30 January 2014
When I posted this about self-publishing the other day, a friend messaged me and said, “I know you worked quite hard on it, but I really envy your writing ability.”
Even my close friends–hell, even my husband–don’t realize how hard I worked on it.
Let me put it this way: writing is a learnable skill.
My SATs weren’t stellar on the writing side. I got in the high-80s, percentile-wise. I’ve forgotten my exact scores. I had a decent but not outstanding vocabulary—the one thing I studied the hardest for SAT prep.
I don’t even remember how many times I took freshman comp. Without finding my transcripts, I want to say five times, and at least one of those times I probably got an F. Not because I sucked that badly, but because I “failed to drop.” I was working two jobs and I tended to get busy and miss things. For part of that time, I was too busy making sure power plants weren’t polluting and writing software to control them.
Because I started working as a developer while I was in high school, I didn’t go to college on the usual plan. I’d take a class here or there and wasn’t particularly worried about graduating or finishing.
Finally, I got a great freshman comp teacher. He’d sit outside by the lunch truck with me at a table and we’d jointly copyedit my work. Something finally clicked. I wound up with my second published piece then. I went on to quite a few publications over the next handful of years.
When it came time to gather up my paperwork for community college graduation many years later, I was closest in French, Economics, and Film. But, because any English degree, including Creative Writing, required far more literature classes than I’d taken, I wasn’t close to a degree in English.
No one was more surprised than I was when I finally went into an upper division program and I was closest to a degree in fiction writing. No one. But, over a period of years, I’d taken various writing classes and fiction writing classes, and poetry classes, and more fiction classes–and it added up.
I applied to Clarion, but didn’t get in, though I did get into Odyssey, so I did that.
Then I got my M.S. in Computer Science, then I wanted an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I wound up at Seton Hill in an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction program, so I wound up with two master’s degrees. I call them “left brain” and “right brain.”
In the middle of my M.A., I got into Clarion and did that. Stupidest. Juxtaposition. Ever.
Since Clarion, I’ve done Viable Paradise twice and Milford once. I haven’t even mentioned all the conferences, volunteering for conferences, workshopping, etc. that I’ve done. Let’s just not. Now, I’m not saying that you should do this. At all. It was what I needed to develop the skill I have.
What I can say is this: If I can do it from where I was, you can do it—but only if you really, really want to.
I really believe that what you put out there should be your best effort. It doesn’t have to be a serious work, but it should involve a serious concern for craft.
So when Wendig gets reactions like the one he posted in this followup thread,, I sigh right there along with him.
“Creativity” without control is the difference between a tornado and a jet engine.
Good writing requires control. Mediocrity does not. But then, neither does a tornado.
Me? I’ll go for the jet engines. So far, they’ve gotten me there. Every. Time.
Now, what you write is what you write, whether it be high-falutin’ or not. There were aspects of The Hangover that were way, way smarter than that movie needed to be. Same with Sharknado. Because there was that extra layer to both films, they delivered more than they promised, and I enjoyed them. More than once.
And that’s all Wendig’s asking. Don’t be almost adequate for the genre you’re writing in. Go that extra bit.
Instead? Go for memorable.