As a college writing teacher, however, I have been allowed to try out books and online software from big publishers. Most of these books and programs are pretty good. There is one new program called Writer’s Help which looks like it could have true cross-over value to creative writers even though it was created for college students writing papers.
Creative people have varying degrees of exposure to and learning about literature and rules of grammar. In my generation, the only way to be absolutely sure I was writing well, using ellipses and dashes the right way and formatting dialogue correctly, was to buy some sort of grammar reference book for writers, which I did. Now I have at least ten, all very useful. That is the old fashioned way.
Modern writers are just as impatient as modern readers. Half of the student writers in my classes do not bring in dictionaries, for instance; they have internet-access telephones and get dictionary applications on them. All well and fair.
When the student writers have trouble with grammar or word meanings, they might go to ask.com, which will lead them to 25 links dealing with that sort of material. Knowing how time consuming opening each link may be, the student writer gives up if the answer is not found swiftly.
This brings me to creative writers, writing on their own for their own pleasure, sending stories off to magazine contests or simply to be published, unaware that the mistakes in their stories are what keep them from being accepted. What if said people don’t have time to take a class? If they do take a class, what if the teacher doesn’t talk about grammar (as in a creative writing class)?
Writer’s Help is accessible by two -year or four-year subscription, neither of which is very expensive in my opinion. (You would have to take a writing course for four semesters to have that kind of access to an expert.) Since my students were individually able to buy another program that was structured a bit differently on this same publisher’s website, I do not see why non-students could not purchase the access as well. I like the way Writer’s Help allows subscribers to type in questions they need answers to, thereby directing the person to the segment that will explain. Writer’s Help could be worth every penny invested in it if you are trying to polish up a story or book and want to be sure your word usage/punctuation/formatting/verb tense is correct.
For pure content and streamlining of a novel—once you are satisfied with grammar and structure– it would be best to engage the help of a skilled editor for pay or skilled writers on a you-help me/I-help you basis, of course, but for the basics, this is a pretty exciting new online tool. There is a free trial of Writer’s Help for anyone who is interested at http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/
Type Writer’s Help into the search box and its page will come up.
When I heard Hollywood had opted to do a remake of the 1969 classic, True Grit, my first thought was: blasphemy. The original film is among John Wayne’s finest, and in fact it’s the only one of the Duke’s many (we’re talking hundreds) films to win him an Oscar for Best Actor. Why risk a do-over when the original remains a classic? After I thought about it, however, I wasn’t surprised. Hollywood has been hooked on sequels and remakes for decades. It saves them the trouble of having to produce new stories and pay good writers to write them.
I felt quite certain the new True Grit would be a tired, sorry affair when compared to the original, so when my husband suggested we make it our holiday movie (it’s our family tradition to attend a movie on Christmas day), I was shell shocked. Jody rarely wants to see a specific movie however, so along with our girls and their guys, we agreed. Oh sure, I’d read the reviews praising the film by this point, but so what? Reviews are always a mixed bag, and often times the films with the highest praise are so boring I fall asleep in the middle.
As we sat around chatting about this on Christmas Eve, Carrie suggested we watch the original True Grit so we compare the films fairly. Amazingly, I found a copy in our archived VHS collection. Even more amazingly, the VCR still worked! The film remains as strong as I remembered. Not my favorite movie for sure, or even my favorite western, but it’s still a very good film with a wonderful performance by Wayne. I felt even more confident that my initial doubts about the remake would prove on the money.
Good thing I didn’t place any bets. Two weeks after seeing the Coen Brothers remake, I remain impressed by their spectacular film, especially the performances of Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and wonderful newcomer Hailee Stanfield as the spunky14-year-old narrator, Mattie Ross. Bridges is perfect as the drunken marshal, and I will be very surprised if he doesn’t at least get nominated for Best Actor. Likewise, Stanfield is marvelous, easily surpassing her predecessor, Kim Darby. For the most part, the remake remains true to the original story line. There are some differences, however, enough to make this version unique. Matt Damon plays a very different type of Texas Ranger than Glen Campbell did in the original film. And viewers are treated to an epilogue that really adds to the story.
As writers, we’ve all heard (or read) the claim that only a finite number of basic plots or storylines exist—the number usually falls between 7 and 12—thus it’s up to us to come up with a fresh way of telling them. In other words, it’s our job to make the old new again. In the case of the writers involved with True Grit, I have two words for you: mission accomplished.
Birds and bees may not know how to “do” it ( “it” not being cough-cough, but the fine act of self publishing) yet esteemed writers who once might have breezily dismissed the mere notion with the wave of a hand are now on board with much smaller names, all of us gratified and leaning back with a satisfied smile on our pillows; woops, I mean laurels.
Laurels would probably be about the only real thing that distinguishes self publication from vanity publishing. (Vanity publishers were those companies that ran magazine advertisements like “Want to be a children’s writer?” If you did and no one else was encouraging, you paid the vanity publisher to print your book.) Laurels can be awards, earlier publication, or simply enough well-read friends heartily clapping and encouraging to give a writer courage.
That bring up foolhardiness, commonly confused for courage. Foolhardiness is definitely going to be a toxic drug in this mix and I am still waiting to see how sullied the waters of internet publication become by the lure of throwing one’s work up (yuck) for sale on ereader sites.
When I was a book reviewer for the English language newspapers in Saudi Arabia, I sometimes received self published books, and if there was no indication of credibility (laurels), I did not read more than a paragraph. A paragraph is enough to demonstrate the skill and ability of any writer. I was amazed at the horrible content that people thought worthy of printing, paid out of their own pockets. Until now, that has been the main reason the reading world counts on big publishers: to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most readers rightly presume that agents and editors will comb through the offerings and only what is best will rise to the top. In theory, that is true.
The trick for any writer is to establish credibility. You are a writer so long as you write; you need, however, some way to prove you are a good writer. Signing with a publisher is one way of doing that although I imagine those contracts are going to change (in duration if not in percentages) to tempt writers on board. Winning contests is another, although contests are, again, extremely subjective and it does not mean you are lousy if you lose one.
I cannot help but think of Stephen King’s basic message in his book On Writing: if you are good, you will be published. We could revise that to say, today, if you are good, you will be read.