Thursday, March 23, 2006

For the Children (and the Adults)

I spoke at a Jr. High this morning, to a group of about 30 kids who want to be writers when they reach adulthood.

Here are the main points I hit, which don't only apply to young writers, but to all writers struggling to make it in this business.

  • Write when you can, finish what you write, and submit what you finish.
  • Know your genre and your market before you begin writing.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • Use proper manuscript format.
  • You can't learn from praise, but you can learn from criticism.
  • Luck is more important than talent, but you can improve your luck with hard work.
  • Pay attention to white space on a page; more is better.
  • You need an agent if you're writing novels.
  • If you write short stories or poetry, you don't need an agent. You'll also starve.
  • This is a business, and a very hard business.
  • Most of your future writing teachers won't be successful authors, and you can learn more about this business on your own (writing and submitting) than in school.
  • Conferences are good.
  • Money flows to the writer---never pay for anything (except for conferences).
  • Query letters need a greeting (Dear Ms. Jones), sucking up (I love your magazine), a brief description of the story, and a closing (hope to hear from you soon) and NOTHING ELSE.
  • Read a lot.

I also did some critiques of their stories, and explaned the difference between storytelling (they were all good storytellers) and salable writing (it's not what you say but how you say it.)

When I left, I felt pretty good about the future of this profession. These kids were anxious to discuss The DaVinci Code, and James Frey, and Eragon, and they really wanted to become writers when they grew up. They took criticism well, and were willing to work hard to improve their craft. In fact, they seemed to have a lot more dedication than I did as a 12 year old.

As technology gives us more (and cheaper) way to entertain ourselves, I don't think books are in any danger of disappearing. I'm happy to report that the insatiable desire to read and to write is alive and well in the youth of today, and that the writer is every bit as important now as when I was growing up.