Thursday, January 12, 2006

Paying to learn

A retired man who has started writing fiction wrote to ask me if I thought paying $100 per "consultation" with a writing instructor was too much. Holy moly. It's way too much. On a novel you'd likely use up your advance just for the "consultation."

I'm not philosphically against paying for writing instruction. Courses taught by published writers, on line or in person, can be helpful. But note I said "published writers."

A friend of mine went through a two year university writing workshop. He told me that even though the workshop offered all these name writers he never had an instructor who'd actually sold anything. They were graduate students. I'd ask to see credentials before I signed up. I would make sure these are professional credits, not self-published or one of the myriad scams that seem to be out there these days.

Next I'd consider the fee and look around for some comparisons. And third, I'd see if the instructor's credentials have some bearing on the kind of writing you do. Most of the writers I know, myself included, write modern variations of pulp fiction. A well published poet or a non-fiction writer, good as they may be, probably wouldn't be much practical help. If you write fiction, look for somebody who writes fiction, too.

Finally, if it's off-line, ask if you may sit in on one session. This will allow you to assess the instructor as a teacher. If he rambles on with personal stories about the cruel-hilarious wold of publishing, you're paying to be entertained, not educated. Make sure he has an outline for the course and stricks to it within reason.

None of my suggestions are absolute law but I do think they lay some reasonable expectations before you hand over any money.


Blogger Elizabeth Foxwell said...

As a reminder...I chair the committee for the Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship for Mystery Writing, which provides two scholarships of up to $500 each that may be used for a writing class/course/seminar/workshop/program/etc in which mystery writing will be done. The application deadline is Feb 27th; information and application available at

5:52 AM  
Blogger Gormania said...

Two of you wrote off line to note my grammatical faux paux in the last graf "None of my suggestions are" should be "None of my suggestions is" Thank you. EG

9:38 AM  

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