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Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 20th, 2010, 2:03 pm
by polymath
Down the well wrote:
polymath wrote:The admonition for writers to read, read widely is both mentoring and mentorship. Literature study and response is a mentoring process. Writers writing about writing, from Aristotle to Zelazny, is mentoring. Writing workshops and retreats, online writing discussion venues, writers conferences, manuscript marts, etc., mentoring.
Amen, brother.

And I loved what you said about voice. No one can find that for you but you.
Cool, Down the well, and please pass the mustard.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 20th, 2010, 2:19 pm
by knight_tour
polymath wrote:I tutored several classes of primary schoolers on writing for one semester. The one who had the strongest writing skills and natural talents followed her own way. Like the readers I also tutored, all she needed was one prompt to grow on. Ask questions and find your own answers wherever you may. She didn't need hand holding, whip cracking, or someone to put Band-Aids on her boo-boos. Her nurturing mother did that. She needed someone to give her permission to follow her own way. One thing she had over her classmate cohort was a unique way of listening, observing, understanding, and relating what she encountered. And it was that she could put herself in others' places and understand and empathize with them through their perspectives. She wasn't a preaching writer, she was a visionary and mystic writer. I hope it won't be beaten out of her by life.
Exactly what I mean. She was receiving the level of encouragement she needed to progress faster than she would have on her own. A good teacher knows not to interfere where he or she is not needed. It isn't hand-holding to provide incentive, encouragement, or any other form of teaching/mentoring/guidance that any individual may require at any given stage of their development. Getting out of the way doesn't mean you are not providing something positive to the student.
I too play chess. I picked it up at a young age from reading Dad's chess books. He'd played for decades. He came back from a deployment and challenged me to a contest, having heard from Mom I was interested. I mated him in five moves. He upset the board, picked up the pieces, put it away, and never played again. The mentors I've had in the game since have been worthy opponents driving me to greater efforts. I'm no master class player, but I can see what it would take to become one. No thank you, I've got other things I want to do with my life. I do see what it takes to be an accomplished writer. That's my life, my path with a fallback position or two related to writing.

I can't get there any quicker or easier than anyone else no matter how much individual mentoring attention I'm given. The average is ten years of dedicated hard work, about what it takes a gymnast, a painter, a sculptor, an actor, a politician, a baker, a brick layer, a candlestick maker to realize the pinnacle of their capabilities.
A person of great talent at chess does indeed progress far faster than the so-called 10 years needed to master something. That is why over and over again kids nowdays are achieving the grandmaster title between the ages of 12 to 14. None of these kids do so solely on their own talent. They do so with guidance AND talent. Over a much longer period of time they could still achieve the same title without much outside help, but historical numbers show that such individuals will not reach as high a level. This is not a matter of a few statistics. Chess metrics covers millions of active players. Today's trainers can take any child with serious chess talent at the age of 8 and push them to a master's title by age 12 (more and more often by the age of 10).

Regardless, the whole point of my post has been twisted into other things. It was never meant to be about turning writing into a big system of development. I meant only to suggest that figuring out a couple more reasonable types of assistance could be very helpful in aiding the progress of the many talented writers who are currently being overlooked. If you had a book that was just a shade away from being worthy of an agent taking it on, all it would take is an appropriate nudge to push you that final step a little faster than you would normally get there completely on your own.

Even without any direct aid from a teacher or mentor, it would be tremendously helpful to writers to actually know where their book truly stands. Is it crap? Is it mediocre? Is it awesomely written but not something the public will buy? Are you really great but have one or two specific weaknesses you need to work on? Just getting answers to such questions can make an enormous difference to a writer. Naturally, agents don't have the time for nor do they profit from giving such feedback. A patron could provide the financial incentive for someone, editor or agent, to give such feedback.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 20th, 2010, 2:35 pm
by polymath
Late Nineteenth century linguists attempted to scientifically define narrative structure as the driving force of literature. They succeeded as much as humanly possible. Russian Formalism prevailed for a time. Structuralists joined in, reinvented and reacted to the rigidity of the form, and prevailed for a time. Western linguists took it up and reinvented Formalism and Structuralism as New Criticism, but met fierce resistance from creative minds. Postmodernism and New Criticism clashed in the mid Twentieth century. New Criticism faded into relative obscurity. Postmodernism thrives from its artfully self-aware questioning authority and challenging absolutes. Chess can be taught as an absolute, a structure. Creative writing cannot be taught beyond basic principles. Aesthetics without definable basic principles prevails in creativity, too much undefinable emotion and abstraction is involved.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 20th, 2010, 4:10 pm
by Down the well
knight_tour wrote:I have never suggested otherwise. There are many elements of art that cannot be taught. I could find a talented young chess player and become an instructor, but some elements can only bloom from within that player. That does not mean that a teacher pushing and exciting a student is not helpful, regardless of the talents of the student. Also, while a persons voice cannot be taught to them, that does not mean that they cannot discover it more quickly.
I understand what you are saying. Having someone who knows the business, who knows the requirements of publishable fiction, to have that person guide the novice writer would probably speed up the process. But I guess what I would argue is that it's the process that makes the writer. It's those years of writing and failing, and then writing and succeeding that shape the voice and test the tenacity of the writer.

I have known people who got the attention of an agent before they were finished writing their novels. Now that I think about it, they were both mentored by the same agent. Hmmm... Anyway, I know for sure that one was able to get the novel finished and have it published. I think she would have done it on her own, either way, but maybe it did speed up the process for her. I certainly know she was able to write with absolute confidence, knowing she had a well respected professional backing her. Still, it was her talent that got her noticed and her work ethic that saw the project through to the end, something she didn't get from an extrinsic source. But, yeah, it definitely sped up the process.

For most of us, however, it's a long slog down the self-taught road. Hey, if it's good enough for Hemingway and Faulkner...

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 21st, 2010, 2:13 am
by knight_tour
Down the Well, I agree with you. I am not suggesting any huge 'fix' for writing is necessary. I do think it is a bit sad that the professional feedback that is so essential to rapid development is almost completely lacking in writing. In any other art it is relatively easy for an upcoming talent to get such feedback. I am in no way saying that agents are obligated to do this. They don't make money for doing so, and they are swamped with work as it is. It would only make sense for them to provide such feedback if they were compensated.

Yet, that small feedback can make a big difference for writers. I would add that I don't think it is worth it to tell those who are hopeless that they are indeed hopeless. That serves no one. But, those that have talent would truly benefit from knowing what professionals see as their weak points. Pinpointing such weaknesses puts you a good way down the road to resolving them. We often can only see some of our weaknesses. We have no way of seeing the others unless we have the good fortune to find a crit partner who despite being an amateur still manages to recognize some part of our weaknesses, or perhaps we get very lucky and one agent does provide a clue.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 23rd, 2010, 5:02 pm
by Mira
Margo wrote:[
Good GAWD, I think I just agreed with Mira about a few things. I'm pretty sure that starts some kind of Armageddon clock running. ;P
Well, Margo, I think that our agreeing on something just means you're evolving into a higher being on a higher plane of existence.

Ha, ha, ha. Sorry, couln't resist. :)

this is a really good thread.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 23rd, 2010, 9:18 pm
by Margo
Mira wrote:Well, Margo, I think that our agreeing on something just means you're evolving into a higher being on a higher plane of existence.
No, that won't help. I have a notepad that reads "I have evolved spiritually...but I'm still in a really bad mood." It was a gift. Someone saw it in a copy shop and thought of me.

For my birthday, someone else got me a t-shirt that reads: I want to be the sort of woman who gets up in the morning and, when her feet hit the floor, the Devil says, "Oh, God! She's awake!"

It's pink.

My ex-husband once described me as 'intelligent evil' and I took it as a compliment. Of course, from him, it was.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 23rd, 2010, 9:23 pm
by Nathan Bransford
I just wanted to chime in briefly to say a few random things:

- Agents do work with authors on revisions and try to get their manuscripts from one level to another. I worked with Lisa Brackmann for seven months on ROCK PAPER TIGER, and I've worked with other authors over the course of a year and even several years.
- I can't do this with everyone. I have to be extremely selective about these projects, and it usually is a situation where I can see the finish line in advance - I feel like with certain changes the novel can be something I can sell to a publisher. Even then it doesn't always work out.
- This is time I'm putting it on faith - there's no guarantee that it's going to pay off at all.
- There are mentorship programs out there at creative writing schools, paid editors, and even just critique groups. The talent and mentorship is out there, it's just not necessarily agents who are always best equipped to provide this service.
- Not every author needs coaching. I've worked with plenty of authors who are completely self-taught.

Re: Agenting needs to evolve

Posted: August 24th, 2010, 3:56 am
by Lillian Grant
I am a member of a small online critique group of mostly published authors. They offered me a spot because they saw ability where I was beginning to think none existed. In the last twelve months my writing has gone from woeful to a level where one of the top 5 e-publishers has contracted my first book. I am no genius, and have a long way to go to be truly happy with what I write, but together we all grow. I learn as much from critiquing them as I get from them commenting on my work. I am not convinced I would have gained anything more from sitting at the feet of a New York Times best selling author. The nurturing and encouragement gained from people who have taken the time to invest in my writing future, and who are desperate to see me succeed for no other reason than personal satisfaction, is beyond compare.