Learning to Write (Better)

Last year, a lot of people were excited to apply to the DC Talent Development Workshop, including yours truly. But this year it seems like I haven’t heard a peep about it; could be that I haven’t been paying attention, or maybe people are holding a grudge because of Batman v Superman. The deadline for the Writers Workshop is the end of this week, March 31, and I’m definitely applying again. With a bit of rejectomancy, I felt like I got a very encouraging rejection last year, and I’d still very much welcome the opportunity if I somehow make the cut.

But this got me thinking: Writers never stop learning to write, not if we want to keep improving and stay engaged in our work. When I started writing my first novel (Fair Coin), I had been writing short stories for seven years. It was scary but exciting to work on something different, and learn all the rules of how to write query letters and synopses and query agents. It was an introduction to a new aspect of writing, and it was nice to challenge myself and learn more about the business (and young adult fiction). And every time I try to write a story in a different genre, or from the POV of a character vastly different from me, I’m researching, revising, rewriting–teaching myself to do it. I want to write all sorts of things in my career, if I have the chance: screenplays, stage plays, television shows, comic books. But since I know as little about those as I did about short stories and novels when I was first starting out, I need to find information on how to do it.

There are many ways to learn about writing, from business questions like pitching your novel or how to plan a launch party, to the mechanics of actually writing. If you’ve been following this blog, chances are you’re interested in expanding your horizons as a writer and mastering new tools to improve your craft. (I certainly hope you’ve been learning something!) Books are a natural way to learn–especially for writers–whether you’re reading fiction from other authors or books on instruction or inspiration, like Stephen King’s On Writing, Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

Then there are workshops like Clarion West (which I attended in 2005); Taos Toolbox; Viable Paradise; and for you teen writers, the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Workshop (which I’m excited to be a guest at this summer! You can still apply through April 2.). These opportunities can be spendy and time consuming, so they aren’t for everyone, but workshops are a great way to take a crash course in fiction writing and build the critical skills, strategies, and discipline you need to succeed. I also learn something new every time I participate in my critique group, Altered Fluid; simply talking about writing, problems and challenges and solutions from other writers with different perspectives is a terrific way to learn. (This is also a great aspect of Publishing Crawl!) And there are always online workshops and writing classes at retreats, universities, and even via Skype if you look for them.

While I agree that anyone can learn to write, at least in a basic sense, I also believe that talent, discipline, and luck are vital factors in how well you succeed. But once you take the first step in learning the techniques, and embrace it as an ongoing process, you also start learning about yourself: Do you have the passion, the stubbornness, the dedication to write and publish your work? What are you better at writing than anyone else?

There are plenty of areas I need to improve on in my work and work I would love to try one day, so to keep growing as a writer I’m always going to share my writing with beta readers, participate in critique groups and retreats, and apply to classes and workshops that will teach me to be a better writer and enhance my repertoire.

I’m interested in hearing how all of you acquire new writing tools and keep them sharp? Please comment below about books, podcasts, workshops, retreats, or anything else that keep you inspired and progressing in your writing. Or hey, maybe you already know everything, and you have a thing or two to teach me?


One Response to Learning to Write (Better)

  1. Caroline Cooney Mar 27 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    great info here. thanks also for your previous post that turned me on to the Fail Safe podcast! As far as story structure, ‘The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers’ (I actually read the one marketed to screenwriters) was super helpful.

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