Thursday, May 3, 2012


                                                                 By Randy Rawls

Recently, I was reminded of how easy some people think it is to write fiction. A wannabe author asked if I'd recommend him to a publisher. I explained that I never recommend without reading first, but I'd be happy to look at his first ten pages. He sent them to me.

It only took a couple of paragraphs to determine he knew little-to-nothing about writing fiction. Oh, the writing was okay—if he had been writing his Master's thesis, or maybe a legal brief. But fiction—no way. Since our conversations had been pleasant, I decided to lightly edit the material before returning it, especially the multitude of misspelled words. I explained that I'd be happy to look at his manuscript again once it was properly edited.  No, I did not offer to do it.

Yep, you probably have it figured out. His response was to inform me, in no uncertain terms, that I knew nothing about writing, and he was the next Hemingway. He also let me know the story was written exactly as he wanted it and the misspellings were intentional. After reaming me for messing with his manuscript, he asked if I would recommend it to the publisher. I think you know what I said.

After my ego quit bleeding, I began to think about him and his comments. He's not the first I've run into who believed he was blessed at birth with the ability to write fiction. Now, I have to interrupt to say I'm a firm believer that writing fiction is a learned skill. Yes, some are born with a talent, which can be honed into skill, but I refuse to believe anyone is born with the skill to write.

I think of doctors who spend years in medical school, learning the skill that will enable them to save lives. They were born with an innate talent, but med school and practice made them surgeons, internists, psychiatrists, etc. Lawyers attend law school to learn how to practice law. Athletes hone their skills through levels of competition before reaching a point where they can make the big bucks. Plumbers and electricians go through an apprenticeship to master their crafts. Is there any profession, other than writing fiction, where a person believes he has all the skills and should start at the top?

Of course, I've heard the line, "I've been writing all my life. What's the big deal about writing a story?" Well, once upon a time, I was a talented (and skilled) musician. I played reed instruments, primarily saxophone. But guess what, when I sat down at a piano, I couldn't play a lick, no matter how badly I wanted to. My musical skills did not carry over.

What I'm trying to say is writing fiction is a skill we must master. It's DAMN tough writing a mystery or a thriller or a romance . . . someone will want to read. I know, because I'm still learning, and I've been at it a long time. I keep hoping that one day I'll have mastered enough of those skills to break out.

Skipping back to my acquaintance who no longer speaks to me, he thought he could write fiction because he knew how to write. NOT! Maybe someday he'll be a great writer, but not until he has a major attitude adjustment. And the first thing he will have to learn is that it's not important how many successful papers he wrote in the past, he has to learn all over again.

But, perhaps my whole concept is wrong. Much of the stuff coming out of the major publishers these days seems to support my ex-acquaintance. What do you think?


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Amen and amen. How many times I run into "new" writers with this mindset.

Randy Rawls said...

Yeah, Marilyn. Guess it shows how gullible I am. It surprises me every time it happens. Perhaps because I've had some really nice folks allow me to critique their works and be grateful for my input. We have some fine folks entering the fiction marketplace. And we have some real jerks standing outside, rattling the fence.

Chester Campbell said...

I've run into the same thing, Randy. I tried to be nice and helpful, but the guy never replied to my letter. At least he didn't lambast me.

Earl Staggs said...

Been there and hated that, Randy. We need to be honest with people, but if they can't take it and never speak to us again, we're probably better off. Shake it off, pardner, and move on.

Morgan Mandel said...

Writing isn't as easy as it may look. Often it's harder to say something simply than to construct a hard to read passage.

Morgan Mandel