Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Are You Serious?

"Well, I used to write in high school," the words came with a demure look. "I always liked expressing myself."

"I always wanted to write, so I thought...why not?"

"So much has gone on in my life that I thought: Hey, my life would make a great book."

Ah, the soft sounds of the would-be writers. Listen to them, the serious scribblings on notepads, the endearing frowns, the dedicated thrust out of lower lips. And is there anything more endearing than the offering of their work for your approval?

I have some advice for people who want to write. It's simple.

1) First if you're serious about writing, tell people you're serious. If you're not, then tell people that as well. It will save a lot of frustration between you and anyone who is reading your work. If you're not serious, then they can pat your forehead, give you some "feelgood" patter, and send you on your way to bother your next victim.

2) Before you offer your work up for examination, learn the fundamentals of grammar. I mean it. Take a grammar class. It will make a world of difference. There is nothing more embarassing for me than to read someone's work and make grammar edits every other line. What I really want to do is crunch their work into a ball.

3) Take a writing class or read some books about writing. If you take a writing class, check out the instructor first. There are some out there who are loving, nurturing people..and will applaud your every piece. Avoid these people. They serve little purpose other than encouraging mediocrity. A writing teacher, in my opinion, should cover the fundamentals: plot, character development, and theme. The teacher should also demand that students produce work. If a student isn't working up to expectations, then I hope that the student will be referred to a grammar class (see #2), or told to hit the road.

Unfortunately, many of the creative writing teachers I've known tend to coddle students and build a cult of personality about themselves. And of course, there is the other extreme, the teacher who is a writing elitist, making students suffer through the avante garde of fiction (you know, formless fiction...formless poetry--don't get me started). So what you want is someone between the two. Good luck.

It all comes down to this: Are you serious? If you're serious about writing, then you will strive to improve. You'll read, self-assess, join writers groups, take seminars and classes, attend work shops. If you're not serious. Go away. Or go blog.
You'll be a big hit on "Wordless Wednesdays".


Matt said...

The cult of personality. hmmm, reminds me of a few along the way.

Jon said...

Too true.

But the one thing a person who calls him/her self a writer must do is to write. Write the Great American Novel. Write a crappy family history. But write, and write all the time. Pages and pages of the stuff. With the kind of study Steward mentions one is (probably) bound to improve.

But I shouldn't talk. I've been going through a deep dry spell. The I remembered a piece from an old issue of Harper's in which the interviewee says that while writing is hard, not writing is even more difficult.

Most likely I've busted some kind of copyrite law, but I've cut and pasted the piece on my blog. You might find it useful.

SQT said...

*grumble grumble*

_trudges off to get old grammar book_

avery said...

Grammar. That's a big issue with some otherwise decent writers. I'm not saying I'm perfect (I've long forgotten what a gerund is and I still catch myself splitting infinitives like its my job), but I've read some work that would make any competent eighth grader's blood run cold. The basic words that are repeatedly interchanged with impunity:

1) You're and Your
2) Too and To
3) It's and Its
4) Affect and effect

If you don't know the correct place to use these words, please listen to Stewart and take a moment to read a grammar text or attend a class. Otherwise, your professional life will not be progressing any further.

Farther and Further -- another good example.

Susan Miller said...

Great advice, Stu. Thank you so much for helping us.

And, of course, Jon, also.

You guys are fantastic.

Stewart Sternberg said...

matt...I don't care what sort of cult it is as long as I'm the object of worship.

Jon, you've heard me rant about this over and over again. Thanks for hearing it again.

SQT, quit whining.

Avery, you'll be pleased to know that I mark a paper down a grade for any student using the wrong "To,too,or two", and "They're, their, there".

Stewart Sternberg said...

Susan Miller, you make me blush. Tell me more.

DesLily said...

I promise never to ask you to read anything I write!! ok?! (oh.. except for my blog now and then)

I've only written one thing anyway.. but someday I will find someone to suffer thru it and do that grammar check , cause even us non-writers want some things to be their best.

Mushy said...

Great words for your readers and things I should do myself.

Thanks for the kind words on my last post.


Travis said...

Hang on a minute while I go get some ice for that smackdown.

But you're right of course. I gotta stop making promises and excuses. Either I'm going to write or I'm not.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good advice. Now put that together with some mysterious sounding mumbo jumbo, charge money for it, and people will listen. Actually, of course, the people who should be writers will listen and learn. The rest of them we can do without.

SQT said...

I wasn't whining. I was grumbling. Just like you weren't shouting on your other post.....

Kate S said...

Ack! Let's not forget "then" and "than".

Now I'm off to hang my head in shame. I'm neither writing nor improving lately.

Christina said...

I had people tell me that my life would make a good book. I tried writing a few events down and realized, sometimes they are better just telling.

That picture you found is a little creepy.

avery said...

I am pleased, Stewart.

I still slip with 'can' and 'may.' I know the correct usage, but still find myself using them interchangeably in conversation.

After I tackle that issue, I'll be off on my grandest mission ever, to stop the locals from saying, "Where's he at?" I grit my teeth every time I hear it.

Jon said...

For me it's Lesser and Fewer.
Lesser weight, fewer pounds.

Lucas Pederson said...

I agree that if one wants to be a serious writer one must read a lot. I agree that they must not be coddled and sugar coated.

What I don't agree on is that if one wants to be a serious writer one must go to seminars, join writing groups, take creative writing classes. I'm not saying those things are bad, just that to be a serious writer you have to believe in yourself. IT was mentioned before, you must write, and write a lot for that matter. Writing groups and such are great, but honestly, aren't they a waste of time? Shouldn't you be writing instead of discussing what the importance of white meant in the book Moby Dick?

There are books out there that are more than enough for wanna-be serious writers. Plus, you have proofreaders you can learn from as you trudge ever onward to accomplish your goal.

K. I'm done. Just venting.

SQT said...


I tend to agree. I've had bad experiences in the past by sharing my writing with people who aren't writers and who don't really "get" what I'm trying to do. It's taken me a lot of years to want to write again so I don't really like to share my writing with that many people.

I've enjoyed the group we have online and it has helped encourage me to write more. But the anonymity helps too. I can take criticism better if it's impersonal; not about me, but about the story, context, grammar etc.

But I still find writing to be a solitary occupation and I prefer it that way most of the time.

William Jones said...

Here's a common list: Farther/Further, its/it's, someone/their (as in someone took their time... or an employee should have their handbook), and I'll stop there. :)

I'm sure we've all heard that the best teacher of writing is writing, but what might be left out is "also reading writing." I'm not sure there is a "finished" point in learning the craft. This means it becomes an never ending process of writing, reading, learning, improving. I believe it is possible to learn how to write in isolation, but that doesn't make it easy. Good writing is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.