I recently began attending CrossFit. Not as much as I’d like, but I go.

It’s awful. And I love it.

My first time there, someone recognized me. I forget who. I was too scared to focus on faces. You’re the book guy, someone said. You write the books. Yes, I agreed while attempting to squat. I write the books.

Very quickly I was approached by another Crossfit attendee that overheard us, a pleasant lady who could already squat and she didn’t mock my efforts. I want to be a novelist, she said.

Oh yeah? That’s great. Have you written a manuscript?

No, she admitted, but I leave in a few weeks for a creative writing course. We’re going to this resort on an island in the ocean, and the professor will teach us to write over the semester.

Wow. That sounds exotic and intense. Good luck. She and I chatted a few more minutes and then I went back to stretching.

I really wish I could remember the name of this creative writing island. I’ve done research but can’t locate it. I want to know how much it costs. I want to know how many successful and professional writers it’s produced. Because I have a guess: the island costs a lot and doesn’t produce many writers.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the lady has the time of her life and writes forever and makes a lot of money in the process. I hope so. But I doubt it.   I’ll tell you why.

I adore the internet talkshow www.comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com Have you seen it? I think comedians and writers have a LOT in common. Getting someone to read your entire story is like getting someone to sit through an entire standup routine; it’s hard and it takes work. Jerry Seinfeld is the host and he’s fantastic, and several times he and his guest have mentioned being asked to speak at standup comedy college classes. A room full of people with pencils and notebooks learning how to do standup comedy. Jerry and his guests agree – if you’re taking that class then you’ve got no shot. You won’t be successful.

Ouch, that’s brutal. But I think I agree. Comedy can’t be taught in a classroom. At least not well. Comedy is organic and timing and practice and talent and hard work and failure and failure and tinkering and more failure and more hard work. Very little of what a college professor can teach you will help with any of that.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I have a degree in English. But I learned next to nothing about being a professional and successful novelist while in college, despite really enjoying the classes and my professors. In all seriousness, I remember exactly one thing from my creative writing classes. One thing. Want to know what it is? Make your first book as simple as possible, Donald Secreast told us. I remember that. Dunno why.

Here’s how I became a writer – I taught English for seven years. I stared at high school students during my first year and realized I didn’t know what makes a book good or bad. Why are Hunger Games and Hatchet and Enders Game excellent? Why do the girls read every Nicholas Sparks novel? Good questions, and I didn’t have the answer.

However, during those seven years I taught Lord of the Flies three times each semester. I’ve read that novel probably forty times. It’s SO good. And after the tenth time I started to understand why. Same thing with Romeo and Juliet. And Julius Caesar. And The Contender. And Fahrenheit 451.

Look, I’d say! How did the author make us love Ralph from the very first page? And how did the author make us suspicious of Jack so quickly? How’d he do that? Let me show you.

Look, I’d say! Romeo is just like you! So is Juliet. Listen to what they say. Have you heard your friends say the exact same thing? This play is about you and your friends. I’ll prove it to you.

 

I learned how to write by tearing books apart over and over and by teaching them to others.

I learned by writing one myself and tearing it apart and realizing it wasn’t good. And then by doing it again. I learned by realizing my manuscript was awful, and by not giving up.

I’m not good at CrossFit. I don’t go enough. I don’t take it seriously enough. The athletes who excel are dedicated and determined. Fitness is not something you can excel at by reading books or by only listening to your coaches. You have to do more than listen. You have to want it. You have to try hard and fail and get your hands dirty and learn through pain.

It’s the same with writing. Read the book that made you want to be a writer. Then read it again. Then dissect it and figure out why you love it. Then read another. Figure out why. Then another. Explain it to people. Teach it. Write your own. And then write another one. Learn by doing.

You can’t become successful at standup comedy by going to a class.

You can’t get in shape by sitting and listening to a coach.

And in my opinion, you can’t become a professional writer by listening to a professor.

Even if it’s on a beautiful island.

 

Alan Janney

www.alanjanney.com

 

About Carmine

Carmine
by Alan Janney
Editor:
Sparkle Press
Genre: YA Dystopian/Adventure/Romance

Synopsis

She wakes as society crumbles

She wakes up with no memory

She wakes up a queen

The girl once known as Katie Lopez wakes up in an abandoned Wal-Mart with no memory, possessing only the vague sense that something has happened.  Where is her family?  Where is her boyfriend?  She has a faint recollection of him, a ghost of a memory.  The world, she discovers, is staggering from the weight of rampaging mutants, victims of a bizarre surgery gone wrong.  Once intended to bring about a utopia, now the victims threaten societal meltdown.  Much to her surprise, the girl with no memory discovers she is their queen.

carmine-cover

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