Stop Paying For Advice!

I don’t mean mine. However, I’ve noticed – and commented on – the fact that most writing workshops and writing courses I’ve encountered seem to focus on “literature” (say that with a thick British accent, a monocle, and a cup of Earl Grey). They do things like kick and scream about clichés (see my post about that) and think that “genre fiction” is the lowest common denominator.

Also, a lot of these so-called workshops charge you out the backside for virtually no benefit! It’s abysmal and these people are doing this because they’re making money off the poor bastards whose hopes and dreams are to become published writers. Personally, I think that practice is right up there with Publish America. There, I’ve said it.

In my opinion, the only advice that you, as a writer, should pay for is the service of a professional editor (particularly if you’re self-publishing) or a professional consultant (there are individuals that can give information on the internals of the police force, for example). But that’s it. “Writing Workshops” that charge through the nose are usually given by no-name authors and put on by “writer’s organizations” that are nothing more than money-making schemes run by people who either haven’t been published or who have been published by a small press and consider themselves literary elites. Or they’re academic writers, but that, my friends, is an entirely different ball game.

Most of what you need to learn as a writer is available for the cost of a paperback – or even as an e-book. There is an entire library of books out there on writing by famous writers and they all say about the same things if you read enough of them (I have said library and have read them all more than once). You don’t need to go to expensive writing workshops to be able to write – you need innate talent (harsh, I know, but not everyone is cut out to put pencil to paper), you need to read all the time, and you need to be able to come up with stories. If you have those key ingredients and you hone them by writing and reading about writing then why would you need to go listen to some no-name writer or academic who hasn’t actually been in the “real world” publishing scene (the majority of the time)?

That isn’t to say that all writing workshops are worthless – if Terry Brooks or Anne McCaffrey hosted one I’d be there in a heartbeat, let me tell you. That would be worth paying the money for. However, most of the time? I wouldn’t pay for it because I can get the same knowledge by reading.

Regarding the professional editors and consultants, I say they’re important because an editor is inimical to getting your work polished. Someone who knows grammar and style better than you do (let’s face it, none of us are perfect) is important. Even the best writers need editors because often we are too close to our work to do it ourselves. If you’re looking to get your work placed with a large company, editing is extremely important. You just need to make sure that the editor you’re working with is going to do the job right.

The same goes with consultants. If you’re writing a CIA book and don’t know the first thing about how the CIA operates, it can help to find a literary consultant that has experience or knowledge about this kind of thing. That way you know what you’re writing is correct (or at least if anyone asks you can tell them it’s what your consultant told you). This kind of thing isn’t necessary if you can do the research on the subject yourself or if you’re lucky enough to find someone that is willing to talk to you for free about what you’re writing about but they can be useful if it’s a topic that’s hard to get information on.

So, in short? Stop giving people money unless you’re getting something tangible in return. Trust me, you’re better off just reading about it and talking to other writers (writing.com’s forums are free of charge and they’re a great community). There are also writer’s groups and organizations that are free and meet at local bookstores or coffeehouses to talk about writing and bounce ideas off each other. Those aren’t a bad idea either and can be a great way to connect with other people that share our particular brand of psychosis.

By the way – reading this blog will cost you $3.50. I take checks, paypal, and cash! (I’m kidding, don’t send me money unless you really want to…)

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7 thoughts on “Stop Paying For Advice!

  1. Joe Mazzola says:

    I actually find that most college courses are the same way, generally all about literary fiction and very rarely by someone who has had books published. I mean, once one of my professors had a husband who had published a mystery thriller, and the jealousy was a little fun to watch, but aside from that the classes had little to do with the actual process of writing a book and getting it published and sold.

    And I did notice that most writing guides tend to say, more or less, the same sorts of things. I wonder if famous writers ever wring their hands for something new to say in guides and when fans ask them, since it really does always boil down to “keep reading, keep writing, don’t give up after rejections?”

    • E. Harvey says:

      Absolutely, Joe. The courses I took (and will be taking in my goal to further my education) claimed to be about preparing you for publishing but, to be honest, I walked away from them with very little under my belt. That said, there were some teachers whose advice was profound and useful but generally speaking I learned that cliches were the devil and that what I write is a piss-poor excuse for literature.

      Personally, if that’s how it is I’ll be happy in the chamber pot with Anne McCaffrey and Neil Gaiman.

      • Joe Mazzola says:

        I agree.

        And as for professors who do know what they are talking about, they also have to figure out how to balance the varied level of skill among the students, the lack of money they get and lack of time in a semester along with everything they want to teach. Sad state of affairs.

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