Can writing be taught?

The summer fiction issue of the New Yorker addresses the subject of writers workshops in an article by Louis Menand. The article covers the famous creative writing programs — Iowa, Brown, others — and asks the question, “Can writing be taught?”

I don’t know if writing can be taught. I do know it can be learned. Writing workshops are a way to focus a writer’s attention on the process, on their voice, and on the stories they want to tell. I’ve never been to Clarion, but I know people who have, and the question is not whether you learn to be a writer at Clarion (since you have to be accepted you are probably already going to be pretty proficient) but what you yourself bring to the process.

Several years ago when I first graduated from student to teacher at Armadillocon’s writers workshop, there was an attendee who wrote a story that was, simply put, a mess. The next year, he came back with the amazingly self-assured and publishable short story. It was hard to believe it was the same author, who basically spent the previous year working on the craft.

What had he learned at Armadillocon the first year that enabled him to write that next story so well? I don’t think you can attribute his success to the workshop. I think he was poised to learn how to write, and would have succeeded without the workshop. I’m glad he came back though, because it was very cool, to see that success. After that, I never discounted anyone. You never know who is going to learn how to write.

So if workshops don’t teach you how to write, what are they good for? Well, they can teach you how to learn. Also by critiquing other people’s stories, you can learn how to critique your own.  There’s a sense of camaraderie at workshops that I have always enjoyed, a sort of “we’re all in this together” feeling.

I think it can be summed up like this — a workshop gives you the tools and might even show you how to use them. It’s up to you to practice and become proficient. No one can teach you to write. You have to teach yourself.

Good luck, have fun, and happy writing!

Writing lessons — Money flows toward the writer

My work blog and my writing blog collided this week:

 Can print-on-demand save publishing?

POD, or print-on-demand, gets conflated with vanity presses all the time. I address that in the blog — if mainstream publishing adopts print-on-demand, they will have to first create a rebranding campaign to make sure that everyone knows that just because something is POD doesn’t mean that it is a vanity press. (Note: yeah, Tales from the Secret City was self-published. But we knew what we were doing, and it was more like recording an album and distributing it than thinking we were “published.”)

That segues into the mantra by which all aspiring writers must live. 

Money flows toward the writer.

Vanity presses extract money from the writer. Legitimate markets — book publishers, magazines, webzines — pay the writer for their work. Don’t be fooled. If someone asks you for money, whether that is a fee-charging agent or a market that will “publish” your work, run away.

Money flows toward the writer.

Keep saying it. Believe it. Money flows toward the writer.

The writing life — friends, family, margaritas in the shade

Visited friends in San Antonio, and as I predicted, there was beer. Also, margaritas. Ben Tom and A and I visited Johnny Love and Melissa and their four boys. We sat in the shade in the back yard and caught up on life, friends, work, family, everything that makes life worth living. And K called from college, so it was like everyone was there.

John and Ben have been friends since high school. We don’t see them often enough. We are going to change that, and not just because John makes a mean margarita. Good friends are hard to come by.

So they are raising four boys and doing a great job. John is as mellow as ever, Melissa as sharp and funny (her sex talk to her sons: “I’ve told them if they make a baby with some hootchie and I don’t get to see that baby, they are in for a world of hurt.”)

There’s also been some amazing weather in Texas — yesterday was a little too hot but today was cool and sunny. I got a lot of yardwork done so our backyard looks liveable. The herb garden is still alive, and let me tell you, I’ve got a black thumb that strikes fear in plants. So something is going right. I’m determined this year to practice benign neglect.

And the writing is flowing. I’ve decided to use the blog to keep a tally so I can focus on progress. So um, yeah, nothing so far this weekend, but I should get some done tonight.

It’s been a wonderful weekend. Talked with my mom, and her hip is no longer bothering her and so she is happier and healthier and no longer as stressed. Pain is mentally debilitating. Talked to my brother, and his book is getting well-publicized by his publisher (he writes books on music and creativity). Got plenty of vitamin D and sunshine.

Tried to track down the current issue of Black Gate since it has a review of Gordath Wood in it, but the Barnes & Noble didn’t have it. So I got the last Realms of Fantasy, the most recent F&SF, and a new book by the author of the Captain Alatriste books. Barnes & Noble is so dangerous.

Also, yes, the furniture came, so our living room is complete.