With the close of Space City Con 2013, I can tell you several people attended solely to hear Jim Butcher give discussions on writing. Jim Butcher is especially interesting to hear talk on writing, because he disclaims any natural talent. He specifically says that his first six or eight books were unreadable garbage, suitable only to junk for parts, and says that if he could make you read them (which he says he can't because you'd quit) you'd believe him.
Jim Butcher says all his success derives from the application of writing craft. Which craft he spoke on for hours this weekend. He was generous with his time and energy even before signing what his fans asked for over an hour.
And he lectured for free with great patience. At one point, he was interrupted by a guest with no apparent question, but who wanted to berate him for failing to attribute to Heinlein a statement published at least as early as 1938 in the El Paso Herald-Post
that "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Butcher had repeated "There ain't no free lunch" several times in a blog entry encouraging would-be authors to work diligently
to realize their aspirations. The guest insisted that the phrase was first written by Robert Heinlein and seemed to demand that Butcher make some kind of public obeisance or apology. Unfortunately for the guest, Heinlein's book that most popularized the sentiment (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) is dated decades after it appeared in El Paso newspapers. Heinlein's first story,"Life-Line" sold to Astounding Science Fiction in 1939 – a year after a known earlier publication of the expression she wanted attributed to Heinlein. The expression seems to have originated in a nineteenth-centiry practice to serve "free" food full of salt to saloon customers, to induce purchases. Scoffing at the "free lunch" was undoubtedly common by the nineteen-thirties. Butcher himself said he heard it growing up as a kid, in his family, without any particular attribution. After a while, when it was obvious the session had been hijacked by someone uninterested in actually learning what Jim Butcher had to say about writing (or anything else; the guest ignored his replies), he opined that the sentiment dated to Aristotle, found expression in the parable of the grasshopper and the ant, and wasn't in special need of author-specific attribution because "truth has no copyright." And still he wasn't given peace. Guests intervened to restore order. Nuts.
But the meat of the lecture harkened back to the Importance of Craft
. Specifics were as discussed on Jim's LiveJournal page
. Also, the business of writing: you want happy endings, to sell books. But even more critically, you need good craft to make people understand and feel your characters so they can have some connection to the work and CARE what happens in your story. Craft is about *how* to tell the story so this is effectively conveyed.
Of unexpected note: feedback. Jim reported that new authors tended to depend more heavily on feedback from other authors, who may be reading differently than one's intended audience. Writers can give good craft feedback, but Jim himself uses non-author beta-readers to get feedback from a range of people with different backgrounds, to make sure he knows how people are reading his work as he progresses in turning an outline into a story. And that's what Jim does: he turns his crafted outlines into stories – his craft-dependednt method requires organization and planning (whether it makes it to paper or not). Because craft is king.
Hmm. I definitely have some more organizing to do :-)
When the talk goes up on YouTube (it was filmed by the AFK Show from Austin), I'll link that, too.