If you haven’t been reading Dean Smith’s blog lately, you should. He’s doing a crash-course whirlwind series — like he did last year — designed to get everyone on the ground running. Or, rather, writing. Quickly. Regularly. With realistic and concrete goals in mind. I’ve been glued. I think you should be too.
Granted, Dean’s not aiming his advice at the MFA grad — though MFA grads have and do attend Dean’s workshops, usually after months or years of frustrating futility, where getting their fiction sold is concerned.
In many ways I like to think of Dean — and his wife Kris Rusch — as issuers of “blue collar” writing advice. They’re not trying to help you become the next Pulitzer winner. They’re just two people who, through trial and error, stumbled their way to financial independence through writing. One story at a time. In the process they believe they’ve uncovered a lot of industry b.s. — upon which they expound a great deal on their blogs, and especially during one of their classes aimed specifically at the aspirant: The Kris ‘n Dean Show. (NOTE: Best weekend I ever spent, as an unpublished writer, bar none. HIGHLY recommended.)
One of the reasons I am willing to spend money on Kris and Dean — as opposed to something like Clarion or even an MFA — is that their success is precisely the sort of success I want to model my career on. Others will feel differently and may have different goals, and I respect this, nor am I trying to say that my way — or Kris or Dean’s way — is The Only Way. It’s just that I’ve discovered, through my own stumbling, to trust a lot of what Kris and Dean say. Even the stuff that sounds off-the-wall or counter-intuitive. Even the stuff that flies in the face of Aspirant Gospel; such as the requirement for exhaustive re-writing to “polish” your manuscript.
My goal is to pay off my house and put the equivalent amount in the bank, so that I can finally quit The Day Job and work from home and be truly happy in my work. I may never reach the bestseller list. I may never have a movie made out of a book I write. But Dean and his wife insist that you don’t have to be Stephanie Meyer to get where I want to go. They’ve built a very, very comfortable and happy existence for themselves largely as “under the radar” writers, though in Kris’s case even she’s scored Hugos — on both sides of the writer/editor fence.
In the end, what appeals most — to me — about their combined philosophy, is that it doesn’t take itself so gottdamned seriously. These are not writers enthralled with The Art for its own sake. For them, writing seems fun, and a means to an end. I can absolutely plug in with them, on this level, because I don’t take it that seriously either. Not as a writer who is trying to say something Deep and Important about whatever. If I happen to actually say anything Deep and Important, in anything I publish, it’s liable to be on accident, rather than on purpose. And Kris and Dean insist that many of the Greats who are now considered Deep and Important, weren’t trying to be deliberately Deep and Important either.
Dean loves to tout Dickens as the most misunderstood Great, in this regard. Over and over Dean talks about how Dickens was a “blue collar” writer who wrote quickly, to deadline, to feed his (large) family. There was nothing overtly Deep or Important — from Dickens’ perspective — about what he was doing. It was a job, and he enjoyed doing it. Only after his demise and subsequent passing into the Halls of Litrachure (hat tip: Alastair!) did other writers and critics begin to put the man on a pedestal, because as far as anyone can tell, he didn’t put himself on a pedestal. Nor his craft, for that matter.
My aim is to write and sell books and stories. So that I can work and live at home and not have to answer the corporate bell if I don’t want to. I have almost no control over whether or not I go bestseller or become a “hit” like J.K. Rowling or anyone else on that scale. Even J.K. Rowling never had any control whether she’d reach her current state. It was the right series for the right audience at the right time, like Dan Brown. Sure I’d love to go that big, but because I cannot in any way determine whether or not I go that big — nobody can — I must focus on what I can determine. Which takes me back to Kris and Dean and how they focus, over and over, on “blue collar” advice for a “blue collar” writing lifestyle. They don’t promise to know how to make the bestseller list and become a millionaire in one book deal. They do promise that if you follow their advice, chances are very, very good you will make a living as a freelancer, given time and hard work.