Wanna Have Lunch With Stephen King?
Suppose you, an aspiring writer (or even an established one), got the chance to have a two-hour lunch with Stephen King?
How much would that be worth?
If you had to put a dollar figure on it, how much would you pay to have that experience? What price would make it fair to Stephen King for the expenditure of his time, for permitting you access to his wisdom? What would it be worth to you, just to hang out with the master of horror over a cheeseburger and fries?
Suppose you were a young architect and you could have dinner with Frank Gehry? Suppose Mr. Gehry would not only answer your questions or take a look at your portfolio but that he would actually prepare a two-hour piece of instruction for you? Suppose he would distill everything he had learned over sixty years in the profession—and present it all to you?
How much would you pay for that?
Clearly those happy meals are never gonna happen.
You and I are not going to get to sit down with Toni Morrison or Joyce Carol Oates or Margaret Atwood. They’re too busy. They’ve got work to do and lives to live.
There’s an alternative however.
Joyce Carol Oates teaches at Princeton. Frank Gehry is doing an online MasterClass. Margaret Atwood spoke last weekend at the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books.
This is all by way of getting around to Shawn’s three-day STORY GRID course on writing Love Stories this past February in New York.
Shawn gets e-mails every day asking him to read manuscripts, be somebody’s mentor, go out to lunch and let some young writer pick his brain.
Shawn can’t do that. And the people who ask him are asking, whether they realize it or not, for thousands and thousands of dollars worth of hard-earned skill and savvy, for which they are willing to pay nothing.
The answer is to take a course from Shawn.
A few years ago, before Shawn and I had become partners in Black Irish Books, I needed his help. I asked him to read a manuscript I was stuck on. He did it. I wrote him a check for $35,000.
A few years later, feeling guilty, I asked him, “I got off cheap, didn’t I?”
Shawn laughed and said, “Yeah, you did.”
Expertise has value.
Decades of sweat and pain are worth something.
Frank Gehry is not going to write back to you and me saying, “Sure, let’s meet for lunch at Gjelina.” Philip Roth is not gonna have a drink with us at the St. Regis. And J.K. Rowling? Her security staff shredded our note before it got within a half-mile of her.
Maybe you and I can’t take these masters to lunch, but we can sign up the next time one of them teaches a course or a weekend seminar.
Okay, we won’t get Alice Munro one-on-one. But we can raise our hand and ask a question if and when she teaches a course. We can approach her during a break.
People write to me all the time, wanting me to put them in touch with Shawn so he can read/edit their novels. I don’t even tell Shawn. He’s too busy.
The answer, again: take a course from Shawn.
In The War of Art I went off on a rant against workshops. I called them “colleges of Resistance,” which they are, if you’re using the workshop as an excuse not to do your own work.
But my assessment has softened over the years. The right course, taught by the right teacher, can be invaluable. Not just for the specific content (which a lot of times we can glean from a teacher’s published books or blogs or articles) but for the experience of actually meeting the person we hope to learn from. It seems silly but there’s a kind of magic to it. There’s no substitute for it.
For years Shawn has been playing with the idea of teaching what he knows, not just in books but in person. It’s taken him a while to wrap his mind around the idea of booking venues, preparing material, and actually getting up there onstage and engaging an audience.
But he’s doing it now.
If you and I are smart, we’ll get on a plane and go.
We might not be able to get him to have lunch with us, but we can learn a lot from three days in the same room with him.