for a good story. Ok, so let's just assume that only 20% of active literary agents currently pushing projects in the marketplace are a bit short on taste and knowledge. Well, what of it? That's still a lot of projects being pushed in the face of editors at major houses. Hopefully, editors, who are generally pretty sharp, will see through these loser manuscripts, but what if they are overworked, or too inexperienced, or don't get to read the whole novel? What if they trust the agent too much because they work for a respectable agency? What if their assistant or intern who "reads" the ms is fearful of saying no because he or she detects an atmosphere of optimism for it that will reflect badly on them if the truth gets told? What if the novel has been written by a name author and the reader knows he or she will lose their job if they raise a red flag and point out, for starters, those three glaring grammatical errors on the first two pages? Any number of scenarios are possible. After all, how can one possibly explain the publication of magnificent monstrosities over the years like Fan Tan, The Magicians, and The Emperor's Children, three of the worst novels ever written. What if the novel has been written by a name author and the reader knows he or she will lose their job if they raise a red flag and point out, for starters, those three glaring grammatical errors on the first two pages? If you get a chance, read the one and two star reviews written by real readers, not sock puppets of the publisher. It's a real eye opener. And there are many more, many more novels on the shelves not quite as bad those ancient ones above, but horrible enough that someone, somewhere, should have said something. But they did not, and yet, they were all, all represented by literary agents who are supposed to be the gatekeepers for the industry. Badly designed autos sometimes make it to the dealer floor, and heads roll, but bad novels rise to public attention far more often. Do heads roll? Perhaps the managers and successful agents at major agencies should keep a closer eye on employees who are doing a questionable job. Perhaps they should methodically use an independent reader critique group made up of experienced and unbiased readers, answerable only to top management and forbidden to interact with agency staff. Let's be realistic. How many times can you falsely praise a bad novel before buyers as a whole become fatigued and wary? ________________________________ View the full article
  13. Are "brutal" reviewers really good for you? So what spurred this question? A friend recently said she had a "brutal critique partner" that could be relied on. It got me to thinking about brutal reviewers in my own experience who were worse than useless and actually destructive. We need to keep in mind that the better an ms becomes, the harder such "brutal" critics are forced to dig for critique at all costs, inevitably focusing on matters of taste, e.g, "I don't like that character's personality..." as opposed to "I think this point could be made clearer by doing XYZ." You could put 10 of these brutal negative types in a room and they would shred an unpublished novel to pieces in their own special way. But if the exact same novel were actually written by a commercial author favorite of theirs, they would not only praise it but compete with each other to deliver the most positive, in-depth insight into the work. Their blurbs would shower Amazon with five stars. Perhaps a "however" now and then, but nothing that would ever approach the brutality of decimating the ms they believed unpublished. Frankly, I've had experience with various coverage types in LA and fought huge battles with them over specific screenplays and manuscripts by writers known to me (two were clients) who they were attempting to annihilate, and I noticed, the more perfect the manuscript, the more vehement and extreme the critique. It was as if the good story and great prose infuriated them and made them all the more determined to find ways to chop at it. Of course, they made their living by using negativity as a substitute for authentic and insightful review, much like certain commercial book reviewers who go viciously negative in order to stand out in a crowd. When looking for feedback on a fantasy manuscript I wrote two years ago, I purposely sought out three writers who I knew would rip me a big one (for various reasons), and all three did, but there were no commonalities. I figured that reasonably intelligent writers straining hard to be negative would find an issue if it really existed. It was weird to watch them strive to be as negative as possible over essentially petty things. I once sent a very polished ms to some editors in Iowa who I trusted to put the final coat of paint on the top floor. Instead, they shredded the opening chapter of the ms in every inconceivable way. They strained to dissect sentences and nitpick "the real meaning" vs. the words actually used, and in a manner nothing short of bizarre. They even hated italics! Determined to be negative at all costs, the Iowa people didn't say one positive thing about any facet of the ms. When not provided their normal diet of necessary edits they simply picked and picked until they created a series of false negatives. The coverage people in LA, as I noted above, imitated this Iowa group. However, I couldn't help but notice the exact same editors, when courting a client for monetary reasons, fell over themselves being complimentary. Hmmmmmm... In conclusion, if you must use reviewers, search for balanced personalities and look for commonalities. ________________________________ View the full article
  14. Though the blurb below was published in The Onion, it is nonetheless a good jumping off point for discussing how creative writing instructors or mentors should approach students whose stories or prose need extra help: "CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - In an effort to help his students develop inaccurate perceptions of their talents, University of Virginia creative writing professor Alan Erickson told reporters Monday that he takes the time to provide each and every one of them with personalized false hope. "Every student is different, and even though there may be 30 of them per class, I feel it's important that I make enough time to sit down with them individually to let them know they have a unique voice worth pursuing," said Erickson, explaining that he frequently extends his office hours and often stays after class to meet with students one-on-one to ensure they hear individualized, unfounded optimism about their writing and their prospects within the publishing industry. "It certainly adds a bit to my workload, but providing specific feedback and encouragement really has a huge impact on their confidence. Going that extra mile for your students is what inspires them to follow their dreams." The professor added that his efforts have yielded some notable results, asserting that a number of his most deluded former students have gone on to humiliating, short-lived attempts at writing careers." _____________________________________ I have been in the presence of professional fiction-writing workshop leaders who have either falsely praised a writer or else avoided addressing flaws in their work--often leaving said flaws to be hopefully discovered by a member of the workshop instead. In this way, the instructor avoids having to face the writer and discuss the problem directly. He or she lets the group do most of the discovery and problem-solving analysis, thus disallowing the writer in question from focusing potential ire on the workshop leader. Having been a workshop leader, I can tell you, the above approach would be a lot easier on me. However, even groups that are decently moderated (assuming the workshop leader actually understands not only practical creative writing but the commercial and literary publishing business--which is rare) must endure a good amount of poorly considered, amateurish advice issued from the well-meaning heads of the writers present. Godspeed them all! But what is a workshop leader to do in the presence of hit-and-miss advice and analysis flowing freely around the table? Various strategies exist, but by and large, he or she (if honest and knowledgeable) must be put in the position of tactfully contradicting much of what the writer group has said to each other (much of which already contradicts itself). And how is that possible in group dynamic situations that might not be conducive to such frank reality checking? Answer: it isn't possible. One can only hope for a group that is receptive. And falsely praising the work of poor writers only enables them to continue to fail. The workshop leader should note what works, and what does not, then delve into strategies for improvement. Good writers are not born. They are made. ________________________________ View the full article
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