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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can I Admit How Clueless I Am?

Can I do that? Is that okay?

I started taking my writing "seriously" six years ago.  I've read lots of writing memoirs. Attended Cons and Workshops. Worked on my Creative Writing MA. Sought advice from established writers, talked hours of shop with peers, listened earnestly to mentors as they impressed upon me the importance of doing this and not doing that...

And, yes.


I gave advice.

Just because I sold a few shorts stories (and I use the word "sold" kindly.  They were semi-pro payment stories in collections).  Wrote a novella.  Edited a poetry anthology (still in the works) and edited the Halloween issue of Shroud.  So I thought I was all that.  In the position to give advice.

It's only been the last year or so that I've realized any advice I probably gave was either misguided, misinformed, or flat out wrong.  I've been working to divest myself of preconceived notions about lots of things - like digital and POD self-publishing, for example - simply because that was one thing on a list of many things that folks who "knew" better told me "not" to do.  I just received Robert Swartwood's Man of Wax. Richard Wright's Cuckoo and Glen Krisch's upcoming Nothing Lasting will be next, because I'm going to confront this self-publishing thing head on: if these three works pass muster (which I have a feeling they will), a re-ordering of my ideas will be in order.

Which doesn't mean I'm giving up traditional publishing.  Robert Swartwood himself cautioned in a recent comment here that "just because you CAN self -publish, doesn't mean you SHOULD."  It does mean, however, that I need to start from scratch.  Throw everything I thought about writing out the window, and start anew with the ONLY two things about writing that I know for sure:

1. I love writing and will never stop
2. I want people to read my writing

Anyway, no more advice.  Actually, some advice about what advice not to give, from Nick Mamatas, which sparked this blog. Because other than those above two things, I know NOTHING about this whole thing, anymore.

But that's okay, because those two things are enough. 


  1. I've pondered this question for years, and I'd love your opinion on it, Kevin, since you've attended a number of conventions & writing workshops: What is the *real* reason for the plethora of Cons, Workshops, "how to write" books, writing advice blogs, magazines, mail-order courses, etc, etc?

    The cynical side of me thinks it has mostly to do with: a)having a "product" (advice) to sell, b)by confidently pontificating "the way to write" c) so that others will view the adviser as an illustrious expert.

    Any figures available on how many total $$'s would-be writers spend in a year's time chasing after The Big Secret to Bestsellerdom? Since the non-negotiable "rules" of writing would fit on an index card, the rest of the advice peddled by the How To Write Industry (at it's worst) seems only to prey on the dreams of well meaning people by promising to ease the Path to Publication and fame.

    And since the real truth is, there *are* no secrets...that the world is a very complex and slippery place with almost no iron-clad rules...that's not a very sellable message. So the Advice Givers contradict each other, loudly, each proclaiming The Way, in order to have "product" to offer.

    wow. I didn't see that rant coming, but this post really got me started. The more I've examined what passes for writing advice, the more frustrated I've become with its contradictory, shallow, and falsely confident nature.

    Thanks for making me mad, on a Sunday! :)

  2. Well, I'll say this: most the advice I've received has been completely well-intentioned on the part of those giving advice. Several folks I've just asked about the writing process itself, and they've been spot on. And, the memoirs I read were very timely - in concordance to the TIME in which they were written.

    You're correct, I think, in mistrusting the "How To Write" industry. I actually wasn't thinking about them at all, was more thinking about all the blogs I've read and other writers I've talked to over the past few years.

    And I think the important thing to remember is this: not that those folks have lied, or tried to gather a flock of sycophants under their sway (for the most part), but the GAME IS RAPIDLY CHANGING. Lots of people don't like it, I certainly don't like it, but the rules have become fluid fast and furious, and lots of the old bits of advice are either becoming obsolete, or aren't as important as they used to be.

    And, yeah - I guess at this point, I've realized that the path to publishing is not the same for everyone. So it's kind of useless to preach the same path for everyone.

    As far as workshops and Cons, again - I didn't mean to denigrate them, only point out MY foolishness in thinking that because I'd attended a few, I suddenly "knew the score".

    For example, Borderlands Press Writers' Bootcamp is hands-down the best workshop I've ever attended. Would go every year if I had the cash. Literally changed the way I write, for the better.

    And as for Cons, they have their place, but again: I misunderstood what that was. Going to Cons isn't about pimping your stuff, becoming famous and gaining all these new fans (not for someone like me, at least), and making that CONNECTION that hooks you up for the BIG TIME (at least, it can't be planned that way). It's about hanging out with your writer buds, talking shop with people who love the same things you do, hanging out, recharging the batteries.

    BUT, the essential truth? Cons cost money to attend. Best I've ever done with selling stuff is break even, and that only once or twice. And I don't need to attend Cons to continue writing. And that seems the best and only thing to do for sure in the way everything is changing: keep writing, if the drive is there. If glimmers of success are bright enough to warrant it, keep at it, which I'm going to do, but I think I need to "unlearn" a lot of what I've learned, and approach the publishing world differently.

    1. Hey, Kevin. I know my reaction wasn't on-target with the point of your post; I was taking a side-route that your thoughts sparked in I'm truly not trying to make your post say something it doesn't. Agree 100% that there's much to learn from...after reading *lots* of How to Write books,I have a small handful that I wouldn't be without. And, I've benefited in various ways from a number of blogs that I check in on regularly. Thank Heavens for good writing teachers. The problem is, as you correctly point out: in a publishing world that's fluid, fast, & furious, if you're a person who likes to a)diligently find out what the rules are, and b)follow them (like moi), then Good Luck. I appreciate folks (like yourself) who take a humble approach to the whole affair and admit they have doubts and questions and sometimes make mistakes. I think that's a healthier way to live...and certainly more realistic.

    2. Don't worry, Alan - I was more concerned I hadn't articulated myself the way I wanted, that's all. Thanks for posting!

  3. Hmm. Must not have written the HTML for that link correctly:

    Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp. This, definitely, is worth the time and money. I'd rather go back here than attend another Con, quite frankly.

  4. I'm so happy to read this, I won't even say "I Told You So."

    Pssshyeah, right. >_>

    Definitely a step in the right direction, I think. May the Force be with you.

  5. How do you teach a class on writing if you want to refrain from giving advice? Just curious...

  6. What I mean by giving writing advice is posting blogs advising young writers on how to navigate the market itself - giving advice like:

    1. only submit to pro paying short story markets
    2. don't self-publish
    3. go to this Con, act like this, meet these sort of people
    4. only submit to midlist and above publishers

    In my Creative Writing class, I focus on the very basics of the technical aspects of writing itself: POV, character development, dialogue, setting, things like this. THAT part of writing I feel confident enough to advise in, and also - I'm teaching 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. Little bit different than trying to act like the wise writing mentor and advising my PEERS.

    Giving advice on keeping a story in proper POV? That I can do. Counseling writers on where they should send their work, who they should publish with, how they should navigate this new digital market? That's the thing I'm out to sea on, and can't pretend I know anything about.

    And also, tons of writers' blogs give technical advice on the craft, so I usually don't offer advice like that here, a little bit like shouting the same stuff everyone else is, in a crowd of millions.

    Thanks for posting!