Monday, February 11, 2008

Learn All You Can - Meyer

“Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.” – Alfred Sheinwold

I have often threatened to write a book about all the things you shouldn’t do to become a successful author. Yes, I do have enough material to fill a whole book!

At a recent book launch, I told my audience, largely composed of former writing students, of one thing that I had done that they should never do. Back when I first conceived of writing a series of books, I set myself a challenge: the last three words of one book would be the first three words of the next book. I did this (a) because I like a challenge, (b) because my books were being published out of sequence and I had some notion that a person would be able to “link” my books together in chronological order even if they couldn’t do that using a copyright date and (c) because I like a challenge.

As I teach, mentor and edit, I always strongly encourage writers to have a great “hook” at the beginning of their book. The first few words are what will draw the reader in or make them set the book down and pick up the next one on the shelf. After the first few words of a book, the second most important thing is the last few words of a book. I still remember the last line of a book I read as a child: The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far far better place I go than I have ever gone.”

I suppose part of the reason that I made so many mistakes, especially early on in my career, was that I was almost exclusively self-taught. I did have access to some books about writing from our very small local library but for the most part, it was a case of trial and error.

I had been writing in virtual isolation for six years before I attended my first writer’s conference. It was the first time I had ever met an editor, the first time I had met an agent, the first time I had rubbed shoulders with other authors. I was so blown away! And what amazed me the most was that I found out that what had taken me six long years to learn on my own, I could have learned in three days through the wonderful workshops and classes that were a part of the conference!

I was so excited by this that I gathered my courage up, went home, put together everything I had learned (the hard way) and began preparing writing classes so that other aspiring authors could learn about writing without having to go through the trial and error process that I had gone through.

So this is my message to all of you out there who may be thinking about writing or have started to write. Don’t struggle alone. Even if there are no writing classes or writer’s groups near where you live, there is an organization that is here for you. The Word Guild can be a support to you wherever you are in this very large country of ours.

Write! Canada is a conference held every year in June in southern Ontario. It’s a great time to learn from the mistakes - and successes - of other authors. For more information about Write! Canada and the other services that The Word Guild has for you, check out their site at

Dorene Meyer

1 comment:

Linda Wegner said...

What a great endorsement of The Word Guild. We're colleagues, we two writers who work in isolation. I won't get to Guelph this year but I still draw on the inspiration I gained in the 2007 conference.

We'll keep on writing - together and all alone. Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed your words!


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