Thursday, January 19, 2006

Writing Instructors

So, how the heck have y'all been! Swell, I hope....

Since I promised in my first post that this blog is for you, I'm going to start publishing my column (The Lough Down) here for your review. Today, I'll post six columns that have appeared in a variety of online and print newsletters around the country, thanks to newsletter editors of writing organizations I've joined. After you've read a few, send me your questions, and I'll do my best to find accurate, cutting-edge answers.

Let's start with this one:

The Lough Down: Beware Faux Instructors
by Loree Lough

Q: I’m thinking about registering for a writing class, but the price is a little steep for my budget…and I’ve never even heard of this teacher. Any recommendations?

A: First, high fives to you for wanting to improve your style, your voice, your understanding of The Craft. But your "I've never even heard of this teacher" comment tells me you're a smart shopper.

I’ve met far too many writers who’ve made the mistake of letting uncredentialed instructors lead them astray with misinterpretations of information “borrowed” from the pages of how-to-write books. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” might be true in other fields, but in publishing—an industry that requires writers to stay a step ahead of the latest trends—you can’t teach others to do what you aren’t doing yourself!

In my decades in this business, I’ve learned a ton of stuff at The School of Hard Knocks, like “Never take anything for granted” and “Spend your money wisely”…solid advice for members of any profession, but particularly useful for writers. The money we’re paid in exchange for countless hours of research, interviews, writing, and rewriting too often adds up to less than half the minimum wage… especially early in our careers. Forking over a portion of earned-the-hard-way cash to enroll in a writing class is important stuff, so we owe it to ourselves to make wise choices about the types of classes—and instructors—we’re spending that money on. (If I had a dollar for every student who told me how a writing instructor’s half-baked lessons led them astray, why, I’d have a couple hundred bucks for sure!)

There are literally thousands of writing classes, workshops, and seminars listed online, in pamphlets distributed by area community colleges, on 3x5 cards tacked to local library bulletin boards. Some are affordable, others can empty bank accounts. If, like any smart shopper, you’ve done your homework and believe the lessons you’ll learn are worth the price, go for it.

But before you scribble your name on a personal check, do yourself a financial and professional favor…and check out the teacher….

While it’s been my experience that most writing instructors have the credentials to teach, I can list far too many whose ‘padded CVs’ match nothing more than their bloated egos…and do not qualify them to teach others to write.

You wouldn’t let some dude on a street corner who claims to be a pediatrician examine your baby. You wouldn’t let some stranger who knocks on your door claiming to be a roofing contractor put new shingles on your house. Is the decision to further your writing career by signing up for a workshop any less important?
You owe it to yourself to find out:

Can the instructor’s “multi-published” and/or “award-winning” claims be backed up with legitimate books—produced by legitimate presses—on the shelves? (Look for copyright information about the book(s) in question; if a publisher isn’t listed online, it’s probably a ‘vanity press’.)

Have the instructor’s so-called “awards won” been provided by real and existing organizations and institutions…or are the kudos nothing more than fiction, written to further pad the instructor’s opaque CV? (I suspect there’s a long list of books for sale—in bookstores and online—written by what we in the industry call Wanna-Bees, and published by glorified printing companies rather than by respected publishing houses.)

Are claims of “years of teaching experience” bona fide…or more fiction? A phone call to the institution(s) will teach you a thing or two about the teacher; if no schools are listed, ask the instructor for names of the school(s) where the teaching experience was acquired. Then call the institution(s) and check it out. (Far too many so-called teachers’ names are listed as ‘Faculty’, but they’ve they ever actually taught the course(s) listed. And let’s face it: Anybody can re-type pages from ‘how to write’ manuals and pass them off as “classroom handouts”, but do you want these people teaching you?)

There’s a very good reason ‘Let the buyer beware’ has become an almost-clich├ęd adage….

Well, there y'go. The first of many columns that'll hopefully help you find your way around the publishing maze.

See ya soon!


YETMO - Fred Apelquist said...

Loree --

Well, at last I managed to visit your blog and post something, anything. This is the something, anything. I liked your comments about writing instructors. Now, if you can find a writing instructor who is also a roofer and pediatrician, then you'll be set.

Fred Apelquist
YETMO - "You're Entitled to MY Opinion," A Balanced Point of View.

See my 'stuff' at "The Forum" You see, Loree, you're not the only shameless, self-promoter around.

Good luck. Take care and hoist one for me the next time you're at the brew pub.

Robin Bayne said...

And we know Loree knows what she's talking about. *nodding*

Pat Hufford said...

What makes me plop my sleep-pantsed bottom down in front of the computer & start to write? - it doesn't matter if it's the computer or a notepad while I'm waiting for a traffic jam to start up again - I CAN'T NOT WRITE - from the time I discovered the magic of reading & that I, too, could put pen(cil) to paper & create something that came from inside me, I've been addicted to writing - I can do it anywhere, it doesn't have calories, it's not expensive - and, best of all, writing lets me be the boss - well, some of the time - the rest of the time my characters seem to appear fully developed with minds of their own & stories they need to tell

Neil Ogden said...

Loree: I wish I had read this article a couple of months ago, before I spent over a hundred bucks on an all-day workshop where all I learned was that some people can talk all ****ing day and not say one useful thing. I would have left at lunch time but that would have hurt the "instructor's" cook.

Keep up the good work. Hopefully, your articles will spare others from wasting money, gasoline, and a whole Saturday.

Looking forward to your Leading Edge workshop in September, because I've heard you speak and I know you won't waste my money, gasoline, or time!


Vicky King said...

Hey, Loree! I've enjoyed all of your articles on your Blog, but this one really hits home with me. I'm one of the dummies who didn't do my homework. I signed up for a one-day workshop taught by a guy with a couple of books out and who's CV made it seem he was an experienced teacher. Sorry, but if that stuff is the result of experience, I'm a monkey's uncle! What a waste of time and money! I found out later his books are self-published, so I can only wonder where the material for his handouts came from!)
Keep up the good work, Loree. We need honest, dedicated teachers like you, who tell it like it is instead of how they what us to think it is.
God bless, and you can bet I'll be front row and center at your Leading Edge workshop in September!

Mack McGill said...

My wife went to a conference that was taught by some clown who teaches in his house. Boy, was she pissed when she got home. She's in a writing critique group and warned them all the hot air is thick over there, so prepare yourself for a bunch of old ladies to sign up for your workshops. LOL

Linda Johnson said...

Lorree, thank you for such insightful information. Every of your articles is jampacked with useful information. I visit almost daily to see what new information you will provide struggling writers. Keep up the good work.

And just by the way, I think I know an insturctor like the ones your referring to. The one I know didn't just not teach me how to sell my stories, he also hit on me!!!!!!! What a cad.

Enjoy your weekend!!!


Joe Novak said...

Hey again, Loree. Read this one again and decided to post. As a writing instructor, myself, I feel duty-bound to agree with you. It's like getting second opinions from doctors: If the advice is sound, your GP doctor won't mind a bit if you seek counsel elsewhere. In fact, he or she is liable to advise it.

I have taken the liberty of printing out this article and will hand it out to my classes (giving credit where credit is due, of course) so that none of my students will fall prey to a 'faux instructor'.

You are a blessing, Loree. Keep up the good work.


Lois Lawrence said...

Hi, Loree! By now I'm sure you have received my check for the September workshop. (I can hardly wait to see you again!) I didn't need to "check you out", because I've already benefited from your vast experience. But I have used the advice you suggest in this article, and it has saved me time, energy, and money!

Everybody reading your Blog owes it to themselves to take your advice, and check out any instructor and any teaching and professional credits he or she may claim. I'm shocked at just how very many instructors do NOT have the proof to back up their padded resumes!

As someone else said regarding this subject, any true professional will welcome a thorough 'checking out'. After all, if the things instructors claim are true, what do they have to fear!

See you in September, Loree. Until then, I hope you and your lovely family have a wonderful summer.

Fondly, Lois

Kary Turner Johannsen said...

Hello, Loree Lough!

Hope you've been well since our last class ended.

I took your advice and checked out a workshop instructor and the colums on his ledger just plain didn't add up. You saved me more than a hundred bucks, so thanks. I have better ways to spend my money. Like, I have signed up for your September workshop, for example.

See you in Columbia.

Kay Turner Johannsen

Jodie DeMonico said...

Dear Loree,

LOVE LOVE LOVE your Blog, but there is something missing:

You should do more promoting here in this space! I don't think that most visitors read your bio, and so they probably don't realize just how very qualified and experienced YOU are to teach!

Your classes (I think that I have taken about half a dozen different ones taught by you) have really turned me from a 'wannabe' to a 'gonnabe' writer. I'm hoping that after the workshop in September, I'll be ready to submit the novel that your lessons gave me the courage to FINALLY write!

The college pamplets and brochures say that you are an instructor that shares learned the hard way lessons, and I can say for a fact that it is 100% true. So thank you thank you thank you.

I will see you in September!

Yours always,