Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trade School Paperback

I've been thinking a lot about the business of writing and what it means to be a writer. One of the things that I struggle with is the time it takes to learn to do this thing correctly. I have a degree in Creative Writing, but it took years and years of post-collegiate failure, trial and error, and stress to really learn how to write a book. And while I've sold six novels so far, I still feel like I have a long way to go.

The thing that I find frustrating is that there isn't a lot of guidance. I learn a lot by talking to fellow writers, comparing notes with my friends and generally by word of mouth. But mostly it's just random knowledge that I've managed to accrete over the last eleven years.

And that's a terrible way to learn your life's work. There's no reason it has to be this way. And I think I have a solution.

What this business needs is a trade school. A serious, two year program that teaches you how to plot, how to write characters, how to write dialogue, how to outline a novel. And more than that, it needs to teach you how to write a cover letter, how to write a pitch letter, a synopsis, a blurb... There would need to be a separate course on agents, editors and publishers, and one on marketing and the pure business side of writing.

There are courses in place, scattered across the country and with different philosophies and focuses (foci?), that teach most of these things. But none of it is unified. Plus most of it requires a random time commitment (six weeks this summer, a week next year, three weeks a month from now) all in far flung places that necessitate a disruption of your normal life. It's a luxury to be able to attend these things, a luxury that is generally unavailable if you're making the pauper's wages most writers are making (more on that later). So it's practically impossible to attend all of them, so most people pick and choose and end up with an incomplete education. If you learn some small bit of the business here, and some other bit of it over there, and the rest you're just trying to make up as you go along, you're not going to be much of a writer. Or, at least, you're not going to be as much of a writer as you could be.

There is one problem. The money for this doesn't exist. Most trade schools prosper because they're teaching a task that, once you graduate, you will be able to make a living performing. And that's not the case with writing. With only a few exceptions, most of us are making bad money, and we're doing it without insurance and with the (literal financial) support of our family. We're hobbyists.

I have thoughts about that, too, but I'll go into them later. For now, simply understand that we've wasted too much time treating writing like it's a sacred task, and it's not. It's a business of art, and there are things you can learn that will make you a better writer. Things I wish I'd learned at the start, rather than fumbling my way into discovering.

And I think that if we build a cadre of writers who can efficiently produce books that *readers* want to read, we might be able to take care of that hobbyist problem, too.