Tag Archives: continuing education

Thoughts on the craft #amwriting

We who write all begin this journey with a story we think would make a great book, and a certain amount of natural talent for storytelling. However, unless we have an exceptional memory for the obscure and boring lectures we endured in grade-school grammar, authors who are serious about the craft must learn how to write.

This means they must learn how to construct a sentence using accepted rules of grammar. They must also learn how to construct a story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The core features of a great story are:

  • Originality
  • Plausibility
  • Plot arc
  • Character arc
  • A satisfying end

Within those pages, we want to see:

  • Unique characters
  • Well visualized settings
  • Compelling dialogue
  • Tension and pacing
  • Hooks and transitions that make a reader want to turn the page

Knowledge of grammar and writing craft is crucial if you want a reader to stay with your story. As I’ve mentioned before, commas are to clauses what traffic signals are to streets—they govern the flow of traffic, although, in the case of sentences, the traffic is comprised of words, not cars.

The opportunity to learn writing craft is out there on the internet, and it costs nothing.

Education in America is under fire at all levels. The determined learner can still get that education simply by going to the library and asking questions. Start there and use the information you glean there to lead you to other places to learn writing craft via the internet.

This is why it is crucial for us to support the libraries in our towns, both financially if possible, and with our patronage. In places where the education system is broken, libraries are the last bastion of opportunity for both children and adults with limited funds and unlimited curiosity.

If you are fortunate enough to have a secondhand bookstore in your town, purchase secondhand books on writing craft, and invest in technical manuals detailing different aspects of writing.

For the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

So here are several sources of online information about the craft of writing (and I’ve listed them before):

I’ve also mentioned before that Harlequin has one of the best websites for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in.

I say this because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed:

  • They get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion–something I need to work on.
  • They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Many authors are able to get a degree in creative writing. But many talented authors don’t have the money or education to get into a program like that. They are working day jobs to support their families and money is tight.

However, an education can be obtained at little or no cost–but it takes effort and determination. Though we may not have the money or time to get an official degree, many of us will become knowledgeable the craft of writing by obtaining information in bits and pieces over time. This is the method I have used–a combination of some college classes, writers’ workshops, and many hours of reading books on the craft of writing.

If you only have two books on your desk, one should be the Chicago Manual of Style, and the other should be the Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus. Besides those two books, these are a few of the books I keep in hard-copy and refer to regularly:

Story, by Robert McKee

Dialogue, by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler

The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda

Rhetorical Grammar, by Martha Kolin and Loretta Gray

You may not be able to afford to take writing classes or have the time to go to college and get that degree. But you may be able to afford to buy a few books on the craft, and it’s to your advantage to try to build your reference library with books that speak to you and your style. You will gravitate to books that may be different than mine, and that is good. But some aspects of our craft are absolute, nearly engraved in stone, and these are the basic concepts you will find explained in these manuals.

Reading is the key. Read widely, and you will begin to understand many different forms of literature. We all know that reading widens your horizons and opens your mind to possibilities in your own work that you otherwise wouldn’t consider.

Most importantly, you must lose the fear of being stuck reading works you don’t enjoy.

An essential skill for you to gain as a writer is the ability to clearly identify what you don’t like about a given work.

By reading widely, you will become less inclined to make broad statements, such as “I don’t like sci-fi.” You will be able to identify what it is that you don’t like about a given novel rather than dismissing an entire genre.

So much can be done at no cost financially, but it does require a desire to learn and the willingness to try.

If you have some funds to dedicate to learning the craft of writing, you can take online classes or attend seminars in your local area.

Look at the calendar of your local library and see if they are offering any FREE seminars on writing craft. If you check in your local area, you will be surprised just how many opportunities there are to learn about the craft of creative writing.


Credits/Attributions

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed Feb 26, 2017

The Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press; Seventeenth edition (September 5, 2017) Fair Use

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#amwriting: educating yourself

my-books-cjjasp-own-workAuthors who are serious about the craft must learn how to write.

This means they must learn how to construct a sentence using accepted rules of grammar and learn how to construct a story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This may sound like a “Well, duh!” moment, but consider the number of free or 99 cent books available out there that, when you read the opening pages in the “look inside” option, are nothing but a waste of electronic space.

I can forgive a certain amount of proofreading errors—of all the many steps involved in getting a book to market, proofreading is the most difficult to get perfect. But I do need a good story.

The opportunity to learn writing craft is out there on the internet, and it costs nothing. We all know education in America is under fire at all levels. The determined learner can still get that education simply by going to the library and asking questions. Start there and use the information you glean there to lead you to other places to learn writing craft via the internet.

This is why it is crucial for us to support the libraries in our towns, both financially if possible, and with our patronage. In places where the education system is broken, libraries are the last bastion of opportunity for both children and adults with limited funds and unlimited curiosity.

If you are fortunate enough to have a secondhand bookstore in your town, purchase secondhand books on writing craft, and invest in technical manuals detailing different aspects of writing.

For the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information about the craft of writing:

Harlequin has one of the best websites, for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in.

I say this because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed:

  • They get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion–something I need to work on.
  • They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Most importantly, authors must read widely and understand many different forms of literature. Reading widens your horizons and opens your mind to possibilities in your own work that you otherwise wouldn’t consider. You must lose the fear of being stuck reading works you don’t enjoy.

Part of your education involves being able to clearly identify what you don’t like about a given work. You become less inclined to making broad statements, such as “I don’t like sci-fi.” You become more able to identify what it is that you don’t like about a given novel rather than dismissing an entire genre.

Many authors make the effort to get their MFA—a degree in creative writing. These degrees can be earned through most universities and also in many excellent stand-alone programs. Either way, this level of education requires an intense level of commitment, both financially and in terms of sacrifice on a personal level—two years of your life, to be exact.

According to Cecelia Capuzzi Simon in her article for the N Y Times, Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.,

Creative writing programs are designed as studio or academic models. Often, programs combine aspects of both. They typically offer fiction and poetry tracks, though “creative nonfiction” is gaining ground, as are screenwriting and playwriting.

Many talented authors don’t have the money or education to get into a program like that. They are working day jobs to support their families. Yet, they want to learn the craft of writing. If you have some funds to dedicate to learning the craft of writing you can take online classes or attend seminars in your local area.

Author and Writing Coach, Lindsay Schopfer, offers several affordable online courses: http://blog.lindsayschopfer.com/online-writing-course

Author and University of Washington instructor, Scott Driscoll offers workshops in the Seattle area: http://www.thewritersworkshop.net/classes/fiction-writing-classes/

Look at the calendar of your local library, and see if they are offering any FREE seminars on writing craft. My good friend, author Lee French, and I are scheduled to give four seminars on writing craft over the course of 2017 through the local library, and they will cost the attendee nothing.

IBM_SelectricWe discuss the nuts-and-bolts of various different aspects of creating a novel, offer handouts and advice in a congenial setting, and have met many wonderful local authors through this program.

If you check in your local area, you will be surprised just how many opportunities there are to learn about the craft of creative writing.


Credits/Attributions

Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A., Cecelia Capuzzi Simon, ©  NY Times Apr 9, 2015,  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/education/edlife/12edl-12mfa.html?_r=0 accessed Feb 26, 2017

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed Feb 26, 2017

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Writers’ Resources

tumblr_ng6esx01YT1syd000o1_1280The internet is a wonderful place. You can find just about anything here, and you can get a complete education for FREE!

Of course, it’s not credited, but there is an incredible amount of information on just about anything for free, up to and including college level courses in various aspects of writing through Coursera.

Coursera is a wonderful organization. They are a for-profit organization but you can take online courses from major universities FOR FREE, and while you don’t receive a diploma, you do get a good education. Wikipedia tells us that: All courses offered by Coursera are accessible for free and some give the option to pay a fee to join the “Signature Track.” Students on the Signature Track receive verified certificates, appropriate for employment purposes. These students authenticate their course submissions by sending webcam photos and having their typing pattern analyzed. 

I’m not sure how that works, but I am all for it. What I really like is that Coursera offers specializations, set courses that help increase understanding of a certain topic. I’ve take a couple of medieval history courses from them and while I didn’t have the money to get the certificate, I really enjoyed them. Knowledge is such a useful thing!

But  for the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge of the craft of writing, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance FOR FREE.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information About Writing your novel:

www.writersdigest.com

PBS.org/GuiltyPleasures/HowToWriteRomanceNovel

The Creative Penn

Harlequin.com

Creative Writing Now

Harlequin has one of the best websites, for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in, because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed and so they get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in timely fashion–something I need to work on. They also offer tips on marketing your work.

They also give you all kinds of tips on how to create a writing space and organize your day so you can get good writing time in and still manage your family. I used to do my writing on an old IBM Selectric that was next to the gerbil cage–not a good environment for writing.

In regard to research, reading one Wikipedia article does not qualify you as an expert in your chosen subject, so go beyond the surface. Find the websites that really explain your subject and go to the local library to research. Once you know what you are writing about, you can mash it up any way you want to.

But even though we are educating ourselves about our novel’s setting and have gained an understanding of how the science that forms the core plot-point actually works, sometimes we hit a bit of sticking point in the creative process.

When that happens we can either drop out of writing mode (not an option for me) or we can find a way to yank that thought out of our head and identify what must happen to get that scene moving. I am a linear thinker, so after a little trial and error, and after seeing how other authors work, this is what I came up with, that works for me in regard to organizing a scene that I am having difficulty with. If it works for you, feel free to:

right click>save image as jpeg or png and save it to your hard drive to print out

Scene creation chartOnce I know how these seemingly disparate things fit together, the scene becomes unstuck, and I begin making progress again. Also, something about the process of spreadsheeting the scene gives me a little insight as to why a particular character might NOT need to be in that scene.

Sometimes just knowing who does and who doesn’t need to be in a scene is just as important as knowing where the nearest inhabitable (for humans) planet  might lie in a given star system.

Habitable_zone_-_HZ

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