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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beware of Faux Instructors

Once upon a time, best selling author Loree Lough (literally) sang for her supper, performing before packed audiences throughout the Midwest. Now and then, she blows the dust from her 6-string to croon a tune or two, but mostly, she just writes.

With more than 2,000,000 copies of her books in circulation, Loree has 78 books (fiction and non-fiction for kids and adults; one novel optioned for a TV movie; and more slated for release between now and 2011), 65 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print.

Beware Faux Instructors

Sooner or later as I’m leading workshops or seminars, someone inevitably asks: “I’m thinking about registering for a writing class near my house, but the price is a little steep for my budget … and I’ve never heard of this teacher. Any recommendations?”

My answer, invariably, is pretty much the same:

First, high fives for wanting to improve your style, your voice, your understanding of The Craft. And the "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 been led astray by faux instructors who misinterpret, then erroneously distribute, information gleaned 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 how 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.” That’s solid advice for members of any profession, but it’s particularly useful for writers. The money we’re paid in exchange for countless hours of research, interviews, writing, rewriting and editing is often less than half the minimum wage—especially early in our careers.

That’s why we owe it to ourselves to make wise choices about the types of classes—and instructors—we spend that money on! (Just between you and me? If I had a dollar for every student who has shared their stories about how writing instructors’ half-baked lessons have led them astray, I’d have a couple hundred bucks for sure. Worse … this mis-information has cost precious time, and in an industry where trends seem to change with the wind, that can be a career killer!)

There are literally thousands of writing classes, workshops, and seminars listed online, in community college pamphlets, on 3x5 cards tacked to local library bulletin boards. Some are affordable, others downright expensive. So before you scribble your name on a personal check or credit card receipt, do yourself a financial and professional favor … and check out the teacher!

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

When it comes to writing classes, workshops, and seminars, you owe it to yourself to find out:

1. ) Can the instructor’s “multi-published” claims be backed up with legitimate books, produced by legitimate presses?

2.) Have the instructor’s “awards won” been awarded by real and existing organizations and institutions, or are the kudos little more than fiction, written to pad the instructor’s CV?

3.) Are claims of “years of teaching experience” bona fide, or merely more fiction?

You wouldn’t let a street corner pediatrician inoculate your child, any more than you’d hire some stranger who claims he’s a roofing contractor to re-shingle your house … at least, not without checking them out first. So why allow a self-proclaimed writing instructor teach you to write without ensuring they are who they claim to be!

I’ve never known a caring, qualified doctor who had a problem hearing “I think I’d like a second opinion.” In fact, bona fide professionals of every ilk will not only suggest it, but provide you with a list of contacts! It’s only the quacks and charlatans who balk when hearing “I think I’d like to check you out ….”

I’m thinkin’ that might explain why ‘Let the buyer beware’ is such a popular adage!

Happy writing, all!


Boston-born nurse LEVEE O’REILLY and her doctor husband are headed to Mexico to open a medical clinic when their stagecoach is attacked. There on a barren stretch of Texas road, the infamous outlaw Frank Michaels kills Liam and leaves Levee for dead. All alone now, she makes her way to Eagle Pass, where she’s forced to trade her nurse’s cap for a teacher’s apron. In no time, she’s so completely devoted to her students that she has no time for romance.

Rancher DANIEL NEVILLE has battled doubts and distrust for most of his life. Wracked with guilt over the death of his twin sister, he believes the scars and limp sustained during a stampede are penance for the sins of his past. Dan dedicates himself to serving his family and working with the horses on the Lazy N. Marriage isn’t even on his to-do list, and he sees no reason to add it.

When a coincidental meeting brings Levee and Dan together, they’re awakened to a long-ignored desire for love and acceptance. Have they actually found it in one another’s arms? And can these two mavericks accept the plans God has for their lives?

4 comments:

BK said...

I've been blessed and have not had a bad experience with a writing class. Overall, one of the things I think instructors/organizers in the writing industry do very well is clearly define who the class is aimed at.

When I was just starting out, Jack Cavanaugh taught an overview class at Glorieta on how to write a novel--just what I needed. Over time, I was able to pick classes on other topics, such as Point of View, etc. geared to just what I needed.

The level and goals of the classes have always been clearly defined and I haven't yet had any duds.

Thanks to all the writers out there who also take time to teach classes. May the right instructors and writers always hook up for an awesome learning experience! 8-)

old guy rambling said...

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”

Never has something so wrong been quoted so often. Those who can do can teach -- those who can't, can't teach at all. There is a vast difference between teaching and trying to teach.

Molly Noble Bull said...

Hi Loree,
Long time no hear from.
Your tips are great.
I have had articles published on fiction writing and have posted tips on blogs. But call me "chicken" or whatever, I seldom teach classes on writing and have never charged for my help.
Funny, I was a public school teacher for eleven years and did receive pay for that.
Love,
Molly
www.mollynoblebull.com

Martha Ramirez said...

Great post, Loree. There are so many newbies that are too trustworthy. I am glad you posted this. Happy holidays!