Sunday, June 7, 2009

Consider the source

I went to boarding school in Canada for two years. I learned a lot about myself. It could just be cause I was at the age to learn things about me (17-19) but I'm sure the atmosphere of boarding school had a lot to do with it as well.

I made a few good friends while I was there. One of whom, miraculously, has continued to speak to me all these years later. I came to boarding school with a widely misplaced sense of esteem. There are some things people just grow up knowing about themselves, and I was one of those rare kids who knew that I had a right to my own thoughts and choices, and didn't need to be ashamed of myself.

I'm not saying I was preternaturally confident, I had plenty angst to keep me crying in my teenage pillows, it's just that almost all of my self-hatred and lack of confidence came directly from within and wasn't delivered to me on the tongues of Mean Girl nemeses.

This means a few things when you're a teenager. Basically it means that nothing anyone says can hurt me more than I can hurt myself, and it also means that nothing anyone says can make me feel better about myself, because I wasn't really factoring in their opinion in the first place. My friend was not so lucky.

My friend lived on the edge of public opinion. "She hates me. You should have heard what she said about me. She's awful."
"What do you care?" I'd ask. "She's awful and you don't like her anyway. Why do you care if she hates you?"
This sort of reasoning was as clear to my teenage mind as it is to my adult one. I talked her off the ledge of Other People's Opinionitis more times than I can recall. It's probably because we grew up in different cultures, but also because I was a "sensible young woman" long before I was a woman at all. After all, I had many years of romance reading under my belt by the time boarding school hit.

But boarding school is also the place where I understood fully, for the first time, the phrase: Consider the source.

"Consider the source" got us through a lot of those teenaged chats, and has gotten me into a lot of trouble as an adult. I painstakingly took the time, every week, twice a week, daily if necessary, to remind her to consider the source.

.Mary is a spoiled rich kid who has hated you for years, and you've hated her too. If she is the one saying that Dan thinks you're ugly, do you really think her opinion can be trusted? Consider the source here.
.Mrs Hollister is a new teacher who has only seen you get bad grades because you hate calculus and calculus hates you. Her suggestion that you take tutoring doesn't mean she thinks you're a moron, it just means that she hasn't seen you shine in different arenas. Consider the source.
.Liz picked you last for the softball team. But you hate softball, and Liz loves it. Plus she tried to steal your boyfriend last month. Why would you care if she doesn't want you on her team? Consider the source.

As an adult, "Consider the source" gets me into trouble with employers. Once the respect is gone, I have a hard time believing a word you say, much less wanting to work hard for you. But that's not the point of this post.

The actual point of this post is Writing Workshops. My local RWA forwards about twenty opportunities for workshops to my e-mail per week. I have never signed up for one. I'm often curious, and sometimes I'm all the way over into intrigued . . . but I never sign up. You know why? Because I consider the source.

There are so many How to Write workshops and books and seminars and opportunities to separate you from your money. I've read a few of the books, I'm sure I'll read a few more (I have one in my library TBR right now) but as I age, I am much more conscious of who is providing this material.

Do I want to read the How Tos of someone who never actually has? Sparkling Dialogue in Ten Easy Steps written by someone who's never published and whose writing bores me. How To Write a Kick Ass Query presented by someone who published one book ten years ago. Marketing for Writers sold to me by someone I've never heard of.

Since entering the blogosphere I have come across fantastic gems on writing by sources that actually hold credence for me. Published authors, the ones who are making a living at it, will share what they have learned. They usually just don't have time to sit down and organize seminars and take in and grade the unfocused meanderings of twenty students every month while working on their own craft. They also, usually, don't have time to sit down, deconstruct their own brains and put together a book on how to write. But they'll still share what they can when they can. I appreciate those table scraps more than they'll ever know.

In the meantime, I pick up most of my tips on writing from reading. Reading published books, reading what authors have to say about their process, reading what reactions other readers have to good and bad books alike and reading how reviewers approach both praise and criticism. But no matter what, I always, ALWAYS consider the source.

Currently reading: The Watson Brothers
Currently reading: Wild Rain
Just finished: Club Dead


Erika said...

That's a good point. I don't own a whole lot of how to write books but I do own a few. "How I Write" by Janet Evanovich is one of my favorites.

Venus Vaughn said...

Now you see, there's a source I'd trust! I haven't read it yet, but I will eventually.

Or like the book I'm waiting to read, The Courage To Write by Ralph Keyes--it's been recommended by Jennifer Crusie. So, again, another source I trust.

And "On Writing" by MR King is on my list of TBB as well.

Tumperkin said...

Plus it depends on how much time you have available. Having limited time to write, I'd rather learn by doing than by listening to someone else telling me what they do.

Venus Vaughn said...

That's a darned good point. I probably would take the time to evaluate all points of view if I didn't have any other constraints. But in the real world, I gotta stick with shortcuts like knowing who the heck you are before I believe what you say :-)