I don’t have a degree in writing. But I have taken some writing courses and I highly recommend this to others trying to master the craft of writing.
The first writing course I took was a novel-writing course through a community college. The course was fantastic and I learned a ton! But the best part was the opportunity to read my work aloud each week and get feedback on it. My favorite moments were hearing people laugh at the parts that were supposed to be funny. Whew! This was very affirming for me.
Since then I have taken courses through community education, online, and through local literary groups. Sometimes the best part about a course is the chance to hear other people’s work so that you can compare it to your own. I especially liked the instructors who were so well-prepared that they gave out outlines of their lecture to take home. How nice to not be stuck note-taking so you can concentrate on the discussion. Some of the classes I have taken were on magazine writing, copywriting, and manuscript editing. No matter what the focus, I learn something new every time. Taking writing classes forced me to write and to think about writing.
If you are looking for an online writing course, the following resources may be helpful:
Gotham Writers’ Workshop--
Free University Writing Courses--
Writer’s Digest Writing Courses--
Creative Writing Now--
Don’t forget that another great way to learn more about the art of writing is to read books about it. The great thing about books on writing is that you can find very specific topics, like picture book dummies or how to start writing non-fiction articles for children’s magazines, etc. You can also find eBooks about writing at little or no cost. You can do a search for “free eBook writing skills” and you will find lots of free resources for writers.
As a member of several critique groups, I wholeheartedly encourage any fellow aspiring writers to join one. Below is a brief overview of many basic writing problems that critique group members have helped me find and fix.
POV- Do you jump from one character’s point of view to another’s? Are you inconsistent in use of point of view?
Verb Tense- Do you change from past to present or back? “We wanted to sneak into the theater. Do we dare?”
Not Using All the Senses- Are sound and sight the only senses you use in your writing? Smell is a very evocative sense that carries strong associations. What does baby powder make you think of? Mosquito spray? Chlorine? What about sound? Are the creaks from an old washing machine helping set the scene of a dilapidated house? What about the hum of street market sounds? Can you use sense of touch to make the paper-thin hands of an old man seem real?
Telling Instead of Showing- Do you say “she panicked” instead of “her hands became slick as the realization of her true situation set in”? Okay, that’s not a great example, but the idea is to describe the situation so that the reader can infer the emotion—not to explain the emotion directly to them. You don’t have to say “she was scared” when you can show it by saying “her hands shook so badly she dropped the phone.”
Starting Each Scene with a Weather Report- You want to set the scene, but you do not have to describe every detail before getting to the action. You can start with the action, and then say “the deafening sound of the rain only added to Bart’s uneasiness” or “he shivered from the cool evening breeze.”
Other issues my writer friends have helped me identify are: spending too much time making a point when a shorter version would be adequate; logic-checking in a sequence of events; identifying unrealistic timelines; keeping characters consistent in their manner of speaking or voice; keeping the story moving; making sure not to depend too much on narrative; changing the tone from one section to another, i.e., melodramatic in one chapter with wry humor in another; and lots of other things. ;)
If you are trying to improve your writing skills, getting feedback is essential. Whether you hire a writing tutor, enter contests, take a class or decide to join a group of fellow writers, I hope it helps you hone your skills. Best of luck in your continued development and success as a writer!
I just discovered this free humor poetry contest. It's called Wergle Flomp. Check it out:
Deep down I have always felt that I should be writing. That I was meant to be a writer. But for myriad reasons, I never pursued it. Fear of failure, lack of confidence, and feeling that I didn’t have the time were all things that prevented me from pursuing writing.
Fear was probably the biggest factor stopping me. If you have the dream of being a writer and you go for it and fail, THEN what do you have? You don’t even have the DREAM to cling to anymore. One thing I have learned is that “talent” is an overrated concept. Most successful people have become successful by working hard at their craft, developing their skills, and devoting time and attention to the process. For most of us, writing is no different. You may have a natural writing talent, but that doesn’t mean you can skip the steps of learning, practicing and revising. I’m trying to say that you will probably have to experience failure several times before you learn the process thoroughly enough to do it well. As for me? I'm still learning. But by putting imperfect work out there, I'm moving past the fear and getting great feedback for improving my skills.
Several years ago, I hired a life coach. When my interest in writing came up, my coach gave me a “homework assignment” to sign up for a writing class--any kind. The point was to take a step forward. I came back the next week and confessed that I hadn’t signed up for any classes. But, I told her, a brochure offering writing classes had come in the mail and only one of the classes would be feasible with my work schedule. But it was a novel-writing class, so I couldn’t sign up for it. She asked why not and all I could think to say was “I can’t write a novel.” To which she replied “Why not? How do you know you can’t write a novel? Have you tried? I haven’t known you long, but I think you could write a novel.” So I left with instructions to sign up for a writing class—it didn’t have to be the novel writing class. I did end up taking that class and I wrote a novel that year. It wasn’t a good novel, but I got the words on paper and I thought up the concept, developed the plot, sketched out the character traits, and wrote the dialogue. She was right: I could write a novel. To this day I am amazed by the huge impact the confidence of one stranger could have on my self-confidence. Was that what I had been waiting for my whole life? Permission? A vote of confidence? It’s crazy when I think about it.
I have always worked full time and it never felt like I had enough free time to dedicate to writing. But when I took that novel writing class, I was working on a large project at work and also acting as property manager for a duplex. I think the writing class was like a vacation for me. It was “me” time. I only wrote one scene a week. I felt obligated to write something every week because I didn’t want to show up for class with nothing to read aloud. The class held me accountable. I didn’t want to let anyone down. For many years I was a high school teacher. In all those years, with my summers off, I couldn’t motivate myself to finally dedicate some time to writing. If I had just signed up for a writing class! The point I’m trying to make is that you make time to do the things you really want to do. And all the time in the world won’t motivate you to do something that you don’t want to do or are afraid of trying.
A little over a year ago during the Christmas season, I heard “A Cup of Christmas Tea” on the radio. My first thought was that I could do that too. Rhyming is always something I have enjoyed doing, but I had never attempted to write a story that way. The next thing I thought about was how much I used to enjoy the Dr. Seuss books of my youth. The stories were so clever and entertaining. So I attempted to write my first rhyming story. A Christmas story for children. It was terrible, but it did rhyme. I revised and rewrote many times before I got it to a point where I felt I could show it to others and get their honest feedback.
So that’s how I got to this point. A few words of inspiration and a commitment to a class full of other aspiring writers…and I finally got moving. I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing, but I can see progress in my work and it feels good. I am so glad I made the leap and finally tried something I have always wanted to try. I may never make any money at it or become a known author, but there’s only one way to find out, so I’m going for it.
I hope you found this story inspirational. Maybe this is the catalyst you or someone you know needs to get going on something. If so, I wish you the best of luck on your journey!
One thing most people don't know about me is that I have something called spasmodic dysphonia. It's a voice disorder. I get botox injections in my larynx to help me keep a smooth speaking voice.