Washing the Pipes

This is the basket I put together for the LERA Enchanted Words conference last Saturday. Seemed like it was quite the hit.

Overall the conference was a great day. I loved hanging with my writing buddies and debating craft questions. Everyone went away excited and inspired, which was great to see.

Yeah, there’s a bit of a “but” in there.

I confess I have a bit of an issue with people who purport to teach how to write a bestseller. If a person is so certain of the “bestseller formula,” then I’d think they’d put their energy into writing that, instead of telling other people how to do it. There’s quite a few folk out there these days, saying they teach writers through workshops, master classes and retreats how to make the magic happen. They charge a fair amount of money for this, too.

Frankly? It feels predatory to me.

I mean, it’s great for writers to come away from a seminar like this feeling fired up, creative, inspired and ready to work. But, in the end, I truly believe that you can take all the classes you like and nothing replaces the act of writing. Writing a whole lot. Over and over until you find your own voice and rhythm.

Ann Patchett says (remember I said I’d have more quotes from her):

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, earn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment: The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath.

She continues with with pointed question:

Does this sound like a lot of work without any guarantee of success? Well, yes, but it also calls into question our definition of success. Playing the cello, we’re more likely to realize that the pleasure is the practice, the ability to create this beautiful sound – not to do it as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself.

The people who want your money will chant NYT at you and tell you that’s success. Fair enough if you want that. Hell, I want that, too. But, despite what these teachers promise, there is no magic formula. If there was, they’d be using it themselves.

Back to washing out my pipes!

7 Replies to “Washing the Pipes”

  1. Every time Margie said “fresh,” I thought of your writing and how fresh it is. Because when I read your works I keep thinking over and over, “Wow, I love the way she said that. It’s so different.” Plus, you manage to write fresh without going over the top which I think can be a difficult balance.

    And as the winner of the basket, I can say it was a huge hit. I managed to get it home without breaking the glasses or the bottle.

    1. Wow, Julie – that’s high praise! I so appreciate you telling me that. I had that same thought, that there’s a real danger of over-writing or taking things over the top. I’m so pleased the basket made it home safely!

  2. Much like those shills who go from cheap airport conference room to cheap airport conference room to teach you how to make a million dollars using their proven system; if your system works so well, why are you in Ballroom C of the Red Lion Inn?

  3. You know, I just noticed something. People who actually write bestsellers never seem to hold seminars on how to write bestsellers. Maybe that’s because they know there’s no set formula. They can give suggestions on how to write better, but that’s all.

    1. Isn’t that the truth, B.E.? The closest I can think of is Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jayne Ann Krentz’s seminar at RWA National, “Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood.” This seminar is totally worth it. But you’re right – the “secrets” are very general. At least they draw from their own experience.

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