When I decided to get serious about writing, I took a correspondence course. It was my first step in one way to learn to write. As I mentioned in my earlier post, “Writing is Easy…Until It’s Not,” this course was by mail. It doesn’t matter much which course it was, what matters is how I chose which course to take. This is one way to learn to write. It’s not the only way.
I loved re-reading old childhood favorites and science fiction. So I figured I should learn one of those two genres. I thought writing for children would be the easier of the two genres. (Writing for children is not easy!)
I looked for some one-on-one mentorship and studied each class syllabus. The structure of the class and what it covered had to make sense to me. I also weighed the course instructors. Criteria for instructors included: were they authors, what had they published when had they published, and did I like their work. Then I mailed in my sample writing and fees and waited for the first lesson.
The lessons were not difficult for me, though by this time I was a new mom and had a hard time prioritizing my writing. My instructor was encouraging. In fact, she thought one of the short stories I wrote, “Friends,” was publishable. So I sent it to regional and national children’s magazines. The story garnered standard rejection slips. I finished the class by starting a novel.
The next level of instruction I sought was a writer’s workshop hosted by a local community college. She taught a wide variety of things during the several weeks she ran the workshop. There I learned about how-to-write books, about writers groups, and about critiquing. She liked the writing I submitted to her. In fact, she thought I should submit “Friends” to one of the same magazines that had rejected it! I told her they’d rejected it and she suggested that I change an accusation one child hurled at another in a fit of anger. She allowed me to include in my query letter that I had resubmitted the story after changes and at her recommendation. And you know what? It worked! Wee Wisdom: A Children’s Magazine from Unity published my story!
I celebrated by going out to dinner and spending more than I made. But, before I cashed that check I had a color photocopy made of it. The framed photocopy is hanging on the wall of my office to this day.
One of the things, my second writing instructor recommended was that I join a local writer’s group and go to its meetings as often as I could. I had no idea where to find a writer’s group. She recommended the local communiversity. The Communiveristy, sponsored by the state university, offered free education for the community. Of course, I signed up.
That was the first of several writer’s groups I would attend. In each group, I would learn and grow. Sometimes the group dissolved the way groups can do. One of the groups I grew out of. I had continued learning, reading how-to books, and writing. Some groups prefer not to learn. So I moved on. I attended area science fiction conventions and listened to every panel on writing that I could. I joined the local science fiction club and talked to the writers who were part of that group. One day, one of those writers invited me to attend a writers’ meeting. The first ones were chat and chews, later Rob Chilson, my co-author, invited me to attend. I still go to that writer’s group when I can.
I wrote three novellas with Rob Chilson. And that was also an invaluable set of writing lessons from a published author. Two of those novellas sold. One did not. And I had written several novels that weren’t selling or getting anything more than a standard rejection letter. So, I began searching for instruction on how to edit my novel. I found Holly Lisle’s “How to Revise Your Novel” course.
Holly’s course didn’t work perfectly for me, but it opened up new ways of thinking about revision. And while I tried, the novel I really wanted to succeed, still wasn’t working. It was about then a dear friend, William F Wu, came back to town for a visit. Bill had been Rob Chilson’s roommate. Together they hosted the first science fiction writers’ critique group that I had attended. He had moved to the west coast some years earlier. Our brief meeting at a coffee shop showed that the time and distance hadn’t affected our friendship one bit.
Shortly after he went back to the west coast we began a casual email correspondence. In some of my emails, I confessed that I’d about given up on my novel. Bill offered to help me work through it. He’s written many books, you can see them on his page on Amazon. I am fortunate in that he’s also a very good professor of writing. His mentorship has been invaluable.
With Bill’s mentorship and my writer friends’ critiques, My Soul to Keep became a novel I am proud to have written.
My next step, in my journey to write and publish the best book I could, was another research project. I spent a lot of time researching traditional publishing and self-publishing. More on that next time. Please feel free to ask questions or share your journey in the comments below.
These steps I took to write and revise my novel are one way to learn how to write fiction. Each writer follows his or her own path. I’ve heard many writers say never ever discuss your work-in-progress with anyone. That didn’t work for me. What has worked for me is being open to new ways of approaching my work. I strongly recommend that if you wish to learn to write compelling fiction study. Study craft, share your work with trusted peers and continue to work on improving your skills(my list of recommended How-to books). The methodology you use to learn how to write will either speed your process of learning or slow it. Going it alone, not studying or talking to peers will, in my opinion, slow your development of the skill you need.