I love learning. I have an obsessive personality, so I have a tendency to throw myself completely into a new project, often to the detriment of previous projects.
When I started contemplating the idea of writing again—I'd always loved it as a child but stopped around the same time I discovered boys—I researched a ton of MFA programs. But, realistically, it wasn't an option for me. At this time, my place is here at home, homeschooling my girls and taking care of my family, along with following my passion for reading and writing.
So what's a thirsty-for-knowledge novice writer to do? Craft her own writing education! I am in no way implying that my attempts are on the same level as higher level universities, but for now, I am learning a lot and also focusing it for my own needs. And I’m having a blast.
Here is a quick breakdown of what I have done/am doing:
- First, I put all the knowledge I gained in my obsessive wrapping-my-brain-around-the-homeschooling-thing learning phase into practice again. I hopped on my computer, found a ton of blogs and websites by industry professionals (my favorites are listed on my blog’s sidebars) and took A LOT of notes. I organized these into pre-writing, writing, editing, and publication.
- I researched what books were recommended in the university programs and ordered my favorites now, and put the rest in my Amazon cart. To begin with, I ordered Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life and The First Five Pages, along with Browne & King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
- I looked up local writing groups. I joined the Yahoo groups for all of these and started attending the free local YA/MG writer's group that meets once a month. This group is a huge source of inspiration, as it consists of published and unpubbed authors, all talking about our passions. I’ve made amazing friendships in this group!
- Speaking of friendships, I jumped on the social network bandwagon and along with my blog, joined Facebook and Twitter. Through Twitter, I met three of my critique partners and joined the Kappa Delta Writer’s group, a small, close-knit group of YA authors who meet weekly for an internet chat on all aspects of the business. I have met so many other talented authors and if I’m not careful, can spend all day surfing links on craft and the industry they provide. On Facebook, I joined the YA Sisterhood, which is an education in itself. What an amazing group of authors, all in one place! That is also where I found my fourth critique partner.
- My favorite trick that has taught me the most is book dissections. Grab your favorite novel, or one that is similar in style and genre to your work in progress, and break it down. I mean REALLY dissect them. I analyze each chapter to see how many scenes are in each, how they use dialogue vs. narrative, how and when back story is introduced, how many characters are in a scene, how time evolved, etc; This was a HUGE education in itself. For a more in-depth dissection on story structure, you can see my post on my Book Dissection of Prada and Prejudice
- I also keep up my reading. Reading widely in my genre, Young Adult, is like a master's course in writing. But I'm not just a passive reader. I make notes on what really works, what I'm really drawn to, how they use characterization, what I don't like and why, what worked particularly well, etc; I try to not leave any book without taking away something I can use in my own writing. Most recently, I started dog-earing any page with strong verbs or descriptions of movement that I like so I can add it to my own growing list for inspiration.
Of course, I apply all this information and knowledge into my own writing, which gets better and better the more I learn, which is just icing on the cake. One day, I do hope to get my master's so I can then go on and teach. Part of my retirement plan in the WAY WAY distant future. But, for now, I am learning and growing and digging deeper, which is all I could ask of any educational endeavor.
Off to class . . . I mean, reading my latest "text book,” What Happened to Goodbye? by Sarah Dessen.
What about you? Do you have a degree in writing? Do you think it is essential? What are your favorite self-education tricks, tools, or resources?
Rachel Harris is a YA writer and the creator of The Ending Unplanned. She's also my critique partner and just plain out amazing! Check out her blog for great writing tips, spotlight reviews, and a wealth of knowledge on YA. And follow her on Twitter. She's one to watch!