Schooling Of Authors

If you write, or if you want to, you probably know social media is overrun with people who – for whatever reason – will try to offer you “instruction” on how to write…

[From Instagram. #Writingadvice hashtag. Screen capture.]

You can go bonkers trawling through all of that. Notice that at the time I screen captured that, that #writingadvice hashtag had nearly 300,000 posts. And that is hardly the only writing-related hashtag on Instagram alone, of course.

And look at some of those above: “Writing your second draft”; “Writing angry characters”; “Quick tips on ending your novel.” Such is probably only interesting at all to another writer, for most readers (I believe) care nothing about any of that. Reading is I feel a bit like driving a car: most readers – and I am one, too – want to enjoy the drive and are probably uninterested in how the engine was constructed.

Often when you click on such posts as well, you do wonder how much of it is “clickbait” stuff and/or efforts just to attract “clicks” and “likes” in order to try to “beat” the algorithm. In fact if you dig a little deeper from those who offer such “advice” and say they write, you also discover some who post stuff like that have themselves not actually published anything. (They may claim they are, say, currently writing their first book.) Frankly, I am uninterested in wasting my time reading writing “advice” from anyone if I have not seen at least a book they themselves have written to completion.

[Photo by Min An on]

Having written some myself, I have come to feel writing a book is to start from nothing and seek to impose order on the creative chaos as you write it in order eventually to get to a finish which the reader finds enjoyable and worth their valuable time. How you get to that last reader point is entirely up to you as the writer. As I have said before, I would never try to tell anyone “how” to write. You have to write your tales as you deem fit.

The only suggestion I do offer is from my own experience: it is best first to be a reader – possibly for years – before you try to write for publication. Read, read, read, read, read. Because through reading others we see how others write, discover what we like, what we do not like, and begin to form a sense of how we ourselves might write.

Clicking around, you may also find yourself encountering writing stuff that causes you to shake your head in disbelief. For example, this author is well-regarded by many – although I admit I have never read a thing he has written; his tales do not appeal to me – and is much-quoted on Instagram. I had stumbled on this from him shared from some unnamed Instagrammer:

[Neil Gaiman, quoted on Instagram.]

One of the slides has this example of his “wisdom” (with encirclings here being mine):

[Neil Gaiman, quoted on Instagram.]

I did a double take at that last sentence: “They don’t teach you anything worth knowing” in school. That is “wisdom?” Assuming for the sake of argument that quote is accurate (a bit of an “if” on the net, I know), one wonders, for example, where did he happen to learn to write and to read? Wikipedia states he could read at age 4 – which sounds impressive (since that is before formal schooling starts) until you realize if they are encouraged most children start to become literate by age 3-4. (I can vaguely recall “reading” at age 4, too.) Chances are that like many he had benefited from a reading start at home, sure, but that he learned to read properly mostly thanks to attending school.

I was a university history and politics lecturer for nearly a decade. I can tell you that prior to the creation of widespread state education in the mid-late-1800s in the U.S., many were barely literate, and even illiterate, by today’s standards. Here in Great Britain, the reality was much the same.

White American men in 1790 in New England, a region which long had had many village schools – for 5-13 year old boys in particular – were among the most literate in the world; but in comparison white American men in the South, a much more rural region which had no public education, were much less likely to be able to read and to write as well as their northern counterparts. Overall, though, because of some public education especially in the North, it is now estimated that about 70 percent of white American men could read and write to an extent in “1776.” On the other hand, just 40 percent of men in Great Britain and only some 30 percent of men in France – neither of which then had widespread state education – could read and write.

[Photo by Max Fischer on]

So even glibly to assert schools “don’t teach you anything worth knowing” has to rate as one of the more shockingly stupid observations I have ever read coming from an author (and especially a well thought of one, no less) and I don’t give a damn how many awards he has been handed, how many books he has sold, and how many have been adapted for the screen.

On the whole, always be careful in accepting authoring “wisdom” shared on social media.

Have a great weekend! 🙂