I remember that feeling. You know the one. The feeling that your natural style and craft has carried you far enough and that learning how to write creatively from classes or books or whatever will cramp your style and box you in. How can someone possibly teach you what you already seem to know?
Let me tell you this: I have been told from sixth grade that I should get my work published. Each semester in middle and high school, I presented written work to my English teacher for review and feedback. Each and every time, it was all the same–all “this is great” and “I couldn’t put it down” and “you should get this published.”
But they didn’t mean that it was publishable right then–and looking back, I can confirm it definitely was not. They saw that it was decent and that a good editor could help me make it into something you might find in a bookstore.
That’s the point of these classes and books and websites. They’re meant to teach people with a natural gift at writing how to hone it and make it into something good, not just something decent.
So what has helped me as I began my writing career?
I don’t mean your English classes from high school or college, I’m talking about courses specifically designed to teach you creative writing. I’ve taken four of these over my academic career. As a teenager, I did a summer course at the Belin Blank Institute that focused on poetry and fiction writing. That was the first class I really remember opening me up to the world of being taught how to write. I had a professor who was engaging and instructional but let his students write pretty much whatever we wanted. It was a great class. I took regular creative class in high school and two in college.
Now, I think one of the big things is knowing what you want to get out of your class–or what you don’t want. I didn’t stick with the Creative Writing degree at Arizona State because, at least at the time, the program focused almost exclusively on literary fiction writing. After the two courses, you had to enter the program and I just didn’t want to have the hemmed-in feeling writing lit fic for the next two years. I didn’t know exactly what I needed or wanted out of a writing course, but I knew I wouldn’t get it just right from the program.
ASU now has a program called Your Novel Year which would have just been amazing for me if it existed about 5 years ago but it’s not something I can do right now (and I’m not anxious to add another $9,000 to my student debt with so many more years of repayment to go).
Honestly, I haven’t read too many writing books, but K.M. Weiland’s book, Structuring Your Novel, was recommended by a friend and has been fantastic. It’s completely changed my mind about reading books on writing (although I did read and greatly enjoy Stephen King’s On Writing in high school). Weiland has helped me understand the generally-accepted story structure in books, crafting plot around Plot Points that readers expect to see and shaping arcs so that they are meaningful and well-timed. Her book has also made me more aware of the flow of the story in books that I read–which gets awkward when I realize the author has strayed from the general template and it hasn’t gone well (and curious when it has gone well!).
I have an Amazon wishlist that I am slowly stocking with more books to get as time goes on and I can’t wait!
Mostly, I search Google for specific topics but occasionally I come across a site I just have to bookmark. Two, specifically come to mind: K.M. Weiland’s site and Writer’s Digest.
K.M. Weiland has a blog where she discusses and promotes her own books (fictional and nonfictional) and provides at least three posts a week (last I checked) mentoring writers. This is one of the many ways to access K.M. Weiland on social media and I have found it to be the most comprehensive. I really like reading through the archive, since I’m a little behind on her posts. This website is a helpful supplement to the book.
The Writer’s Digest runs a great website that has advice on almost every aspect of writing in varying genres and objectives (freelance, novels, and a little other) and interviews with authors, announcement of literary agents, and links to other resources. It’s a vast wealth of resources and I really can’t do it justice here. You should check it out!
There are also a ton of blogs out there (including this one!) so a beginning professional-ish writer should be able to find a blog or blog post on just about anything. Freelance? No problem. Fiction writer? Totally covered. Specific authors you want to follow and love and learn from? They’re probably out there promoting themselves on social media somewhere.
Facebook groups for writers are a fantastic way to get in touch with other people, seek out resources from published/more successful authors, and get involved in the online writing community. The ones I have found most useful are:
The Write Life – the Facebook page for Alexis Grant’s blog which caters mostly to freelance writers but offers a ton of resources to books, programs, classes, and software that any writer can find useful.
Writer’s Circle – posts center around the craft of writing itself and how to improve yours
Writer’s Digest – I mostly use this as a way to stay up to date with Writer’s Digest website without having to check it all the time.
The big Other is finding someone who will tell it to you like it is. Preferably, this is someone who actually has some credentials as a writer and isn’t afraid to tell you when something isn’t well-written or when he/she doesn’t think the story itself is going in a good direction. This person may be a mentor or a critique partner or an editor you hire. It is oddly freeing to have someone who will actually sit down with you and work through the problems in your writing. You know they exist, but you, as the writer, can’t always see them.
Join (or make) a writer’s group! In high school, I formed The Writer’s Guild and now, out of college and with a Big Girl job, I gently and cooperatively lead The Wandering Penguins because I didn’t like what I was finding elsewhere. Writing groups are a fantastic way to meet new people and get feedback you might not find anywhere else. While we are a small group, each person in the Wandering Penguins gives me different points in the critiques that others fail to make. These differing perspectives help me create a stronger story. I’m free to disregard any criticism that I want and I’m confident enough in my own skill to do so, but my writing wouldn’t be nearly as solid without the Penguins (thanks, guys!).
Other resources include the tools you use. If you didn’t know I was a K.M. Weiland fan by now, you can’t miss it this time. She has created an outline template for Scrivener, the writing software I use, that basically takes everything from Structuring Your Novel and puts it into an interactive format. I don’t have to take notes or anything! I can just read the book and then use the template to develop my characters, my acts, and my Plot Points. Depending on your needs, there is a multitude of software programs designed to boost your creativity and writing productivity. Some are mean for you to write in and others may be meant to motivate you (like Write or Die). It’s the Internet, you can find whatever you need to be a productive writer if you want to be one.
What resources have you found useful as a writer? Leave a comment below!