A Little Knowledge . . .

. . . is a dangerous thing. Or so the famous quote goes.  I’m not sure who said it.  I did try to research that, but my research patience today is a bit lacking.  It is interesting, though, that this concept keeps raising it’s head recently.

A few examples:

1 – In a recent discussion about a mutual acquaintance, a friend and I were talking about Bi Polar Disorder.  The mutual acquaintance has been clinically diagnosed as having the disorder, but chooses if – and when – to take any medication.  In the conversation with my friend, I made the comment that I think perhaps our mutual friend is on the wrong medication.  Much like with any medication, if it’s the right one, it will work well, and then the individual would be more apt to take the medication.

My friend responded with, “Well, I think Bi Polars in general resist being on meds because they like the high they get when they are manic.”

“Really?” I said. “And what do you base this on?”

“I took Psych 101 in college. I know how this works.”

I changed the subject.

I’m sure Dr. B will agree that there are more than a few people out there who, because they watched E.R. believed they knew all about doctors and hospitals.

2 – Over the weekend, I was chatting on line with a friend who was in my Masters program.  She has gone on to be an editor for a major publishing house back East.  I asked her about the market and if she was seeing any improvement.

“It’s good and bad,” she said to me.  “The good news is that people are coming back to book buying after two years of not buying them.”

“What’s the bad news,” I asked.

“Suddenly anyone who’s ever attended kindergarten thinks they can write kids books.  If you’ve even read Dr. Seuss, then obviously that qualifies you to write a picture book in rhyme.”

I know her pain.  I’ve had exactly the same experience in the classes I’ve taught.

“One lady wrote and illustrated her whole book by cutting words and pictures out of magazines and newspapers,” my friend said.

“Nice,” I replied.

“Another said guy said that he had attended two local writers conferences and he knew he was ready for success now.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I get those too sometimes.”

I don’t intend to make fun of these people.  I started out exactly the same way.  I knew a little bit about writing and publishing,  but not enough to realize that there was so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I didn’t know about targeting submissions.

I didn’t know about query letters and cover letters.

I didn’t know about market trends.

I didn’t know how to meet editors and agents.

I wouldn’t have known how to act if I had met one.

And those are just some of the business things – I haven’t even touched on the craft items.

One of the list serves that I participate in has a lot of very new writers.  On more than one occasion, when I and others have chimed in with comments, we are besieged with emails afterwords asking if we would ask our agents or our editors to look at manuscripts from these list participants. Back in the day, I may have thought to do something like this myself, but I was way too shy to have asked.  Now, I know better.

So what are the steps to learning all the things there are to know about this business.  Honestly – I don’t believe anyone can learn everything, but there are steps to improving your knowledge base.

1 – Attend conferences and workshops.  Often these are free or inexpensive if they are offered by the local arts council or at libraries.  In fact, these are often better than some of the major workshops because they are smaller and you can ask more questions.

2 – Read up on the industry. There are dozens of magazines, journals, email updates, etc. that you can subscribe to.  Some of them – like Publisher’s Weekly – are very expensive, so you may just want to check those out of the library.  Others are reasonable – $20 to $40 a year.  Look for the ones that are geared toward your area of interest.  Every genre has its own unique publications that you can pick up at book stores or order on line.

3 – Join professional organizations.  If you write for children, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a marvelous organization to belong to.  Membership is reasonable, and all of these organizations offer workshops, newsletters, and other services for their members. There are some , such as the Author’s Guild, which require a certain level of professional accomplishment before you can join, but others like SCBWI do not require that.

4 – Join a critique group.  Your work is meant to be read by others, so you need to let others read it.  A critique group is the best way to get a good set of eyes (or several sets) to look over your work.  Good critiquers will tell you not only about the grammatical errors that may be present, but also the plot holes, character issues, and other structural issues that may be present.  To find a critique group, check local libraries and book stores.  You can also check your local arts council for possible groups in your area.

5 – Practice.  If you want to be a writer – write.  I’m not a big believer in the “write every day” philosphy, but obviously, the more often, the better.

6 – Read.  Read books on writing and use them.  Read books in the genres you are writing.  Read classic books.  Read books that you don’t think you’ll like.  The more you read, the more comfortable with words you’ll become.

7 – Be patient.  Many writers take years to get to a point of “success.” The “First Book I Ever Wrote Got Published” phenomenon is just that – a phenomenon.  It’s not common, it won’t happen to everyone, and those writers have been writing for a long time.  There is almost no such thing as an overnight success. Keep working, keep learning, and in time, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

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One thought on “A Little Knowledge . . .

  1. It’s like being a Doctor or a bluegrass picker. You want to be involved so bad you seek out the folks who are and hang on their every word or note they play.

    After about a decade of that one day folks start to ask you questions about the genre. I’ll say, “Gee man, I don’t know exactly, but four or five years ago I saw a case like that, or maybe “Yeah, lets see, I heard that tune at MerleFest last year. I goes like this….”

    I’ve been hanging out with writers, agents, and editors for about ten years. Just in the last year folks have started to write me for advice. I usually say, “Hm. I’m still a novice. Ms. Kim blogged on that a few months back. I believe I’d go read all that and lets get back together on it.”

    I think there is a pattern here. No matter how smart a human being is it takes a while to understand a new discipline, and no one is an expert overnight.

    Dr. B

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