Sunday, March 20, 2011
Training Our Competition
James Scott Bell
I'm teaching at a conference in Florida this weekend. Most of us Kill Zoners show up at the occasional conference, hobnob, teach. I've been teaching for nearly a decade and a half, and it's extremely pleasing to me to see people I've taught go on to publication. That's why I'm putting on my own seminar in June in Los Angeles. Info on that is at the end of this post.
Of course, we're in the midst of doing first page critiques for brave souls who have submitted to us. All of which raises (not begs!) a question I've fielded over the years. People have asked me, "Dude, why would you want to train your competition?"
A few responses.
First, I'm not averse to competition. It's the engine of achievement. If my teaching means I have to keep working hard on my own books and craft, so much the better for me.
You just can't become obsessed with competition, to the point where you're always comparing and stressing about what others do. This isn't a zero sum game.
The best competition is with yourself. Keep stretching and working hard. Set goals and go after them. Teaching helps keep me on my game.
Second, I'm all for give back. I have been the beneficiary of some wonderful guidance and advice from writers and teachers who were there for me at the beginning. If I was to hoard whatever I've learned from them, it would not be kosher, karmic, Christian or any other spiritual principle you'd care to name.
One of these mentors was Lawrence Block, the crime novelist who was, for many years, the fiction columnist for Writer's Digest. I would devour his column each month as if it were a holy page. I still have binders of old WDs, all marked up, containing his columns. He had the ability to communicate not only what worked, but how a writer thinks. When I eventually got to write that very same column, I felt like Joshua taking over for Moses.
Another was the novelist Jack Cavanaugh, who became a friend and gave me priceless career advice before I had a career. And so on. In other words, I owe a debt and teaching helps me pay that off.
Third, I enjoy teaching.
Fourth, I'm good at it. As are my fellow Zoners, who are generous with their own comments and professional advice. This place is gold.
Fifth, teaching in person allows me to augment and explain many of the concepts in my writing books. It's a further way to get this information into the heads of the writers and help them get to that storied next level.
There is nothing more fun for me than being with writers and talking about the craft we love. But even better is seeing people become stronger writers, watching light bulbs going on above heads, and hearing of eventual book contracts.
Learn all you can, write all you can. That's the only formula for writing success I know.
Who have been some of the teaching influences in your writing journey, via book or live and in-person? What did you gain from mentors or editors? Or did you get the book writing thing right the very first time? (If your answer is Yes, we'll talk after class).