A Panel with Jerry Pournelle
I just got back from LTUE where Howard sat on the same panel as Jerry Pournelle. I have pictures to prove it. Maybe Howard will post some later. There were a couple of really cool moments for Howard there which I'm dying to tell, but I don't want to steal his thunder. Instead I'm going to gabble about the content of the panel's discussion.
According to Jerry Pournelle he has two jobs. One is to be an Author, where he meets people and signs books and goes to conventions and has lunch with editors. The other job is to be a writer, which is where he locks himself away and wrestles with words. According to Mr. Pournelle writing is the hard part. No one likes to write, they like to have written, but not the actual process of writing. But the only way to become a writer is to actually sit down and do it. Mr. Pournelle figures that somewhere around 1 million words worth of submittable material a person truly becomes a writer. Becoming an author is dependent on an editor and a publishing house, but anyone who sticks to it can become a really good writer.
Mr. Pournelle had a couple of specific tips on tightening up writing. He sugguests that you keep your ratio of "Bricks" to "Mortar" balanced. "Mortar" is the 400 most commonly used words in the english language. "Bricks" are every other word you can think of or make up. You need a balance of both to create readable prose. His second advice was to pay attention to the warnings of your grammar checker. Use your wordprocessor to teach you how to write grammatically. Grammatical writing is the easiest way to pull your readers into your story.
Mr. Pournelle was not a big fan of creative writing classes or writers groups. According to him the only opinions which count are those of editors and publishers. He actually seemed to advocate not showing your work to anyone else, with the possible exception of another published author. According to him you don't want to mess around with other learning writers because you're all making the same mistakes anyway. Mr. Pournelle seems to be a very forthright person and said all of these things repeatedly despite the fact that there was also a teacher of creative writing on the panel. It was the cause of a little bit of tension during the discussion, but since I saw the two of them walk out together talking amicably I suspect that they agreed to disagree.
It is perhaps presumptious of me in the face of Mr. Pournelle's weight of real world experience, but I also disagree with him on that final point. I think that fantastic gains can be made from a good writers group or creative writing class so long as the group is focused on growth rather than back-patting. One thing he said on the subject does make a lot of sense to me. Don't bring unfinished work to a writers group if you can avoid it. People are much better able to judge the work if it is complete and all aspiring writers need practice with finishing their work.
Mr. Pournelle dominated the panel, not because he was like the proverbial gorilla who can sit anywhere, but because the minute he spoke up everyone else fell silent. We all wanted to hear everything he had to say. He told fascinating stories about Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov talking about them and their wives by first names. These Giants were his friends. It was fascinating to me to watch Howard in this context. I've seen him present before when he was the headliner, it was interesting to see him do so well at a supportive role.
The discussion ended too soon. As an audience member I didn't get to throw all my thoughts into the ring the way I wanted to, but I am so glad I was able to go. I'm especially glad that the call from Link's school telling me he was sick would I come get him came AFTER the panel was over. I had to Cinderella earlier than anticipated, but I didn't miss the most important bits.