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  • Mary Ellen Johnson

And you think you can paint a house!

I liken writers to house painters... in the sense that most of us, including me, think we can paint a house or at the very least, a room. How hard can it be? Buy a five gallon can of Sherwin Williams, a couple of brushes, tape up the trim (or not, as in my case) and voila! That's all there is to it! After many years of painting--dumping a half gallon paint can on bedroom carpeting, falling off a ladder, failing to properly tape trim (or not paint trim), getting more paint on my face and clothes than on the wall, I believe painting should be left to the experts. Anybody may be able to paint but only experts can do it well.

Which is the way I feel about writing.

"I can write my name...I can write a sentence...I wrote essays in college....I've always wanted to write... therefore I am qualified to write a book. "

NO, YOU'RE NOT.

Writing is a skill, just like painting, just like anything else. Some of us have a natural talent, but regardless it takes YEARS of practice to be a decent writer. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters serve apprenticeships. Yet way too many people think they can throw together a bunch of words and create a best seller. No you, can't. You can't even create a competent book.

The upside of indie publishing is that good writers have an opportunity to be read without having to beg at the door of traditional publishers. The downside is that anyone can string together some words, format, and throw their piece of dreck on Amazon.

Because I subscribe to Kindle Unlimited i get both. But, dear god in heaven, so much of the stuff is unreadable. (There are some best selling authors who don't know the basics of good writing or story telling, but in that case, what do I know? I'm a barely seller. )

I used to get really frustrated when editors and/or agents would say they could read a page and know whether a ms. is publishable. Now I know...they're right. Sometimes a paragraph will do it. It's more difficult to read a ms. by a talented author because you'll have to figure out things like plot fails, weak characterization, etc. That writer knows his or her craft, but may need some guidance. (And all too often traditional publishing houses won't offer that.) But the amateurs??? There as easily recognizable as the half gallon of brown paint I dumped on our red shag carpeting so many years ago.

There's a reason I now hire professional painters. And why I've spent a lifetime working to become at least marginally proficient at the craft of writing.


What would these gargoyles have looked like if stone masons had the medieval equivalent of Kindle? Just grab a hammer and chisel and start flailing!!

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