Monday, August 24, 2009

Writers Curriculum

I've followed Jack Cavanaugh's new blog, WORD FORGE, since its advent a few weeks ago (link on the sidebar). The posts are informative and thoughtful, and his writing proves he has the ability and right to teach the craft to others. However, I wasn't thrilled about today's post, but only because Mr. Cavanaugh told the truth. You may want to read it before continuing.

There are several things I wish I'd known before jumping into the pursuit of publishing. It's not to say I wouldn't have reached for that star anyway, but I (hope) I would have been just a might bit more careful in doing so to avoid getting scorched. The focus of Mr. Cavanaugh's post is one of those important revelations. That publishing is one-part book and three-parts sales it is another.

Wouldn't it be great if a curriculum existed to guide new writers? The objective would be clear: To keep new authors from making huge mistakes before they land a contract AND ensure they know this boat may not land soon. Below that on the syllabus, in four levels, one would find additional objectives. Tasks should be completed before moving to the next level, and all should be completed before the big pitch. I.E. (these are off the top of my head, so don't shoot me):

First Level:

  • The secret Jack Cavanaugh wrote about
  • Basic story structure--Yes, there is one
  • Basic writing/publishing definitions
  • Common errors for new writers ("speaker tags," she said adroitly; head hopping)
  • Books to read before moving to the Second Level
  • Why hoping an agent will love your story so much, they'll ignore the writing is a bad idea
  • Why You Should Watch What You Say on Loops and Comments!
Second Level:

  • Joining a writers group/organization
  • Don't break the rules--For Now
  • Learning to recognize telling
  • Genre definitions
  • Category vs Title
  • Writing query letters
  • Why you can't send unsolicited queries
  • Why a writers' conference
  • Pitching at conferences and what to avoid
Third Level

  • Deeper POV
  • You're still telling!
  • Defining audience
  • Researching your target market
  • Researching your target publisher publisher
  • Why you should have know the previous before starting your novel
  • How to pitch
  • Query letters--What you thought you knew
Fourth Level

  • Polishing the manuscript
  • One Sheets
  • Networking
  • The Big Pitch
Yes, I know. All that information is out there, and Mr. Cavanaugh seems determined to teach it to others, as do the good folks at Novel Journey and Seekerville. But having it compiled in one easy-to-read list would be helpful. Each section could include an End-of-Level questionnaire to help the writer determine if they're ready to advance. I.E.:

  • Are you concerned about obtaining a copyright? Return to the First Level Start
  • Are you stressing over your title? Return to First Level Start
  • Underline the telling in this passage: Adolf heard the soldiers running down the corridor. He tested the window. It wouldn't open. Then he remembered the trap door. Can't? Return to Second Level Start
I'm sure it's out there somewhere. But I'm also certain that, in the dream-filled rush to be published (after all, I HAVE A GREAT STORY IDEA!) new authors will ignore it, and continue to send unsolicited queries or toss pitches to the wrong agent and editor at conferences.

But then again, learning these aspects may very well be an integral part of a writer's journey. As I once heard a young, legally blind man say, "There is no strength where there is no struggle."

And our stories thrive on struggles.


Sarah Salter said...

The day I started my novel, I made peace with the knowledge that writing a novel isn't an overnight proposition. Neither is publishing one. I'm grateful that God gives us the opportunity to learn from each other and to stand on the shoulders of the ones that came before us.

Kimberli said...

I don't think anyone goes into the writing business assuming success will happen overnight, but many authors don't know enough to conceive the learning curve that's about to come. And sometimes that learning is like trying to wade through a tidal creek at high tide. Too many people get tired of fighting the current and eventually, give up. Knowing these elements-especially that the journey may take ten years or more-would help authors decide if they're up for the challenge.

Sarah Salter said...

I laugh when I hear people (like my brother) say, "I've got my novel written--in my head." Okay, that just means you haven't got a novel written. A writer WRITES and WRITE is an active verb. It means I have to put my brain AND my hands into it.

For me, I embrace the research and the writing. But the more I hear about the "business" aspect of writing, the more I shrink from it. However, I believe that God will prepare me for the business aspect of writing when it comes time for me to face that.

Kimberli said...

You nailed it: A lot of people shrink from the business end. We had no idea the ultimate role it would play in our writing careers. That's why I wish I had known all of the above when I started writing.

Tina M. Russo said...

Yeah, I wish it was all in one handy dandy package. The trouble is you don't know what you don't know until you are looking back and it's too late and suddenly you realize you wish you'd known

What a business this is.

But here's the thing..time passes whether you sell or not.

Once I thought maybe I wanted to sew a quilt more than write a novel or a short story or an essay. Three days later I realized I was wrong.

I may never sell that novel, EVER. But I'm still a writer.


Kimberli said...

Two weeks after having the desire to write knocked out of me, the joy is returning. I'm not jumping back in the race for publishing--I'm certain the Lord has other plans--but I am writing.

And for that, I'm grateful.