There is a price of admission to writing, but it is never tendered to anyone other than yourself.
He didn’t like the thought of them knowing he’d been scared. Didn’t like the thought of them knowing what a fool he’d been. Oh, to hell with that! Tell everyone! He’d done it! He’d been driven to do it and he’d done it and that was it. That was him. That was part of who he was.George Saunders, Tenth of December
Instead of should I take a writing course, ask yourself What is stopping me from writing right now?
There are innumerable writing courses offered online. Indeed, some are taught by reputable writers. But most are the creation of people who have read The $100 Startup and now hope to make a buck on your dreams of becoming a successful, or just slightly better, writer.
These programs cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and take place over a few hours to a few months.
A better use of your resources is to find and squash that kernel of resistance. What’s stopping you?
The fear of failure?
A lack of confidence?
That futile quest for permission?
I know these feelings well.
When not writing retirement articles or financial marketing content, I’ve been fortunate to publish short stories. Still, I didn’t think I was good enough to write fiction. I never had a writing mentor, and had never participated in a creative writing workshop.
Nagged by this feeling of self-doubt, I sent a letter to George Saunders on a whim. I asked what it takes for a writer to build the necessary skills to write with confidence. It was more of a therapy exercise for myself, as I had no expectations he would ever write me back.
But he did.
Here’s what he said:
To me, it’s been about finding a style that accommodates my particular view and gifts and problems and so on. So, reading a lot of writers to find your crew, that’s one thing. And then really learning to revise per your taste, and even micro-revise – tailoring on the phrase level. Reading and absorbing the masters – that’s the big thing. It’s all so intuitive, really. Fill your head up with good examples and then recognize that your “true voice” might be one that you have to edit your way to – by cutting and choosing and rearranging text and so on.
Mostly I think it’s all about time at the desk AND recognizing that you have levels of taste, way down, that you might not know you have – taste, opinions, preferences. That’s what readers really value, I think.
What most people want is individualization, to write with their own style.
What is the probability a writing course is going to provide that?
Dean Smith coached a lot of kids. Only one of them became Michael Jordan.
To echo F. Scott Fitzgerald, if you have something to say, something nobody has ever said before, something you feel desperate to say, then what need do you have for someone else’s permission?
Write. Make mistakes. Accept criticism. Repeat.
The fact is, there is a wealth of writing tips, tricks, templates, etc., freely available online. If that’s what you’re looking for, don’t waste your money and time on the opinions of a self-declared “top writer.”
Don’t get me wrong. This sounds contradictory, and I don’t care that it does, but I am not saying that no one will ever find value in a writing course.
We all have personal triggers that help us accomplish what we didn’t think we could. A writing course may be yours. The financial and time commitment, the pressure, the criticism from peers. One or all may compel you to write seriously.
But, can you expect anything or anyone else to make you feel, when you’re stuck and the words are hard to come by, that writing is truly worth it?
Five pieces of (mostly) financial writing and one reason why I recommend reading them.
Margins is a terrific Substack newsletter. Ranjan Roy’s personal deep dive into topics are informative and entertaining.
Brad Stulberg reads study after study and remarkably distills them into the essence of living a healthier, more fulfilling life. In this article, he writes of love as the source of happiness. Something that should take precedence in our financial lives, too. For what is money for, if not for that which we love?
Deep thoughts, expressed simply. Wonderful structure and form. It’s a Morgan Housel piece.
Writing advice from one our living greats: Helen Macdonald.
She must have seen Hanna’s shocked expression because she asks us if everything’s all right, if all the crushed bodies aren’t upsetting us. I lovingly wrap my arm around my little sister who has put on a sulky pout. I’m aware there’s a risk she could suddenly burst into tears, like this morning when Obbe flattened a grasshopper against the stable wall with his clog. I think it was mainly the sound that scared her, but she stuck to her guns: to her it was that little life, the wings folded in front of the grasshopper’s head like mini fly-screens. She saw life; Obbe and I saw death.