Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do Writers Learn?

This week, a number of writers, both published and aspiring, will be attending the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Those who are at the meeting will hear talks, participate in workshops, meet with editors and agents, and network among other authors. Will those unable to attend, for whatever reason, simply stagnate in their writing ability? Not at all.

Writers learn and grow in many ways. A man who has mentored and encouraged me, James Scott Bell, maintains that writers are made, not born, and his story (and, to a certain extent, mine) prove that. He's the author of a number of excellent books on writing, and anyone wishing to get started writing fiction would do well to read his book, Plot and Structure, and apply its principles. This is by no means the only book that will help the aspiring writer. My own bookshelf has almost three dozen of them, and every one of them has something to teach.

Writers must also read the work of other authors--the good and the bad. Read the good books and notice what the author did that gripped and held you. Read the bad books and notice what areas turned you off and made you anxious to hurry on. Read in your genre and in others. Learn to recognize, appreciate, and emulate good writing. Learn to avoid bad stuff.

And writers should...write! My cyber-friend, author and independent editor Ray Rhamey, says that his colleagues agree that it takes completing at least three books before writers begin to "get it." That assumes that they don't just write the same thing over and over again. A writer must find someone with knowledge of the field and be prepared to have them read and critique his/her work. Sometimes we disagree with those comments, and that's okay. But if you keep hearing the same thing, pretty soon you figure out that needs to be changed in your future writing.

There are many other ways a writer learns the craft. Notice I didn't say "the trade." That's a subject for another post. So if you're disappointed that you won't be attending a writer's conference in the near future, cheer up. That just gives you more time to work on your writing.

And for those who will be attending ACFW, find me and say "Hi." I love to meet my readers.


Carol J. Garvin said...

There is much to learn about this craft of writing, that's for sure! It's tempting to spend every spare moment reading and learning, and never get to the writing. But I've completed my fourth novel now and am hoping each one is significantly better than the previous one as I try to apply what I'm learning.

Conferences are wonderful sources of inspiration. I'm able to attend the SiWC one in BC periodically but haven't been able to get to the ACFW. I followed the ACFW awards ceremony via the live blog and streaming video on Saturday, and enjoyed seeing and hearing you "in person". I'm sorry your novel didn't win, but being a finalist was pretty special. :)

Richard Mabry said...

Carol, You're on the right path. And thanks for your kind words. Yes, my novel was up against some very stiff competition, and I was honored simply to make the finals.