I mentioned in my introduction letter to Viable Paradise that I’m at the stage in my writing where I could use some guidance and advice aimed at taking steps toward getting published.
There is a lot of advice available out there, some freely given and some offered for a fee. These days you can hardly throw a stick without hitting someone who is offering a consulting service. (Note: some are quite touchy and have little or no sense of humor; try to avoid them. They are a vexation to the spirit.)
The problem is . . . well, it’s complicated. How should I explain it?
Let me take you back to the 1980’s . . .
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Hair, I had then, but like now, I kept it short. I had a beard then, also short. And I golfed. And because I golfed, I read a lot about golfing. A. LOT.
And because I read a lot about golfing, I knew something most people learning golf don’t know.
Golf pros and teachers give contradictory advice. I mean, individually they were consistent with their advice, but where one pro may advise you to lock your wrist, another might teach a more dynamic involvement of the wrist. There were a lot of diagrams showing what the wrist should do, and the ‘proper’ angle one should have through various parts of the swing.
And not just the wrist; one could find all kinds of advice for each aspect of one’s swing.
Mind you, the idea was the same for all the advice . . . launch the ball in the intended direction and with enough power so as to have one of your foursome say: “Nice shot; what kind of driver are you using?”
How someone got to that point varied significantly, as it should. What works for a tall person might not work for a short one. Beer belly, differing flexibility, hand-eye coordination; all of it should be taken into account to arrive at the following:
“Swing the golf club to the best of your ability so you can achieve the desired results.”
Typically, if you hire a golf teacher, they watch your swing. Next, they tell you how to modify your swing to improve your game. It might even work.
The problem is, they each teach from their experience. Another teacher might tell you something different.
While both might help you achieve success in getting them elusive “nice shots”, often the student ends up trying to emulate the teacher.
What if their lessons did not complement your style of playing?
Open any golf magazine, and you’ll see a step-by-step analysis of the swing of some hot-shot or other. Readers are sold the idea they just need to copy—and here I date myself—Tiger Wood’s swing and they too will rip 300-yard drives.
The magazines are in the business of making money and not necessarily to help make you a better golfer. Teaching pros are like magazines.
They too are in business to make money, so there’s no chance they would, after watching your swing, say the following: I can’t help you with your swing. Instead, give your nice pile of cash to Joe over there. He swings a lot like you and can best teach you how to control your swing for maximum performance for someone of your build and peculiarities.
No; what they are going to say is more along the lines of “Nice swing. Let me make a few suggestions aimed at totally changing it. By the way, make the check out to . . . “
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What does golf have to do with writing? Everything!
OK, very little, but my concerns are the same. I want advice, but where to get it? And, how do I know it’s the right advice for me?
Plus what are we saying? Should everyone write the same?
Of course not; if everyone wrote the same, there would be nothing out there but Harry Potter books . . . and maybe a few Twilight books (may the non-existing lord help us all).
Jump ahead 30 years . . . I’m sitting in my office. I want professional writing help and I’m doing something about it.
I’m applying to a workshop without really knowing all that much about the authors there. Even if Jim Butcher and John Scalzi were teaching the seminar—two authors I really like and who are not teaching the seminar—what exactly would they teach me? Would they teach me how to write like them?
I hope not; they already exist, and I already write like me. Don’t get me wrong; I like their writing, but it’s not my writing.
What I would like is for someone to help me write better as me . . . and if I only knew what that meant, man would I ever be in business!
. . . write better . . . what does that mean?
I already listen to a lot of advice, but I want advice that will improve and advance my writing, my style, my voice . . . or even someone who can explain to me what “voice” is, and possibly tell me if I have a voice, and if so, what is it?
With most things, my normal approach is to listen to advice and see if it pertains to anything I’m doing. Writing seems resistant to my normal approach.
On a recent podcast the person who runs a famous and respected workshop, a workshop I am not attending, said the following (I’m paraphrasing):
“We look for writers who already have a strong voice.”
The rest of the panel agreed; you definitely need a strong voice. Obviously, they all knew what that meant, but I didn’t. I mean, I have a nebulous idea of “voice” but have no clue what makes it strong or weak; I stutter, you see. (That’s a joke, for them who don’t know. I mean, I do stutter, but that’s why that’s funny.)
From This Wiki entry: The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).
So, apparently “my voice” means “how I write”. Is it “strong”, or is it the proverbial 98-pounds weakling at the beach?
Another comment from a different person went something like this (again, paraphrasing):
“The ideal candidate is well versed in the genre they want to write in.”
Yet another piece of advice:
“To be a good writer, one needs to read a lot. A LOT! One learns by reading authors who had their works published; all different types of fiction and non-fiction authors.”
. . . and then it snowballs . . .
. . . and it’s the 80s all over again; lock your wrist, cock your wrist, squat as if sitting on a barstool, imagine you are inside a barrel, keep the feet parallel, move the toe of your forward foot outward, and on it goes.
People handing out advice have all sorts of different ideas on how to approach characterization, dialogue, and sometimes even punctuation.
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What’s the point of this post?
Well, Bob, let me tell you . . .
I have no clue where I am as a writer, and I might or might not be accepted to a writing workshop in October. If I am accepted, there is a good chance I’ll be asked to assess myself as a writer.
I hope I’ll not repeat the mistake I made in the 70s as a newly-minted engineer at Cadillac Motors.
It’s evaluation time and rather than being told how I’m doing, I am asked to evaluate myself. The mistake I made? I was young, so I ask for forgiveness; I made up stuff I thought they wanted to hear. I wrote generic “flaws” I did not think I had, and those same flaws were regurgitated back at me. Not even paraphrased; word for word.
“Greatest thing since sliced bread!” is what I should have written, and let them tell me otherwise.
I say it was a mistake, but it wasn’t. Like many others, but diminishing in numbers, I’m reluctant to sing my praises. I may kid about how talented I am, but I hope it’s obvious that I am, in fact, kidding.
I only know one thing about my writing . . . I like what I write. I enjoy reading what I write. I enjoy writing it. That does not mean I am a great writer. It just means I like what I write; there would be no point in writing, otherwise.
Ultimately, I think readers should be the ones giving feedback. They, not the experts, are the only ones who matter. I have read neither, but the consensus in many circles is that 50 Shades of Gray and the Twilight series are crap. In my limited exposure to both, I tend to agree.
Of course, the authors of those works are rolling in the dough. They have many and loyal fans who chomp at the bit for the chance to plunk down their hard-earned money for those books.
But, the readers of 50SoG and Twilight are not likely to be my readers. Not now, nor ever.
So, who are my readers? Well, I’m one of them.
Starting with the next post, I aim to explore the aspects of this writing thing . . . as a reader.
Please understand this: I am not qualified to give advice. This will just be me preparing myself for the inevitable question: where do you see yourself as a writer?
The snarky answer is “in front of my computer”, but as I mentioned, many writers take themselves much too seriously to recognize humor.
I aim to look at the mechanics of writing, the lingo of writers, the conventions of writing and see how they might apply to me. In the process, I hope to learn both about writing and myself as a writer.
If it’s of interest to anyone else, if it helps anyone, if it entertains, if it does anything beyond bore everyone to tears, know that it’s just dumb luck.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.