Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing when you aren't a writer

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference and I'm going for the second time. Last year I was very nervous because I was pitching my first novel (totally unsuccessfully) and this year I'm not. I'm doing some other things, giving a workshop on Sunday afternoon, doing a booksigning on Friday morning, and I'm meeting with six would-be authors about their manuscripts.

For a fee, writers can send in 20 pages of their book and a synopsis and get an editor like me to read for them. Each year it has sounded like a good idea until I actually sit down to read them. This year, only one of them is quite terrific. It needs work but the reader is clever, articulate, thoughtful, and prepared. The other five are not. In several cases, I suspect the author had heard enough times "what a great story--you ought to write a book" that he and she decided to do so.

I hear this quite often. I'm-literate (can read and write) therefore I can write a book that surely somone will want to publish. On the one hand, this is an unfortunate syndrome as the products are typically marginal at best. On the other hand, the time put in has kept the person out of some other kind of trouble, including plain boredom. What they have not considered is the training that it takes to be a writer: the years of reading and writing and often classes that are required to learn the craft and distinguish oneself in it.

Do these manuscripts have potential? Yes, probably. Will their writers be willing to do what it takes to develop it? Maybe in two cases. The others I suspect will be disheartened, though that won't be my intention, or unbelieving, as surely their non-writer friends will have loved it. What else of course can you say to your spouse or friend or lover who has put in months and years on a project? How can you tell the truth?

Well, that falls to me this Sunday. Wish me patience and kindness in my voice.

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