Saturday, April 16, 2011

Never stop learning

Today I’d like to talk about a few things, but mostly it’s about continuing education for writers.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go up to LA for the recent RT conference. One of the great things about this conference- and others of its ilk- is the mingling with other writers in all stages of their careers- Folks ranging from Dean Koontz to the newest of the new – a reader who has just decided to take that step into writing.

Listening in on what your fellow writers say can be very enlightening. Or scary.

While in a panel, I overheard one author say, “I have an agent- so I don’t really need to be here.” (And no, this was NOT at the agent panel, or any panel directly related to agents). I’m sure had that author turned my direction she would have seen a huge “WTF?!” look on my face.

She didn’t need to learn more about writing since she had an agent- she was there just to network.

Say it with me folks- OMG. Then smack your forehead.

Getting an agent isn’t the end all be all of our profession. An agent helps us get our books to the readers. They help us build our careers.

But for any author to say, “I know all there is to know about writing”- FOR any reason is insane! That level of hubris is really scary. If I were that author’s agent I would personally be terrified by the statement and the mindset behind it.

We have to keep learning. This is true in darn near all fields, but especially a world like publishing. I would be horrified if the book I wrote five years ago is no different than one I just finished. As authors we have to keep pushing the envelope, learning new skills, trying new approaches- EVEN if we don’t stick with them. Try them, keep what works, then move on.

A few years ago I volunteered at a local writing conference setting up the microphones for taping the speakers. We had to pick one room and stick in it. I chose one with almost all screenwriters. Now I have no plans of ever becoming a screenwriter, nor had I sat in on a workshop for them before.

The workshops were amazing! Screenwriters view story in a more pure way than novelists. They break things down in beats which to this wild child (read: pantser to an extreme) writer is nothing short of magical.

After those panels, I picked up a few screenwriting books- Save the Cat was one that really struck me. I devoured the information. This year at RT I got a chance to expand my screenwriter education by a great workshop by Michael Hague (if you get a chance to see him DO IT!!). I immediately went out and bought both of his books in the RT bookstore and can’t wait to have time to dive in.

I still have no intention of jumping into the madness that is screenwriting-and some of the info really has no transfer to novel writing- but so much of it does! As authors we need to be constantly finding ways to improve our craft. We need to look outside our little area, examine other fields of writing, other styles, techniques. If we don’t keep improving we die as writers.


  1. And I would have been sitting next to you with that same expression. Having an agent doesn't stop the learning process. You still need to look after yourself.

    I've been published for 31 years and I'm still learning. I never will stop. If you do, you can't continue doing what you love.

  2. I think it also goes beyond "learning" and moves into trying new things and "growing".

    Whenever you hear another writer speak on a topic you can always glean some new inspiration or a new trick to try out, etc.

    VERY sad to think you have no where to grow, right??? YEESH!!!

    Lisa :)

  3. I can't imagine reaching a point where I'm not continuing to learn and grow as a writer. With all the conferences, book and blogs and twitter and friendships I can't see how I could possibly avoid it! And if the moment came where I commented that I didn't need to learn anything else, I'd know it was because I'd retired from writing!

    Thanks for the post. Jordan

  4. Marie, what a great post!

    Short story here...when my youngest son was about 4 years old, he said to me "Mom, people learn new things all the time, don't they?"

    I said, "Yes Dan, they do." A deep thought came to him then. He asked "Mom, when people know everything are they dead?"

    Out of the mouths of the young. When we quit learning, perhaps we are dead.

    BTW, in college Dan majored in TV/film. Now, in addition to his editing and production work, he also writes screenplays.

  5. Great post--I'm jealous of all of you who got to go to RT! If we ever want to quit learning our craft and finding ways to grow and improve, we're not really authors. Hacks, maybe.

  6. Thanks for the great comments ladies! I think part of what disturbed me about that author was that I never want to be at a point where I "know it all". Like Jordan said- at that point I know I'd be done with writing.
    I'm just hoping that part of that author at RT's attitude was being a newly agented author and just having a smidge too much pride ;).
    Wish you could have been there too Suzanne!