Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Aspirants Dilemma

Urg.  This is one of those mornings when I feel like crawling far, far into my little dark hole and not coming out until Spring.

Natalie Whipple has a post up at "Between Fact and Fiction" about Honing Talent.  She talks about the difference between dabbling and really learning your craft.  At one point she says:

"It wasn't until I sought real, technical training that I improved. It wasn't until I treated my story like a potential masterpiece that it got better. It wasn't until I trained under a few "masters" that I really started to understand this story-telling business."

Now, in case you don't know who Natalie Whipple is, she is the mom who wowed Nathan Bransford with the first paragraph of her YA novel "Relax, I'm a Ninja" in his 2008 contest and ended up being represented by him, to the great envy of all his other followers. She currently has two debut novels in the works.

Anyway, I totally understand what Natalie is saying about training. I have looked at several writing courses over the years, some for college credit costing as much as a thousand bucks, some much more affordable. I have never been to a writer's conference, but would love to go to one.  I kind of want to wait, however, until I have a manuscript to sell. Otherwise, I don't see how I could justify the expense.
Training costs money.  As it should. To learn from the experience of another, more successful craftsman is a time-honored method of paying ones dues, both literally and figuratively. I wish very much for that experience.
But... it's not happening any time soon. Which makes me wonder, yet again, if I'm just wasting my time trying to write without it.  As Natalie says, "Just writing—just getting those words on the paper—isn't quite enough. I wrote a lot of books that are basically at the same crappy level."
This is why I haven't rushed to finish this novel I've been working on for the past three years. I don't want it to be crappy. But figuring things out on my own takes an awfully long time.

Some questions for you:
What courses, if any, have you taken?  How valuable do you think they were?  And what experiences do you think improved your writing the most?


  1. Truthfully the only courses I ever took were in college a really long time ago. When I got serious about my writing I started reading the 'craft' books. I started following the 'serious' writer blogs. I listened to what other people had to say. I found a great beta reader who believed in my work and knew the direction I wanted to take with it.

    I can't afford classes or conferences either but I try to learn as much as I can in other ways. You just have to believe in yourself that you can do this. You have it in you.

  2. I'm the same as Piedmont Writer. College courses. The teacher was great. He kept picking my stories to read in class, which was a little embarrassing but also made me proud. I don't live in places that allow me to seek any professional writing help.

  3. Ted, the only college writing class I took had a mean instructor who was a freelance writer and didn't know how to teach. He discouraged me so much I stopped writing for ten years! I only had the courage to start again after my son was born.

  4. this is actually related to a post i'm planning next week.

    I have a BA in fiction writing. But i'm completely truthful when i say i learned more about how to write well from blogs, than i did from my BA.

    I forget what kind of fiction you write, but if it's fantasy or sci-fi (or horror) you could always check out the Online Writer's Workshop. The first month is free and it's $50 a year.

    You don't have to spend money to become a better writer.

  5. I took some poetry workshops when I was in grad school and I've been to one writer's conference. Honestly, I feel like the poetry workshops have done more for my writing than the conference did. I don't know that anything from the conference really sunk in. If it did, it's all subconscious and may or may not be coming out in my writing.

    The poetry workshops really helped me start to see the world and words in fresh, pictorial ways. I do feel they worked to improve my description abilities. Granted, it's something I still have to work on, but it improved drastically by taking those workshops.

  6. Christine, what are you talking about? Jane Austen never attended a writing class. Didn't seem to stop her writing masterpieces.

    I read a lot of books from the moment I could read, which I think is essential if you're going to write. Once I'd written a book, I joined YouWriteOn, where I learned what I was doing wrong and made good writing friends who've helped me enormously. I also read a few books about how to write.

    And I rely on my daughter's instant and ruthless opinion ('You cannot say that!) and a generous bunch of beta readers.

  7. I've taken lots of undergraduate and graduate courses in fiction, poetry, features and newswriting (where they try to beat the creativity out of you). I've read dozens of writing books since then as well. Those gave me some great basic skills, but my writing didn't really begin to mature until I joined several critique groups and got involved in the writing blogger world. Hands-on digging into manuscripts--others and my own--really made the difference.

  8. if you're going to go to a conference, pick the small ones, i think, where you can get personal, one on one attention. until then, keep doing what you're doing. i think half of learning to write well is just not giving up. so many people say, "i want to write a book" and then never do. you're already ahead because you did something about the desire to write. and i believe God will give you the opportunities to learn. he knows your desire and the state of your bank account.

  9. and if you'd like some company in that hole... actually, i took your and Kristal's advice and i'm working on something else at the moment.

  10. I'm glad to hear that, Michelle. I think you just need wine, actually. LOL!

  11. wine is nauseating to this girl. chocolate is best, but it keeps me up at night. have to eat it before noon.

  12. It stinks to be you.

    Having a sip of merlot for you. G'night!

  13. Do you have critique partners? That helps push you along a bit. Especially if they're accomplished editors and readers themselves. It also helps to bounce ideas off CPs when you're feeling stuck.

    If that doesn't work, though, just go kidnap Cormac McCarthey. :)

  14. I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but a couple weeks ago I went with my dad when he attended a Fire in Fiction workshop by literary agent Donald Maass. I didn't attend since I'm not writing fiction (mine is memoir) but my dad got a LOT out of it. He's been raving about how much clarity it's given him on his book. It's improved my own writing just by hearing about what my dad learned! :)


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