Then and Now (DOG EAR)

Then and Now (DOG EAR)

There is a writer’s group that meets here in Orlando – I’d probably go except I’m committed to something else those nights and can’t make it. But it hits me, reading their exchanges following their meetings, that the focus of the meetings is marketing their self-published books.

And that’s fine, I suppose – God knows I could have used it, given the haphazard failure-daze of a marketing effort Early ReTyrement went through. I am the world’s worse salesman, a fact I do not hesitate to admit.

But I’m left thinking of the group that got me into writing, The Writer’s Room, back in the late nineties. A guy named Phillip ran it, a philosophical fellow who understood writing and passed on his knowledge (much as I’m doing here, but deeper and truer). Originally it was held in a lakeside room at Rollins College (I rode my bike over every Tuesday night – a total hipster!). But we gave him our latest efforts and he took them apart, showing what worked and what didn’t.

He’s the one that really inspired me to keep at it. My first real novel, Oath to Carthage, he offered a painfully brilliant idea that cut 80 beloved pages off the story and made it a much better read. Once you’ve done that, once you’ve learned to snip at a story with shears (or dive in with a weedwacker), you’ll be better able to deal with that pain in the future. For Indigo, a friend pointed out I’d gone too long on one topic – bye, bye 30 pages. And a better book it was for their absence.

But that was the thing – our weekly writer’s group discussed writing. Not marketing. Not running up your Amazon numbers. Not Facebook tricks. Writing. How to tighten dialog. How to pace a sentence. How to misdirect, to trick and tease and toggle. All these things I learned, often from having my latest submission used as the “bad example” of their non-use. And every time I went home, clatter-clatter went the keyboard as I worked on improvements.

That’s one of the sad elements I see in this self-publishing craze that is sweeping away the old publishing houses – the quality that an agent, an editor and publisher force on the writer. A true writer can’t just type in the story “he believes in” or “his wife loved” without knowledge of structure, grammar, pacing, mood and meaning. With a publishing industry, there is an attempt at a higher quality.

And, yes, there are advantages its decline, but 50 shades of Gray is not one of them.

It’s just that in this suburban-sprawl city of millions, I really miss having a group that discusses the art of literature, not the techniques of publishing.

My two cents.

(As a treat, next week I’ll post a favorite lesson I got from The Writer’s Room, the story of a missing dipstick)