Getting Support Before You Write the First Word
By Bart Stewart
Many writers buy into the myth of the literary hermit, the idea that writing is a solitary craft suitable for lone rangers only. It was probably never true, and certainly it is not now.
Most of us understand that once you achieve that manuscript of wonder and glory you will need to have an independent editor go over it. No matter what your English Composition grades looked like, a fresh pair of eyes and a different viewpoint is crucial. No-one can do without it. We also know that when a book is finally declared finished, one must choose a service to help promote and market it. But beyond that, it is best to have a creative support, before you write word number one of your book.
We always have friends and relatives reading our work, and that’s fine for gauging what a general reader enjoys. But you can’t depend entirely on these folks, because they are unavoidably biased, and will always hold back tough criticism. Sad to say, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. This means a choice between joining a free writer’s group or something closer to a proper school. The latter can be pricey, but chances are you will get what you pay for.
A free writers group can be helpful, or at least better than nothing. It is interesting, though, how many stand-up comedy routines exist about them! You must go in with no assurance at all that the other participants are going to be any better than you are at writing, or even sane, or that there will be any compatibility in terms of the kind of writing to be discussed. A writer who wants to do gritty, realistic, literary fiction will only gain just so much from one who wants to do sword-and-sorcery. (Not to say there could not be some benefit, or at least a friendship.) Even if you join a genre-specific group it can be a sub-optimal experience.
College/university classes, including credit
At the other end of the spectrum, colleges and universities offer Master of Fine Arts programs (MFA), and while there is no substitute for these in terms of quality, they are naturally expensive and time-consuming. A happy medium for the dedicated author might be a quality writers’ center. This is best thought of as a school, but there are no degrees and the cost is a fraction of the university. What you are looking for in a writers’ center is a track record, in terms of the instructors, if not the center itself.
Two that I can vouch for are located in Massachusetts:
Norman Mailer Writers Colony
In Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, you will also find the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, part of New York’s Norman Mailer Center.
Grub Street, Boston, MA
If you don’t find anything nearby, take heart. Grub Street is one of the largest independent writer centers in America, and it will begin offering online classes this year. From their site:
“Grub Street will introduce a few new online courses each term, revising the format as we go and building on what has worked well in previous classes. Our students and instructors are partners in this process, and we seek advice from everyone in our virtual community as we create a robust program of top-notch online offerings.”
For some courses you will still no doubt need proximity to Boston. Grub has an incredible year-long program called the “Novel Incubator”, which only select authors can get into, and which provides the kind of intense development of a novel you would only find in an MFA program. A wide-ranging program for teen writers is available. Grub Street also has one of the nation’s biggest writers’ conferences. The Muse and the Marketplace draws writers from coast to coast with its outstanding speakers and seminars.
You don’t really have to start with a writing center before you get started writing your book. They can help a project along at any stage. Chances are you’re not contemplating the writer’s life without at least having some basic groundwork done. It is a difficult life, but the rewards are not to be found elsewhere. My advice is—don’t go it alone. You don’t have to.
Bart Stewart is the author of Tales of Real and Dream Worlds, a collection of surreal short stories in the school of Richard Matheson. It won a finalist prize at the 2008 National Indie Excellence Awards. His debut novel Painter of the Heavens is a psychological thriller. By turns funny, poignant, and suspenseful, it deals with a woman who becomes romantically involved with a con artist. Painter of the Heavens launches on Kindle this fall.
Follow Bart on Twitter, @BartStewart1, Google+ at http://goo.gl/8pkWcc, and his wide-ranging, free-wheeling, free-thinking blog, at http://BartStewart.com
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