April 27, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #12 – The End

 In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, http://www.czerneda.com/classroom/classroom.html she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

“...instructions for activities...the perfect way to practice talking about writing...Email, text, posts, chat are writing about writing. Talking to someone is another beast altogether...if you have a chance to do them with...writers...give them a try. Email me if you have any questions.”

For most of us, even for Julie Czerneda, writing is a lonely business. There are few (if any) people we can talk with about writing. Also, we get better at our own writing, we connect with writers who less willing to work with rank amateurs, not out of any sense of meanness, but because they are working hard at their own writing.

Our writing is better, we’ve garnered publications and we can’t learn anything more (yeah, I know, “Pride goes before the fall.” (BTW – “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling,” is Proverb 16:18)) from people who are less experienced than we are. Even so, we seek out those who have major publications and either ask or pay for the opportunity of working with them.

I have never been to a real writer’s workshop. I have been running them for almost ten years. How can I get away with that? I’ve READ about the workshops – the premier workshop in the world of fantasy and science fiction is the Clarion Writer’s Workshop (http://clarion.ucsd.edu/) [$4957 includes tuition, room and board for six weeks in California]. In addition there are, Uncle Orson’s Writing Class and Literary Boot Camp (http://www.hatrack.com/misc/bootcamp2014/) [$725 + hotel room and meals for one week in South Carolina];  Alpha Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Workshop for Young Writers (http://alpha.spellcaster.org/) [$1100 includes tuition, room and board for 10 days in Pittsburgh]; Odyssey Writing Workshop (http://www.sff.net/odyssey/workshop.html) [$3377 (shared room) or $4177 (private room) in New Hampshire]…there are others too numerous to list here that feature lectures, group critiques, etc. for shrinking costs based on the reputation of the leader and guests. My own Serious Writers Workshop costs $200 for one week, 8 am – 4 pm and you have to get there yourself and bring your own lunch or, put it in the same frame as above: Serious Writers Workshop (http://www.district287.org/clientuploads/WSSS/WSSS36_2014/Master_WSSS_2014_JBGFINAL_4_7_14.pdf)[$200 tuition for one week in Minnesota]. You can see my own list of publications to the right.

The exercise above was to demonstrate that if/when you want professional guidance, you will have to pay for it. In lieu of paying, you have to reach a high enough level of proficiency on your own that your work is good enough to garner editorial commentary when they reject your work. This is called “asking for a rewrite”. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does then you are getting professional editing advice for “free”. Take it and run with it!

Last of all, you can talk about writing all you want, but if your goal is to be published, then you have to do more than talk. In fact, a rule I “lived by” for a long time says, “Never talk about your story before you write it.”

Other people write by variations on that theme. John Barnes, a favorite SF writing of mine says, “My friends talk me out of bad ideas all the time; they would also talk me out of good ideas. So I only talk about bad ideas that seem compelling to me.”

“Picture Book author Rebecca Johnson - I saw her at a convention - recommends telling the whole plot to people out loud before writing. She says it makes them more honest (because they know you haven't just spent 300 hours making every word perfect), which is what you want. Especially at the point BEFORE you dive in, when YOU are more honest with yourself about major plot holes. But I wouldn't recommend it for your first book.” – Louise Curtis

Ah – so I should mention another way to learn how to write better is to join a GOOD writer’s blog. Nathan Bransford runs a great one here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/03/how-much-do-you-share-about-your-idea.html

Lynn Veihl runs a good one, too: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch does lots of writing and talking about writing on her site: http://kriswrites.com/.

Again, the upshot of all of this is that if you want to get to be a better writer, you have to write. If you’re writing, you can pay large amounts of cash to work with famous writers and editors; you can pay smaller amounts of money to work with less famous writers. If you’re writing, you can submit your work and if it’s good enough, you’ll get feedback from the people who will pay YOU money to publish your work.

I followed the last route and so here I am.

This is the last time that I’m going to use writing advice from others. From now on, I’ll be offering up what I’ve learned since I started writing in 1970 – when I was thirteen. My twitter feeds will change accordingly (though I’ve been interjecting my own writing advice for some time.)

So – if you’ve been following me because I’ve been offering up the advice of famous writers,
then you can stop now. Here on out, I’ll only have myself to blame!
Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-b1aDCeTMCyA/T8vpYrnbLyI/

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