Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Watch. Listen. Learn.

Ahhh…. Good Will Hunting. Whatta great movie. This scene in particular because there ain't nothing like a rich, white kid being put in his place. J

This scene is also great because it helps illustrate the point of this post. Especially this line:

(In fifty years you're gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life…)

"Two. You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fucking education you could've got for a dollar-fifty in late charges at the public library."

BAM. Love that line.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, recently some writer friends of mine were talking about taking a workshop with Donald Maass. You've probably heard of the guy. (grin) To be honest, I barely tuned into the email conversation. One, because I know there's no way in heck I can afford to take one of his classes—not on my take home... And two, because it's probably the last dang place I want to be right now. i.e. locked inside a room with one hella smart agent, his blue pencil aimed squarely at my MS.. And to PAY for the ordeal. No thank you.

That said, I will admit that I mostly tuned out because Jen Wanna Go. Jen Wanna Go Bad.

I'm like everyone else. I want feedback. I CRAVE feedback… kinda like an addict. But when I boiled it all down, there's really no need for me to go to such a workshop at this particular point in time. Quite frankly, there's a point when feedback becomes repetitious. Either in a positive or a negative way. And put simply, there's a time you have to stop meandering around with classes and workshops and what not and you have to sit your ass down in a chair and work on your writing. NO classes required. No money required.

When I first started writing, one of the greatest things about it was that I had no flippin' clue what I was doing. I couldn't even use quotation marks correctly for dialogue. I had NO idea what the 'return key' was for and had pages upon pages of writing without so much as a break. (I could go on forever. It was like someone had shaved down a Neanderthal who could barely speak and set her in front of this weird contraption called a computer.) Yeah, it was a bit FUBAR, but I was learning…one step at a time, I was learning. When I thought I had taken things as far as I could go (which, let's be honest, I didn't – there's no way I explored all of the literature, etc. about writing), I took it to another level by joining Compuserve. Ah, immediate feedback. It was wonderful, and my skills set jumped up several pegs. Still free. Just more time-involved. I've been there for several years, and man, the education has been excellent.

I'd like to note that in all this time, I've read exactly…hmm….2 and ¾'s (total) of writing books. I've attended one conference, yes…but mostly so I could be with friends and have face-to-face contact with a stellar agent. (Erm, she has a lot in come with KristEn (g)).

In other words, I paid for my education through writing. I paid for my education by reading and critiquing the work of others. By first participating and then helping to run the writing exercises at Compuserve. This I've done for free—the cost: paper and ink. And time.

I sometimes worry when I hear about people trying to buy fixes for their manuscript. It's very easy to fall into that trap, for one. I start thinking.. what if THIS workshop WILL fix my book…will somehow magically inspire me to sit my butt down and work on this beast of a book. What if I miss out and then fail?? What if they're right and forking over my duckets was the only thing standing in my way of greatness?? Oh the neurotic freak outs can last for days. In the end, one word:


You can pour money into your book. You can attend conference after conference, workshop after workshop… you can hire a private editor. You can read book after book about writing and learn how this person does it…and that person does it….and fill your head with so many damn 'rules' that you tie yourself into a big ole' knot of worry. Or you can sit your ass down and figure these things out yourself.

I vote for the latter. J

Conferences and workshops are great—I don't want anyone to think that I'm somehow devaluing their benefits. Just be clear on why you're attending them. Is it because you need another dose of positive feedback on the ten pages you've been showing everyone for years now? (Do it online, it's cheaper.) It is because you want to rub elbows with agents and editors who will love you so much they'll want your book? (Save your money. These people may like you a great deal, but that doesn't mean a damn thing if your book isn't stellar.) Is it because it will be Just The Ticket to spur you on to finishing? (Dude, no one and nothing can do that but you. Though of all the reasons, this one makes the most sense.) Do you think somehow you'll find the Miracle of what makes a book work and sell big?

My answer is simple.

Go to the library.

Now, How do you like them apples? J


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Very true comments. Plus, you always wrote as though you should teach a class opposed to attend it. :)

  2. Jen, best scenes in that movie -ever! :-D And sing it, sista! (Waving my lighter) Awesome post. But yeah, that need for feedback IS very twitchy. Hehe.

  3. Funny how different minds work. It never occurs to me to go to a conference for feedback. I've always gone for cameraderie, inspiration, professional development, and simply being in a hotel full of like-minded people for a few days. This is such an isolated profession much of the time. Blogs and especially Compuserve are fabulous, but for me, the pure writing energy that comes from spending a few days hanging out with other writers is well worth the cost and the lost work hours. (It is, however, a great scene, and you're absolutely right that some people go to conference after conference instead of EVER doing the work. The work has to come first.)

  4. Hey Kathy,

    ((cameraderie, inspiration, professional development, and simply being in a hotel full of like-minded people for a few days))

    I'm going to the RWA conference this year for those very reasons. And I must say, I'm kind of excited to be able to gab ad nauseum about writing.

  5. Carol! Good to see you here. :)

    Not sure about that last part, but thank ye kindly. :) We need to catch up!

  6. Kristen,

    Feedback...gah. It's like a needle to a junkie. I needs, I needs...but I DON'T need. :)


  7. Kathy,

    Oh I totally agree that the energy is great at conferences... it's definitely the best reason to go. I guess I was just trying to make the point that you don't HAVE to attend workshops/conferences, etc. to improve your craft. (Perhaps clumsily...I was rather rushed. (g)) And there are definitely those who are too busy doing "writerly" things that they never actually write.

    I'm trying to avoid that mind frame. :)


  8. I agree Jen and Kathy! I still haven't attended any sort of conference or workshop yet - does the Forum count? :-) - and would love to start with SIWC. I wonder if I would find it nerve wracking in itself though? So many classes to attend, agents to talk to in person (gasp!), where would I start?