Hey all! Things are going well in my neck of the woods. We just got our first snow today – it snowed for a long time too. It seems like a perfect day to stay inside and write and not be anywhere near the roads.
This post was suggested on my Patreon by one of my Patrons. I’m really upfront about the fact that I have formal education in writing. My classes centered in on workshops, which while they don’t work for everyone, worked well for me. I learned a lot from going over other peoples’ writing with a critical eye and developed a tough skin from having my work critiqued repeatedly. But what happens post graduation?
Within about two months of graduating from college, I was already very aware of the absence of feedback from other writers. I missed my classes because I missed learning more about writing. I missed getting feedback.
continuing education without ‘continuing’ education
One of the first things I decided was that I wanted to get into graduate school. It’s something I waffled on for a very long time and eventually actually applied. Last year, actually. It took me that long to work up the courage.
But it would have been a terrible decision in terms of finance and job prospect. An MFA in creative writing would only really open up one job for me – teaching at a college level, you know, a highly competitive career that doesn’t really have a lot of openings. And getting an MFA would give me a lot more in terms of student loans (depending on the program).
So I was at a bit of a loss – how does one continue education without going through the traditional means of graduate school?
Really, a lot of this is going to come down to what works best for you. I can only give suggestions on things that have worked well for me.
read. read more. keep reading.
One of the biggest bits of advice I’ve gotten is to read. Part for enjoyment, part for better understanding the craft, and part for more critical reading.
Writing is one of those activities that can burn you out – reading someone else’s work might get you inspired again. It might spark something new in your mind and get you moving. And for me, the biggest battle has always been gaining momentum.
Reading also allows writers to better understand the craft aspects of writing. You can see how other people are handling plot arcs, emotional scenes, certain types of characters. It can even boil down to seeing someone who handles grammar better than you do.
As for the more critical reading…the understanding of craft falls under this as well. But then you’re also looking more at the meat of the story and how it worked. What it meant, what it was trying to do…
Reading really can help you learn more about yourself as a writer.
beta readers. seriously. beta readers.
There are multiple aspects of a writer’s education – and one is learning about the strengths and weaknesses within your own work. This is something I feel is really important in my writing process, probably because of the whole ‘got most of my formal writing education in workshop classes’ thing.
This is where beta readers come in. A beta reader gets to go through your manuscript and provide you with feedback on what works, what doesn’t work, if the pacing is good, everything. This is something separate from editing for me, though it’s really just semantics at that point.
Why have other people look at your work? Because you know your work so well that you might not notice things like plot holes.
Something that’s really helped me is learning how to take critique from others and apply it to my work. Not all suggestions get used, some of them don’t fit in with what I think the story needs. But oftentimes the beta-reader is spot on with issues.
Now to answer the question before it happens – where do we find beta-readers? Join up on a writer’s forum. Asks your friends. Ask a non-writer even. Get multiple opinions. Post something on Facebook about beta-readers, post something on Tumblr. Twitter even.
look up writing exercises
Seems like one of those self-explanatory things, right? Obviously writing exercises are going to help you learn more about writing. The side effect of looking for these writing exercises is finding blogs/websites/whatevers that actually post writing tips, writing based content, all sorts of things.
So not only have you found writing exercises which allow you to stretch your creative muscle and work within odd confines, but you find a whole slew of random writing content.
On that note – one of my favorite writing exercises actually focuses in on analyzing structure. Pick your favorite novel in the genre you’re working on – read through it once for enjoyment. Then read through it again and summarize each chapter – list the important events and things like point of view character if there are multiple POV in the novel. Basically, you’re going through and outlining someone else’s novel so you can learn how to do the same thing with your own work. The novel I wound up summarizing is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, it was very interesting.
Writing is constantly chasing after the idea of perfection. On the way, you pick up all sorts of knowledge. You learn about your writing, your strengths and weaknesses. In order to keep running after perfection, you keep learning, you keep honing your craft. Even though perfection isn’t really an attainable goal, what’s important is that you’re learning and improving.
A writer’s education is never done.
One of the best things about writing is that you can always improve. Oh, and that whole creating worlds and characters thing. I really like that part.
The options I gave aren’t the only ones. I Googled ‘free online writing classes’ and got a bunch of results. So there are free/inexpensive options out there if you want something more ‘formal’. Education is everywhere. You learn about writing from watching shows and movies. And from playing video games. They all have different methods of delivering stories.
Just have an open mind and don’t be afraid of a little critique. Hearing that something isn’t good sucks, but in the long run, it helps you.
And if you find something particularly neat? Share it in the comments! I’m always looking for new ways to further my writing education!
crossposted on my Patreon