developed and taught my first
writing-related course, "Writing and Selling Freelance Articles," in
1995. Finding competent people to quote, researching assigned topic(s),
writing a compelling lead, and drafting query and cover letters were
but a few of the lessons I taught, using tactics I'd learned the hard
way, by writing more than 2,500 articles. As the years passed and I
entered the fiction arena, I added "Build a Better Novel," "How to
Write a Romance," and a couple dozen other topics to the teaching
repertoire that took me to writers' conferences, workshops, and
seminars in the U.S. and abroad.
Anyone who has ever shared the
writing lough-down (sorry; couldn't resist ) with others can
tell you that teaching the craft, regardless of venue, is not
an easy feat. In addition to detailed handouts and step-by-step
blackboard examples, lectures, and interactive classroom activities
that underscore character development, dialog, point of view, plot
outlines, motivation, conflict/conflict resolution and more, we're
required to stay abreast of the latest industry trends and
current "what editors and agents want" info. Because while the "those
who can, do; those who can't, teach" adage may be true in other
industries, the exact opposite is true when it comes to writing. (How
can we teach what we don't know...and what's working for us, right now?)
classroom, attendees are like sponges, soaking up
every bit of data that will help them sell, or, if they've already put
a book or two on the shelves, help them sell again.
And I can't
think of a writing instructor who isn't thrilled to see the proverbial
light bulb shining above a student's head...proof that s/he gets
classroom is...well, it's like stepping into an alternate universe.
Now, what I'm about to say
doesn't apply to writers and would-be
authors who've asked my advice on things like "How do I find a
reputable agent?" to "Where do you get your ideas?" Rather, this
month's column is directed at those who ask me to look at their work
(cover or query letter, synopsis, 3-6 chapters, even entire
manuscripts), always with a "Don't go easy on me, just 'cause we're
I wasn't at the keyboard 60-80 hours a
week, hammering out 4-6 novels of my own every year, I'd say yes a
whole lot more often. (Lack of time is the only reason I gave up
teaching on a regular basis, after all.) But when I do
these days, I give it all I've got. I'm gentle but thorough,
ever-respectful of the fact that I'm scribbling on someone's 'baby,'
and mindful of the fact that all writers—new ones, in particular—are
fragile. I have no desire to bruise egos or hint that a writer doesn't
have what it takes to make it. Quite the contrary! When I sit down to
edit someone else's work, I have but one goal in mind: To provide
carefully thought-out advice that will help them come closer to making
their publication dreams come true.
imagine my surprise when,
after spending countless hours—days, in
a lot of cases!—asking pertinent questions and making carefully
thought-out suggestions, I get the cold shoulder. Snubbed and/or
whispered about at conferences. Or I never ever hear from them again.
And I know from talking with other published authors who teach and/or
mentor new and upcoming writers, I'm not alone.
Of the thousands (literally) of
writers I've taught/helped, only a
dozen or two have gotten their noses outta joint. Pretty good odds,
actually, but it makes me wonder...did they mean it when they said
"Please, Loree, tell me what's wrong with my story, so I can fix it and
thinking about asking a published pro to look at your manuscript?
Before you do, ask yourself two important questions:
Are you looking for the pat on
the head that goes hand in hand with "Good stuff, kiddo"...even if your
manuscript isn't? If the answer is yes, show the
manuscript to your mother instead of wasting a busy author's time and
But if what you really, really
want is honest advice, even if it stings a little, by all means, go
it! Because there are plenty of us out here, willing to spend some of
our hard-to-find free time, helping you polish your manuscript!
Just keep in mind, as you read
our comments, that opinions are a lot like armpits:
Everybody has a couple, and
sometimes, they stink.