I read an interesting post at Genreality called Great Expectations:
This weekend I’m meeting with an acquaintance who intends to write a book, and who is looking for insight, information, and advice on how to go about this. I’ve had a couple dozen meetings like this since I turned pro, and each time I do I try to think positive: this time the writer will listen to me and what I have to say. This time I won’t be giving advice to a brick wall.
I also know that chances are very good that at some point during the evening, my companion is going to build that wall between us, and I’ll end up talking to the brick.
When I was in college I had this wonderful English professor, Peter Fritzell. I didn’t major in English, and I only took a handful of courses in that department—all taught by him. I took his class on writing non-fiction personal essays twice because it was so good. And both times, on the first day of class, you could tell who was going to make it, and who was going to fail (or whine their way through the semester).
Here’s how it would go. Fritzell, knowing full well what he was doing, would go around and ask people why they were there, and what they hoped to accomplish. I think it was his version of a weeding process. Inevitably, you’d get a handful who would say, more or less: “I think I’m a pretty good writer. I mean, I’m really good. Everyone says so. I want to be published. I want to make my living as a writer. I think this course will help me learn how to do that.”
Technically, nothing wrong with that. But those first essays would come back, marked blood-red, practically apocalyptic in appearance (none of us were spared), and those same girls and boys who thought they could write like Annie Dillard would scream the loudest—and then become so preoccupied with this injustice inflicted upon them (because how dare a professor not find them geniuses) that they would forget that they had come there to learn.
Actually, scratch that. I don’t think some of them came to learn. I think they took the class because they thought it would be an easy grade—and that they would get patted on the back a lot.
Fritzell was, and still is, one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had. His method of teaching was tough, but it had to be. He was breaking habits, forcing students to look at words in new ways, to perceive story on a deeper level. He taught the importance of elegance, and detail—and, yes, love for words. The latter he taught by example—because when he discussed the work of great writers, he glowed. I’m sure he still does.
People need to be confident and sure of themselves when they write. It takes a lot of confidence to believe that the words you string together are worth money—that the story you’re telling is something that others will want to read. You have to be really, really, secure in yourself. And driven.
But you never turn a deaf ear when you have the opportunity to be taught by someone who knows what they’re doing. Your ego, when it comes to writing, means nothing. The brilliance you perceive within yourself is, ultimately, a joke. You are one big red mark on a page, and don’t you forget it.
But that’s not discouragement. That’s an invitation to do better, to keep studying the craft, to be diligent and hardworking.
Nor am I saying that you should take crap, and allow folks to disparage or bring you down. Because some will do that, happily. You, however, are responsible for sifting through the good and bad. As Lynn says, don’t be a brick wall. Be…lava. Flexible, fluid—and hot as hell.
No one, in this business, ever stops learning. Even when we feel that we’re at top of our game, there is always something that can be done better—or someone else who is doing it better.
Be humble enough to step back, and confident enough to keep pushing forward. Believe in the dream, but not delusions.
Also, a new interview with me on the front page of Romance Novel TV, talking about Darkness Calls. This was filmed at the Jacob Javits center during Book Expo America.