Swim with the Minnows

One of the nice ways to shape your Facebook feed is to click on an occasional ad. You will then be swarmed by ads for similar products and services. Once in a while I poke at an ad for a writers’ service of some sort, and here we are. The ad below popped up today. It’s sad, really, but before I go into its failings, here’s the text, presented as a screen-grab so you can be assured I’m not changing a word:

First of all, “publishable” has at least two quite distinct meanings. Any sort of drivel is publishable, okay? All you have to do is generate a few files, toss the mess up onto Amazon, and bang, it’s published! But if “publishable” means “can be marketed to a mainstream publisher who will pay you an advance,” we have to ask whether Mr. Gorlov is going to be able to help you with that. I see no indication that he is.

His first two bullet points are about outside and internal pressures that may sap your ability to sit down and actually write. These are certainly issues that afflict a lot of aspiring writers, and successful ones too. Quite possibly Gorlov or his coaching group have some solid ideas about how you can work through these issues and get on with the writing. But these issues have nothing whatever to do with your ability to write “entertaining, publishable … books.” Zip. Zilch. Nada. You can set aside plenty of time to write, develop great self-confidence, and still be writing utter drivel. People do that all the time.

His third point addresses, in a vague and tentative way, the question of how to write well. Let’s be clear: If you want your fiction to be publishable in any forum more exacting than the self-publishing maëlstrom, you’ll need to write well.

What solution does he propose?

To start with, he addresses your emotions rather than your skill set. “[M]ost newer writers feel the same way.” I suppose that’s comforting, but knowing that you’re not alone is not, in and of itself, going to improve the quality of your writing.

The concrete solution he proposes is networking with other aspiring writers. And that’s where his advertisement runs off the rails. If you would like to write well, I would earnestly suggest that you not waste any time “meet[ing] other writers supporting each other and traveling the same path.” No. Don’t do it.

What you need to do, if you want to write an entertaining, publishable first (or second, or third) book, is to learn the craft of writing fiction. There are some wonderful books out there that will teach you what you need to know. In fact, I have a list of some of my favorites. Buy a few of these books, and others like them. Read them. Underline or highlight passages that speak to you. Scribble in the margins. Practice the skills. Read the top fiction in your chosen genre — and in other genres too. Read fiction not for entertainment but critically.

Learn about conflict and tension. Learn about world-building and scene-setting. Learn about characterization. Learn about dialog and pacing. Learn how to handle flashbacks.

And while you’re at it, learn to self-edit. In my experience, most aspiring writers have great difficulty spotting the weaknesses in their own work. (That’s surely true of me too, though I cherish the hope that my weaknesses are more subtle than some I’ve seen.) Aspiring writers tend to be stubborn about clinging to their blind spots. They think their turgid flailings shine with genius. ‘Tain’t so, McGee.

If you read a few good tutorial books on writing and then try a coaching group, I predict that you’ll soon find yourself thinking, “Why am I hanging out with these people?” And if you join the group without reading any of the books and expect that the group will help you, you’re beyond help. If you’re not willing to sit down and patiently learn the skills, just give up now. Take up knitting or table tennis instead.

This entry was posted in fiction, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s