Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Three jarring moments

Since I'm not a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I don't read the novels of U.S. author, Holly Lisle, but I like her blog, admire her courses and her advice to writers, and enjoy the writing tips that she sends me (and hundreds of other people who have signed up for them). Sometimes Lisle shares questions or comments that she has received if they illustrate a shared concern among writers. Occasionally she shares rude feedback if it pertains to the craft of writing. Usually the comments from such critics say more about them than about Lisle's work or ideas.

Lisle's encounters with difficult people and false ideas about writing  and make me feel in good company, as I muse about three jarring writing-related experiences of the past couple of weeks.

At a lecture by a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature, I was shocked when she repeatedly referred to two well-known memoirs as "novels." The two books were The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein, and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.  Yes, both Stein and Hemingway wrote novels, and yes, a lot of genre-blurring is going on these days, but in these two particular books, the authors are writing about real people by their real names, sharing their memories of the past, and presenting their material as being true and factual.  The books are supposed to be non-fiction, not fiction. A specialist in English literature should be more careful when referring to genres.

Jarring Incident Number Two is really two incidents: two emails from strangers fishing for information about my business arrangements with my publisher. I like to be approachable and helpful to aspiring writers, but even in this reveal-all age, where the concept of privacy is no longer understood, there are some things that are my business and my business only.  As well, I don't have the time to counsel people for free, either on the phone or by email, about the pros and cons of one publishing arrangement versus another. Be a grown-up. Do your own research and come to your own decisions.

The third jarring incident came out of my conversation with an aspiring writer of mature years who wrote as part of his career for many years and would like to try his hand at fiction. He has read widely in his favourite genre and has signed up for a local writing course.

"I've only attended two classes but already I've learned several things I'm doing wrong," he told me.

Hm.  I know the course instructor, and his remark doesn't surprise me.  How about all the things he is doing right?   Too much criticism at an early stage is destructive. A negative, adversarial approach is pedagogically unsound. Anyone who cares about writing enough to enrol in a course must have some talents and assets to bring to the craft, and it's the teacher's job to find them.

Well, enough thinking about the wonderful world of writing. It's time for me to do some.