Sunday, October 15, 2017

Why Writers Should Study Their Craft

Confession: sometimes I’m an arrogant writer. Perhaps studying for my MA in English Literature helped a bit. (It’s called a Master’s degree for a reason, right?) Perhaps it’s because I’ve written eight novel-length manuscripts, not counting Last of the Memory Keepers. But if there’s one method for humility that works great for writers, it’s giving your story to somebody else for honest feedback.

Last winter, I started writing a novel that I believe is my best yet. Even after several rounds of edits, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I decided to send it off to several critique partners. Their feedback was invaluable, and once, I had somebody advise me to read more and to pick up a book on writing.

“But I’ve got an MA in English Literature,” I thought. “I read blog posts on writing. And I read three books a week. What more do I need?”

Nonetheless, I picked up a book on writing. I own a couple. Why not read them? And boy, am I glad I did!

Books rock.

Seriously, though. Writers, if somebody advises you to read, why would you say no? Just do it! We write books. If you don’t take the time to read them, make time.

You don’t need a degree.

Maybe I’m not the one to advocate for this, considering I up and moved to England to learn about dragons and study swordplay study quality literature. But, it’s true. You don’t have to have your MA in English or even your BA to be a writer. I won’t tell you that you don’t even need a high school degree because that would be “irresponsible” despite the many writers who were dropouts and still managed to be successful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a full advocate for education, and I’m a total intellectual. (I read Moby-Dick for fun, and I’m thoroughly enjoying Les Miserables.) But there is no secret ingredient to being a writer except writing. Writers can come from all vocations.

Nonetheless, effective communication is vital. And even if you have an editor, he or she should have some sense of what you’re trying to say. A bit of advice if you’re sending a story off to an editor, try to make sure your piece is as error-free as you can make it. This saves time and energy. And how else do you learn how to edit without knowing a bit of grammar and writing style?

Head and Heart.

As I mentioned, I’m a bit of an intellectual. Perhaps too much of one. After writing an essay, I have a hard time switching back to my writing voice. And often times, I struggle to convey emotions in my story. After all, I’m probably not going to stab a character write about cliffhangers in my essays.

I already knew that I can’t write an essay like I write a story. After all, professors don’t like fragments. Fiction readers. They just might.Likewise, when reading Writing the Breakout Novel, I learned that I wasn’t putting my voice into my stories nearly enough. Some of my prose was bland, to say the least.

“To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free.” (Writing the Breakout Novel)

So… follow your heart? That’s not something they teach you in college. But I suppose you could say to an intellectual: implement your passion. What excites you to the point where you can’t sleep? What drives you? Harness that, and write about it.

I never would have figured this out if I hadn’t picked up a book on writing. Okay, maybe I would have come across a blog post eventually, but the bit of advice might not have come when I needed it. In all, I’ve found writing blog posts are a great place to start, and writing books can expand such information and help you fill in the gaps.

You never stop learning.

Need I say more? When you study your craft, you’re that much closer to perfecting it. How many people get to say that reading benefits their work? Sure, you may have to struggle through grammar at times, but there are so many, many ways to research for writing. You don’t have to read the dictionary, but make sure you read! Read books on writing. Attend a college course. Experience the world.

Quick! What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research? What are some of your favorite books on writing? What are some of your favorite blogs for writers? (Yes, feel free to list your own!)


Literary references: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

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