OK, I'm trying to learn about writing.  I'm barely a writer, or not yet, or something.  And about anything I know about it, I learned from folks who have been writing and selling their stuff for a while now.

But what I'm wondering about is if all the "lesson" you see and info you get is worth a hoot.  I thought of asking about this because of a discussion here on "head-hopping".  Frankly I doubt there is such a thing, and whenever I ask somebody to define it, I don't get any answers.

But how about all the other stuff you get told?  I guess I'm not in a position to judge it all, but some of the stuff is pretty blatantly BS.   And a lot of it is people you saying you shouldn't do things that it's pretty obvious get done all the time by writers who obviously do know what they're doing, and getting lots of readers and sales.

Most of the time, I look up profiles or websites for "gurus" and it looks like the only books they ever sold were books on how to write or how to market books.  I might be wrong, but that doesn't seem to be a qualification, to me.   I see people who teach college courses saying things that just seem pretty crazy.  Like,  "The first sentence must convey an image that is central to the narrative arc of the entire book."   

So, what do you people think?  Peeps who are selling their work?  How much of this info is crap?

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John, I don't think the comparison applies.  Writers can be pros without a team behind them.  In fact, one wishes they didn't need a team.  Teams are for celebrity authors.  You don;t expect originality or invention from them. You don't even expect correct English.  Professional writers are supposed to bring those things to their craft.  And the word "craft" implies that they work on their own to master it.

That makes complete sense to me.  The more of it you can do, the better you're doing it.  It makes for a lot to learn,  But most things worth doing have a lot of stuff to learn.

I thought about your analogy some, John.  

Funny, I wrote something in my "memoir" blog about that recently.  How the further you move up the pyramid in sports, the more support and money and help you get.  Which kind of sucks, in a way.  it's like the opposite of school work, where the ones who aren't doing well get more attention.

But it's like it's pulled by the money.

But here's the thing.  It's not like somebody just decided to be a pro player in grade school.  (Well, maybe all the boys do, but they probably also decided to be cowboys and porn stars or something)  It's more like the top performers are always moving towards more attention and the next level, while those without the talent or desire fall off the bus.

As you move towards a scholarship, or being a starter, or getting drafted, you start engaging bigger systems.  And it's the systems that pay for it upfront.  You might change the way you swing, or even your position.  I pitched up into high school before moving to catcher--but almost every top jock pitches when they're a kid.  And I was being shown that catching would be a better way to get a full ride, take advantage of my particular skill sets.  And it worked.  And once in college, you get more stuff going on: trainers and all that.   I went off campus to contact people I thought could teach me more.  There is no pro softball, though.  So there's a whole layer that doesn't exist without pro or Olympics.

But anyway, it pays off.  If you have the horses.  I saw kids without ability, but who could spend money on special camps and videos and things, but that didn't move them to the top.  

But thing is, that stuff works.  It's real.    So much of this writing guru stuff looks like just nonsense.

And the other thing is, you pay for it yourself.  And have to do it yourself. There's nobody paying for a weight room for you, or a special clinic with a MLB stud telling you how to bat.

And the other thing is, you see kids getting bad advice that messes them up.  Maybe their little league coach telling them stuff that won't work for them because the aren't tall enough or quick enough to play shortstop or whatever.

I guess I'm rambling, but I thought that was an interesting comment.  I just wonder if it works here.  Do you have a Team McFetridge behind you?  :-)

You want some books by "gurus" who have actually sold books?  Try Lawrence Block - "Telling Lies for fun and profit."  Or Stephen King - "On Writing."  How about Anne Lamott - "Bird by Bird."  I have all three of these books on my shelf.  You want a writing workshop that teaches you how to write?  How about Bread Loaf?  Now is the time to apply.  Or Crime Bake?  Or join your local Sisters In Crime or MWA chapter and attend sessions close to home. 

The college course teaching writing might not be the kind of writing you want to be doing.  The sentence you quoted would apply to literary fiction, but not so much to crime fiction, although there is nothing wrong with applying it to crime fiction.  Not crazy.

I have a REALLY hard time seeing that apply to any type of writing actually.  And after I saw it I paid a lot of attention to first lines and it's just not true.  It's pretty nuts.

I have no way to evaluate whether going to this Bread Loaf thing "teaches you how to write", and won't find out.  But I really, really, really doubt it.  If it were that easy...

I think it was Elmore Leonard who made the million word comment. He also noted you could--and should, if possible--publish before that, but that it took about a million words to get your own voice. I think it was John McFetridge who told me, after speaking with Leonard.

He's also a good example of how to switch POV during  scene. The climax of THE HOT KID moves between several characters, using line spaces to give the reader a heads up on the changing perspective. He also overlaps them a little to give you an idea of how decisions are being made simultaneously. (Example, Character B's POV description may pick up the story thirty seconds before Character A's left off.)

A wonderful depiction of how Leonard does is, as brought out in a movie, takes place near the end of Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN, based on Leonard's RUM PUNCH. The scene in the department store, viewed from multiple POVs, describes what I just tried to say better than I can. It's a movie worth watching all around, so have a ball.

Mark scenes with **********?   Do people do that?

I think when you say "we call it"  you mean "I call it".  I think I've established that, actually.  

I understand your theory about scenes.  Explaining again doesn't really prove it or anything.  I just don't agree with it, and I'm not the only one.

That's part of what prompted this question, I guess.  I see people saying things that seem to make some sense, then I see people claiming you have to do things a certain way when I know for a fact that there are some who do it different and succeed.  

Then next thing I know, I'm off into something that just seems totally alien to anything I've ever seen in a book.

Ah well...

See? Leonard did say it. He just didn't say it first.  :)

Elmore Leonard said you need to write a million words before you can find your own voice. But he told me you could start selling books before you got to that point...

I thought it was funny that the opening scene of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is a conversation between Eddie and a young criminal named Jackie Brown...

Oh, all from Eddie's pov, by the way... ;)


My best advice is not to read books by other writers, because they are writers, not necessarily analytical regarding the craft of writing. Though I am still struggling and far from financially successful, what helped me the most was software incorporating the knowledge and philosophy of one of the most successful editor/publishers in the last 50 years.  His name is Sol Stein and his software is available at the following web site: http://www.writepro.com/ .  Check it out and make your own judgement.



Well, that's interesting, William.

I have a bias against things like that because I saw so much of it in the screenplay world.  Hard sell books and programs and seminars.

But one thing that's encouraging, it looks like this Sol Stein was actually a successful writer and what not.  Most of the film writing gurus never really sold anything except books on how to write scripts.  Robert McKee's "Story" for example.  You look him up on imdb and wonder why people take him seriously.  

This is the third time this week I've heard this man's name.


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