To Encourage or Not to Encourage: There's the Rub

I do a workshop for writers, and I'm afraid I'm too damned honest. People come hoping to be told that their writing sizzles, that their idea is just what a certain publisher (whose ear I happen to have, of course) is looking for, and that I'll be glad to set down what I'm working on right now to polish it up for them, just because it's so gosh-darned good.

I might book far more workshops if I played along. It's obvious that there are lots of people doing it. Just look at the "We Can Publish Your Book" sites that pop up on the Net. As a former English teacher and published author, I could do a nice business wood-shopping manuscripts, and probably make a lot more money that way, like the folks who sold food to the miners during the Gold Rush instead of prospecting themselves.

Can't do it for three reasons. First, I love writing MY stuff too much. I don't mind exchanging an occasional MS with a fellow writer, but my own ideas bubble out of my head too fast to write them down as it is. Second, I'm unable to keep from being honest. If you're a bad writer and I take it upon myself to critique your work, I have to tell the truth, which isn't whatmost writers want to hear. Third and finally, I don't feel qualified to judge if something's publishable or not. Yes, I have my (strong) opinions, but obviously I'm not in the mainstream or lots of books would never come close to publication. (I won't mention names, but certain sappy bestsellers come to mind. Shouldn't judge them since I've never opened their covers, but there you are.)

So my workshop focuses on improving whatever writing skills a person has, learning to edit effectively, and understanding the basics of publishing. I don't judge anyone's work; I just try to help each person see his own writing as clearly as possible. And while I encourage everyone to take a stab at getting published, I never intimate that it's easy or even possible. I just concentrate on the best word for writers: PERSIST.

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Comment by Eric Christopherson on July 31, 2009 at 6:56am
I think I would be honest almost to the extent of killing hope. You never want to do that. There's a Lawrence Block book on fiction writing I own, and in it he describes how a friend took up fiction writing, and Block debated with himself whether to tell the guy he was awful, that there was no hope for him. He found he couldn't do it, and felt guilty as the guy persisted for years, getting incrementally better, quitting a good job and taking up bartending to have more time to write, losing his wife in the process. Then one day the guy sold a book for mid six figures (back when that was real money) ...
Comment by Peg Herring on July 31, 2009 at 5:56am
Right. I have enough trouble getting my own stuff out there!
Comment by Dana King on July 30, 2009 at 11:28pm
That's all you can do. Beyond the elements that can make a book unpublishable--grammar, typing errors, really, really horrible writing--there's no telling what might be publishable, or not. Your job is to make them better writers, or, even better, to teach them how to learn to become a better writer on their own. You have to be honest, but your job is not to get them published; it's to help them to get better. The published part is out of your hands. Theirs, too, when you get right down to it.

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