Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What have you done for your writing lately?

As a writer you're never done learning. This can be daunting, especially when you stumble across a book that blows you away—like The Portrait of Dorian Gray did to me two years ago—and you realize that even given multiple lifetimes you might never attain anything close to the genius of an Oscar Wilde.

But few of us have such lofty aspirations anyway. We just want to write what we enjoy in such a way that readers enjoy it as well. Many readers, preferably. We gain pleasure from the realization that each book we write is better, craft-wise, than the one that went before. And the way we ensure that we get better at what we do is to hone our skills. How do we achieve this?
  • Reading widely should not even be on this list because it's a given: writers of fiction are--or should be--great consumers of fiction. The former state grows out of the latter. I have met too many aspiring writers who say they don't have time to read, or only read the Bible, or only read sci-fi, or romance, or some other narrow slice of the wealth out there. To paraphrase Stephen King: anyone who doesn't have the time to read has neither the time nor the tools to write.
  • Fall in love with words, if you aren't already. I know people, including some editors, who are miffed when they stumble across unfamiliar words in a manuscript. I happen to love authors who challenge my vocabulary and teach me exciting new words. I'm not referring to to those, particularly in the literary arena, whose paragraphs are minefields strewn with obstacles to clarity, or the ones who engage in thesaurus overkill. Expand your vocabulary and use your new tools to telling effect. 
  • Challenge yourself by taking writing courses. I did a fiction writing course last year, and followed up this year with a poetry writing course. I can tell you, that poetry class was a challenge! The class days were the highlight of my week; it was fulfilling to spend three hours reading, critiquing, discussing, learning, and just being in the creative zone with like-minded people. As a consequence, I wrote more, and I wrote better. 
  • Befriend writers on social networks. Most of my online contacts are writers. I have learned much from them about the business of publishing, about writing craft via their favorite books on the subject, about their workspaces, their problems and their solutions to writing and publishing issues. I've learned where to go for cover art and marketing advice. These writers are my lifeline. 
  • Attend writing retreats, residential workshops, conventions. I haven't been to any of those, but from all accounts, the laser focus of a writing retreat and the energy and excitement of conventions are invigorating. In addition to learning new skills, atendees often end up making new friends for life and discovering valuable industry contacts. 
These are just a few ways in which I boost (or plan to boost) my writing. What have you done for your creativity lately?

Liane Spicer