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!