We readily accept the need for intensive training and ongoing skills development for our day jobs, but when it comes to writing, we often expect to just be able to ‘do it’.
I used to be a teacher. I spent four years completing degrees in English and education, then took three more professional development courses to expand my qualifications. Once I received my first full-time classroom position, I attended workshops every few months. I never questioned the need for this type of training.
However, it took me a year or two of writing (and failing at writing) to learn that the path to becoming seriously skilled was going to be longer and more difficult than I ever imagined. Even now, after having several pieces of short fiction published, I’m acutely aware of how much there is still to learn, and how I will never be done learning.
But that’s okay. Canadian author Daniel Griffin says:
If you’ve ever looked at your writing and seen nothing but problems, I’m here to tell you it’s a good thing: you’re on the right track. To be a writer is to be a dissatisfied reader of your own prose.
So, you recognize the need to improve your craft. What options do you have?
1. Self-Directed Study
I’m putting ‘self-directed study’ first in the list because I believe, in most cases, it’s the best place to start. Options can include:
- reading widely and critically in your chosen genre
- reading books and magazines about the craft of writing
- following blogs and podcasts that deal with writing, publishing, editing and social media
- practice, such as free writing, journaling, writing to prompts, etc.
2. Informal Writing Education
Informal writing education provides opportunities to learn from more experienced writers, but without the commitment of pursuing a formal degree or diploma. You might try:
- writing workshops
- non-credit and self-paced courses
- writing/critique groups
Is there a writer you really admire who offers mentorship services? If you have the money to invest, mentorship can be one of the best ways to get ongoing, professional feedback on your work.
Look for a mentor who:
- offers different levels of mentorship, so you can choose the level of support and investment to suit your needs
- has published in your genre of interest, and whose work you admire
- preferably, has previous teaching/mentoring experience
- provides personalized, specific feedback on your writing
A friend of mine is working with a mentor who offers anywhere from one-time consultations to monthly consultations and feedback over the course of a year. Clients can choose what level suits them.
Here’s an example of a college-run program where students submit up to 300 pages of their work-in-progress to a published author-mentor over 30 weeks. See Humber School of Creative & Performing Arts-Creative Writing by Correspondence.
Depending on the type of writer you are, you may benefit more from investing in a mentorship with an author you admire, than from investing in a handful of workshops, retreats and conferences.
4. Formal Writing Qualifications
Although you’d think professional qualifications are the best option for writers, in most cases they’re either unnecessary or just icing on the cake.
Programs can range from a certificate or diploma, to a BA, MFA, or PhD in creative writing. If you want to teach creative writing at the college or university level, or if you’d also like to get into professional editing, freelance writing, or journalism, a degree, diploma, or certificate can be useful.
The great thing about being a writer today is that many of these programs are available online or as part-time study. If you want to pursue an MFA, you may never have to set foot on campus, or you can choose courses that require only short residencies.
What Are the Best Options for You?
While each of these four options presents its own advantages, a combination of two or three is ideal.
My own compass tells me that self-directed study was a good place to start. As a busy mom of four, an MFA isn’t an option at the moment, but mentorship and online workshops are perfect options to help me improve my craft.
What writerly education have you pursued in the past? What do you hope to do in the future?
Image courtesy of Flickr’s koalazymonkey.