Below is a letter that I wrote about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is every November, during the last such occasion. Lost in the blitz of 50,000 words in one month (very doable!) was a point that bothered the hell out of me. When in doubt, seek out a wise woman . . . Sorry to trouble you with an email rather than post to the comments of your NaNoWriMo post but didn’t think that the comments I had fit the discussion. Fast background – I’m a new writer, in my 50’s, male, far less than a million words of crap written. I don’t have time for a million words of crap.
I put words to paper before I learned any craft-and that I’m learning from books, James Scott Bell and Dwight Swain and James Gardiner. Just reread/listened to Steven King’s On Writing. Despite the presence of two colleges and two universities, there do not appear to be craft classes in my region. The writers that I do meet (often during the day job) are engage in a fanatical pursuit of literary recognition.
I started writing fiction because I couldn’t go for a run without a scene building in my head that would bring tears to my eyes and my run to a halt. So I attempted to exorcise the beast by writing a prologue-and it made people cry. And the beast fed on it, so last year about this time, I sat down and started pouring it onto paper and, in June, had a novel. I fixed my more egregious errors and handed it to family and a pair of 13 year-old girls that I help coach during cross country season.
Family cheered, cried, and declared it good. In the family of one beta reader, it caused a fight. I’ve coached all four girls, and the youngest was the one that had the book. The others swiped it, read ahead, talked about plot and characters and funny bits; tears ensued and rules were set up so that Carmen could finish first.
All of which is great validation but scares the crap out of me.
I know my craft isn’t solid. I stand in amazement of truly gifted writers and respect both the genius and the dedication it takes. I’ve taken several of Dean’s classes, primarily those orientated towards the business side to be able to bring a product to market that exceeds standards. My goal, stated to my cover designer, is to put out a product that is as good, or better, than what the Big 5 consider acceptable.
One of my jokes is that I’m an ultrarunner because my primary skill is being too dumb to quit. It works for writing as well. The day job helps, too. I get called an idiot often enough that it no longer raises a hackle. In both, I know how to improve.
In writing, I’m trapped between worlds. The number of good classes out there seems to be in inverse proportion to the ever-expanding number of offerings. The higher status workshops will never take me – not only do I lack the requisite MFA, but I lack even the university pedigree. The workshops that promise skills often too often seem intent on teaching the skill of wisely selecting courses that will cost the least in lost lucre and time. They are, however, profitable to run as are ventures such as Author Solutions.
You and Dean have some courses that I’ll be taking as does David Farland. After that, it seems a bit thin. I generally rule out anything promoted or heavily influenced by agents.
In the meantime, I am running out of books that seem worthwhile. Some seem downright awful. Most by literary writers are neurotic as hell which gets a little tedious. The blogs are worse.
After that, where does someone stuck (willingly) in the middle of nowhere go for training. I don’t need a pat on the back – I have long arms, I can do that myself. I need someone honest enough to kick me in the teeth and point out what I must do better to be a successful writer.
I don’t count success as a best-seller or in money though I’ll take both if they come along. My books are landing in the valleys situated between the genres. Either they’ll become highly successful niche books or they’ll disappear soundlessly.
My ego is such that I expect the former. I know you caution – as does Dean – against expectations too high. But I’m defining success my way, and, if I land in that perfect space where people yearn for a literature about them, I’ll sell a book or two.
I want my readers to feel what I feel. I’m not asking for riches or recognition, I just want the girls (most will be girls, which is ironic to this middle-aged man) to lose themselves in a world that was created for them, that’s authentic to them, and be inspired.
And the early readers are saying that they are, even if they don’t know it. One of them, at the District meet referenced my main character, saying she was “going to pull a Callie.” More high praise. . . and I cringe
Because my craft isn’t good enough, not yet and these girls deserve better than I can give them now.
So where do you go to learn how to create a memory? Not plot. Not setting, not any of the parts of the story. How do you learn to create something that will give them a memory that they can use now and twenty years from now?
How do you touch them and show them their own beauty?