Thursday, May 30, 2019

Writer School?

Here's something from my mailbag. "Dear Michael, do you need to do good in school if you want to be a writer? I stink at school and all my friends laugh at me when I tell them I want to write, but I'm serious." Followed by a sentence or two of "I need your words to encourage me" or some such nonsense.

Fortunately, a writing sample is rarely attached. If it is, either it's excellent or it stinks like rancid yak butter.

Do you have to be good in school? Given what's passing for English in some places, I'd certainly like to see more effort given to school. If you're a student reading this, please try to learn something while you can.

If you aspire to be an author and you did poorly in school, or if you're just plain uneducated, don't let it stop you. What we do as authors isn't taught in school. They teach grammar, and bless them. I can't teach that subject. If you're very fortunate, you'll stumble across some teachers who teach you how to think. But thinking is the beginning of writing, not the end, and grammar can be fixed later if you find some long-suffering editor who’s willing to do it.

In other words, school can help you with the first step or two of your journey to becoming an author. Considering how many steps come after those, don't be discouraged by test results and report cards.

To distill what you think, feel, and believe from all the trash floating around in your head, and then to actually put that on paper the way you mean to put it, is a skill that only comes from years of practice. They don't teach it in school. At least, no school I've ever attended.

Also, remember that you can never learn how to write books. You can only learn how to write the book that you are currently writing.

Our emailer then mentions that her friends laugh at her when she tells them she intends to write. Why does she care? I've lost count of how many projects I've undertaken despite criticism. Not just writing, either. Life. But let me narrow my focus so I can end this rant.

I shouldn't have to tell you why you write. You don't need my vindication or anyone else's. If those who haven't even read your work can discourage you, maybe you should give up. Or leave it all in a file cabinet somewhere for people to find after you die.

But I can tell you this. If you'll let something as silly as your grades in school stop you from even beginning to write in the first place, nothing you have to write is worth finding after you die. And if you're angry at me for saying it, good. Prove me wrong. Write a book.

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Image of school by sunil kargwal from Pixabay


  1. You don't need to be good in school to write. You will need people to help you with your work if you are not somewhat proficient in language use. But language use is something you can learn on your own in whatever way works for you. Textbooks and tests can be boring and intimidating. But there are plenty of other resources to draw from: audio courses, video courses, etc.

  2. It doesn't hurt, however, to mention that good editors are expensive, and traditional publishers won't look twice at a manuscript that is full of bad grammar and terrible punctuation. Those who want to skate through by self-publishing are heading for economic disaster if they haven't learned the basics (so don't give up the day job). A writer's life is so much easier during those years of practice writing if the would-be-author works harder in school or at least does make-up study later at a community college.

  3. If you want to write, write. Join writing groups. Learn from people who know what you don't. Learning to write is a never-ending process. Read and keep writing. You will get better.

  4. One of my favorite writing exercises was given by a friend/fellow writer. She instructed the members of our group to go anywhere in her apartment and find a book. Go to the 7th chapter, 7th paragraph. She gave us 5-minutes to write a 1-minute story. She created a monster. Another one was we were given 3 character names, a time period, a dilemma, and there was one other thing I can't think of now. It was a fun exercise. I made a really short story of it, but am now working it into a novel. Up to almost 10,000 words right now. Challenge yourself.

    1. The second exercise is very similar to one of the lessons in the writing manual I created several years ago. I remember one group in particular that really got into following the guidelines for a very short story. Every writer created a an interesting and unique piece, and everyone had fun doing it.


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