July 14, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #12 (The Last Post of This Series)

Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer does so. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, a magazine of new speculative fiction, though he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission. Below is the Final Post of the series. (My apologies that I cannot find a more recent picture of Bruce Bethke. The one to the left will just have to do…)

  1. Having had a professional awakening as the result of these steps, we will guard our new knowledge jealously. Why give the up-and-coming competition a break?
I know the humor in this because I know Bruce Bethke somewhat. His BEHAVIOR is the antithesis of this statement – witness both STUPEFYING STORIES MAGAZINE (http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/) and the new feature, STUPEFYING STORIES SHOWCASE (http://www.stupefyingstoriesshowcase.com/index.html).
As well, Bruce Bethke tries to impart his writing wisdom through the blog (as well as through this “12 Step Program” article) as he did here, in this short series of articles which he updated from a previous series of articles on how to escape the Slush Pile:  http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-slush-pile-survival-guide_23.html.
The sole purpose of his old blog, The Friday Challenge, (Originally posted Friday, May 25, 2012): “After what was then 25 years of being a successful, published, professional writer and two-term member of the SFWA Board of Directors, I was getting a constant stream of email from a tremendous number of people who couldn't seem to find the answer to one very simple question: How do I become a writer? Because they couldn't find this answer, these people collectively were wasting a lot of time, money, and energy on self-help books, seminars and workshops, and college-level creative writing programs, all in a desperate search for that tightly held secret...”
Before THAT was The Ranting Room, whose purpose was to create a forum for “Practical discussions of the craft, trade, and business of writing. No politics. No gossip. No cute cat stories.”
So of all the 12 Steps, this is perhaps where Bruce Bethke buries his tongue most deeply in his cheek.
Truth? It’s been my experience that those who are funniest are deflecting attention from themselves to what they are saying – and for the most part, what they are saying has to do with the people to whom they are speaking. The funniest writers I know avoid the word “I” unless it’s grammatically necessary. Even then, they speak not only of us and me, but the focus of their career is on others.
I’ve observed this in several writers: David LaRochelle is one: I have worked with him both as a summer school teacher and as a presenter. His willingness to critique my daughter’s art and provide a recommendation for a scholarship had a profound impact on both her art and her college experience. Every interaction I’ve seen him involved with, his attention is focused on helping the individual.
Another one I’ve seen do this is Julie Czerneda: her blog is always positive, she regularly teaches workshops for writers and without my asking, she offered to read my novel when it was done.
Authors whose interest is in themselves, who regularly rebuff people who ask for help, and whose favorite word is “I”...well, the fact is that those authors are just as well known. They are the ones who appear to have taken Bruce Bethke’s 12 Steps to heart and are EXACTLY the kind of writer he represented in these steps.
My every effort should I ever become well-published and “famous”, will be to be like LaRochelle, Czerneda, and other speculative fiction writers whose efforts are clearly to “give the up-and-coming competition a break.”
And when I accept my first Nebula, I will make sure that the names Bruce Bethke, Julie Czerneda, David LaRochelle, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lynn Veihl, Nathan Bransford, Jack McDevitt, Mike Duran, and Lin Oliver are all a big part of that speech.
(I couldn’t find a more recent picture of Bruce Bethke, so this will have to do.)

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