21 June 2011

education and writing

In Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, he says in the introduction that the "Big Lie" is Writing can't be taught. I agree with Bell that writing can be taught. And yet...

As you read this I am at Residency for my MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. There's no question the faculty and mentors in my program give the students a lot of good information about writing. We also have sessions where we critique others work and have our work critiqued in turn. Therefore, there's also no question some of the students have learned a lot and some of the students' writing have vastly improved.

I tell you a secret though: I am not one of those students. I think this is because I've been working very hard for over a decade to be a better writer. I read lots of non-fiction writing books. I analyze lots of novels, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. A huge turning point for me was joining a local writers group: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I've been going to their free (with membership) classes and workshops for years. I have a great critique group that helps me a lot. I've also been going to the annual conference for years, first attending workshops, and now teaching them. Thus, I've learned more working independently and with my local writers group than I've learned in my MFA program. So, I have mixed feelings about formal writing programs at colleges and universities. I'm not sure they're effective for everyone.

What do you think? What's the best way to learn to be a better writer?

4 comments:

AnthonyJRapino said...

I've also learned most of my craft through independent work, work with my critique group, reading, and writing. I took a creative writing class during my graduate program. Although I enjoyed the class, i found, for me, it was simply another "critique group." I didn't learn anything new, but it afforded me the chance to have others read and comment on stories, which is *always* helpful.

One of the stories I wrote in that class, "Camera Obscura" even saw print at TQR stories.

Martin Willoughby said...

Simple answer: Keep writing.

Long answer: Keep writing, analysing your work, reading other people's fiction, getting honest critique from people you trust.

The best learning is done on the job.

John S. Barker said...

There are so many facets to the craft that it is actually difficult to pinpoint a best way.

For the mechanics of writing, being taught grammar helps. Being shown what a misplaced modifier or dangling participle is, certainly helps.

Beyond the mechanics, learning to be critical of your own writing is crucial, but can't be taught. You have to learn to be humble enough to know that not everything you do is brilliant.

Being critical of your own writing means you have to learn to read critically what others have done. That is probably something that is also teachable, but is complicated by the fact that if you are learning in a classroom setting, analyzing historically significant works (Dickens, Shakespeare, Hemingway) often approaches the texts from an adulatory viewpoint, so needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

From the business side of things, knowing what the markets are looking for is something that can only be learned by engaging in the markets, and adjusting your product accordingly, because, like it or not, it's competitive out there.

Psychologically, being prepared to take the long view (that, for example, it may be years before a fine piece you've written is actually published) cannot be taught, but can only be obtained through persistent work.

And, lastly, (sorry for being long-winded) writing fiction is so much more difficult than other forms of writing because it's always about the story first, and the telling second. Some people have a good sense of story and some don't. That's also something you can't be taught, even though you can be taught how to improve the telling.

automotive mechanic training said...

Always practised to write something. Write your autobiography, poems, daily routine. I think the more you read other articles the more ideas you can for writing.