Dan Balow has been posting a series of blogs on different types of writers. I’ve been reading the posts with great interest, and I wanted to add one other type of writer I’ve come across:
The writer who doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.
I’ve been going to conferences and attending or speaking to writers groups now for over fifteen years. At these conferences, we have these things called 15-minute appointments. As an author, I often meet with those who enjoy my stories and want to write in the same genre or for my publisher. They’re there for some mentoring, advice, or they just want to pick my brain as to how to get a foot in the “traditionally published writer” door. These writers are the ones doing the work. They’re attending conferences for the right reasons; working hard on the craft; putting themselves out there; and quite possibly crying over rejection letters, then pulling themselves back up to try again. And then there are writers like this one:
A young woman sat across from me, pushed her one-sheet and first chapter across the table, and asked why she kept getting rejection letters.
I took a look. Her one-sheet was lovely without a typo to be found. She had a great story premise; but by the end of the first paragraph in her opening chapter scene, I could tell right away why she wasn’t getting any nibbles on her story.
She needed a lot of work on her writing craft.
Rather than say that, I asked her a variety of questions.
Me: “How long have you been writing?”
Her: “All my life.”
Me: “How many conferences have you attended?”
Her: “Well, this is the first one. I don’t want to waste my money on these things; but this one was within driving distance and with agents and editors here, I figured I’d give it a shot.”
Me: “What classes have you taken so far at this one?”
Her: “None. There are agents and editors here. Why would I waste my time on classes?”
Me: “So, what effort have you put into learning the craft?”
Her: “Honey, I’ve been writing and telling stories all my life. I don’t need any classes for that. I just don’t understand why these people can’t see that!”
How do I answer that?
Me: “I’m not an agent or an editor. What do you think I can do for you?”
Her: “Introduce me to agents and editors.”
She and I talked a little more before time ran out. While I did my best not to hurt her feelings, I was honest with her about her need to improve in the area of craft. I’m not sure she agreed, but I may have convinced her she should go to a few classes just to be sure she didn’t need to learn a few things.
Just in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t introduce her to any agents or editors; but the encounter really made me think. Sometimes people just don’t know what they don’t know—especially if they live in an area where there aren’t many opportunities to gather with authors further along in the publishing journey than they are. As a result, they don’t realize there’s an art to crafting a story. It’s harder than it looks! And this goes for nonfiction writers too. Nonfiction writers often use stories to illustrate their points, and those stories still have to be well-written, following the rules of what constitutes good fiction writing. Honestly, with the Internet and online classes, conferences, etc., there really isn’t an excuse anymore as to why one can’t learn to write well. Access to good teaching is so much more available these days.
It is quite exciting what Steve Laube has put together over at The Christian Writers Institute. With inexpensive instruction available at one’s fingertips, there really isn’t an excuse for not trying to learn.
On that note, over the next few posts, I will be talking about some basic craft elements that writers (fiction and nonfiction) need to master when it comes to writing a story that stands a chance of capturing interest from an agent or an editor. And hope those who think they don’t need to study the craft because they’ve been “writing all my life” will have their eyes opened to the wonderful world of learning how to craft a story worthy of a reader’s time.