In Writing and Publishing…
Kris and I were talking today on the way back from lunch about some of the writers who have just faded away. And the more we talked, the more we realized that we knew the answer on what happened to most of them. They all just stopped learning. They reached a level that they were happy with their writing and stopped learning for a dozen different reasons.
That is flat deadly in just a few years.
The reason I hear the most and understand the least is the fear that learning something will upset some perfect balance in their writing and they will never sell again. Wow, critical voice working overtime on that.
Or I’m not writing that topic at the moment, so I don’t want to learn anything more. Yikes again.
Kris gave me permission to talk about something here because, to be honest, it annoys her every time, but we both find it amazing.
Kris tells almost no one that she is taking some classes at the University every semester. And almost to the person, when she does tell someone, they ask “Why are you doing that? You are successful.”
(Check in with yourself. I bet that when you just heard that Kris is taking classes at a university, you thought the same thing.)
In my opinion, that question shows two things. First, a complete failure of our educational system in its messaging. To most people the only reason you would go to school is to get a job. Yikes. Second, a complete lack of understanding that learning is forever and comes from everywhere. Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you stop learning in any field.
Kris has been going to classes since we got to Vegas and she shares some of what she has learned with me (except in Spanish where I just stand slack-jawed as she goes on in a conversation with someone in Spanish.)
Well, in writing we have no degree of value you can go spend a hundred thousand at a university to get and tack on your wall. Nope, learning in professional fiction writing is self-directed and self-motivated and (like any art) comes with a demand for a lot of practice.
You get learning from reading and studying other author’s work, typing in their words until you figure out what they did that impressed you.
You get learning from books on a thousand topics, including sometimes even a how-to-write book. I get a ton of learning from history books on a bunch of topics.
You get learning from workshops (like ours or others) that are focused learning on a topic. I have taken a lot of workshops and lectures on business over the decades, actually. And back when bookstores were bookstores, I spent hours at times in front of the business books sections.
You get learning in the real world from trying things. I started my first business at the age of 23 with just under $200,000 in golf clubs and apparel because I was a head professional who had to have a pro shop. I had no choice. I started my first bookstore in 1977 while a third year in architecture and that store is still in existence to this day.
You get learning in writing from just writing millions of words, doing the best you can to tell the best story you know how at that moment in time. And then doing it again.
And you learn in publishing by publishing stories.
Learning is a passion to both Kris and I. When we are trying to put a workshop together, we struggle to get out an order of topics that would end up where we want the lesson to be, and both of us learn a ton doing that. That is why we still teach after all these years.
Learning is researching something new and then trying it.
Learning also comes through a lot of failure. Writers who are afraid to fail never get very far in either craft or business. Four years ago on January 1st I shut down or sold four different physical stores. Why? Because together, all four were horrid failures. I sold the bookstore and it is doing great on its own. I sold one of the three collectable stores and it is still doing great on its own. But together they were a huge failure costing WMG a lot of money and got rid of them and moved on.
So a warning sign for your writing and publishing. If you are just coasting, not focused on learning anything new to help your writing or your publishing, you have flashing lights trying to warn you away from the wreck in your future. Or more likely it won’t be a wreck. You will just wake up one day and years will have passed and you will wonder why you haven’t done much writing.
I still live by what I started out on January 1st, 1982 doing. I try to learning something about writing or publishing every day. One detail, one bit. And if I can’t spot what I learned for the day, I double down and focus harder the next day.
Today I learned not only more about why some writers have just faded away, but some details behind the motivation in the early years of John D. MacDonald to write, and why he wrote 800,000 words of short fiction in four months after coming back from the war and how he got over a thousand rejections in that time period and yet kept going. The book is called THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald by Hugh Merrill. I had read it before, but while looking for other books on our shelves today to help with a Pop-Up I am recording, I pulled that book and ended up reading it again. And learned more the second time, stuff that I would not have noticed when I read it the first time in 2000. I am a different writer now.
So keep learning any way you can. Amazing how it adds up, those one details, one skill at a time.
Especially over 40 years.