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Archive for September 15th, 2015

Best writing instruction? Write every day!

So we’re at Day 3 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge. Since I’m committed to writing every day, the least you can do is commit to reading every day, doncha think? OK, OK. No pressure. Read if it interests you; “like” it if you really like it; and “share” this post if you think other people will like it, too. This is the third of 35 consecutive days’ posts, all on the topic of writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 3 writing prompt:

What kinds of classes, programs, or workshops have you taken to hone your skill as a writer? What sorts of exercises did/do you use to improve? Have you ever taught a writing class or workshop?

One might infer a certain arrogance from the fact that I’ve taken very few writing classes since majoring in Nonfiction Creative Writing in college. It’s less the fact that I think that I know it all than it is that I believe the best way to hone one’s skill as a writer is to write. Regularly. And I do a lot of writing.

bradbury for ABC

I was fortunate to hear Ray Bradbury speak to a packed auditorium at the University of Arizona, back in the late 80s. The one thing I still remember him saying – and something he repeated again and again throughout his life – is that a writer must write EVERY day.

Yes, there is definitely something to be said for getting technical training. I highly advise it. And I seek it, in small doses, through blogs and YouTubes created by other authors of varying skill and experience. That’s one place where I differ from many: I believe I can learn something from just about anyone, whether they’re a first-time novelist or a veteran, published author. It’s also why I love running the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup. I facilitate two meetings a month where I teach seminars on – well duh, right? – many aspects of publishing and book marketing. I teach the things I know and feel confident teaching, from book production to creating an author one sheet. But I bring in local experts to cover the things I don’t know as well: legal issues for writers, designing a website, video book trailers, ebook production, etc. Of most fun, though, is the spontaneous conversation that erupts wherein the authors share their various experiences.

What I don’t teach is writing. I’m not sure why, but I find teaching writing boring, so I don’t think I’m the person for the job. Not to mention that there are myriad other places an aspiring writer can go – from online courses to Meetups to critique groups to community colleges to writers’ conferences and workshops. Opportunities abound for writing instruction. One reason I think our Meetup does so well, however, is that there don’t seem to be too many people teaching self-publishing authors how to put together high-quality books and how to market those books to their ideal readers. That’s what we focus on, as well as networking and author opportunities.

Over the years, I have learned a few things from various teachers that have stuck with me:

  • One of my college professors abhorred the word lifestyle. “There’s no such thing as a ‘lifestyle,’” he used to rant. “It’s just LIFE!” You’ll probably never see the word lifestyle in my writing, other than this paragraph.
  • An early editor of my book, 1001 Real Life Questions for Women, insisted that on be used only for an object laying atop another object and, similarly, that over/under be used only with regard to spatial placement. So she corrected any instances of “over age 10” to “older than age 10.” Although our language has evolved to allow for these less precise uses of prepositions (how could it not, if nu-kyuh-ler is now an accepted pronunciation for nuclear?!), I nearly always correct these uses when I see them.

oxford comma

  • And the bedrock of grammar battles around the world: to use or omit the Oxford comma. At a business writing class I took in NYC, the instructor cured me of ever desiring to leave out the comma before and or but.

EXAMPLE: Chris, Dana, and Kelly can be either men’s or women’s names.

The instructor cited an example where Chris, Dana, and Kelly were siblings who inherited a large sum of money from a wealthy relative. However, the Oxford comma was omitted in the will, so they went to COURT over it, and the judge determined that Chris would inherit half of the money, while Dana and Kelly would split the other half. All because of one missing comma.

  • Most recently, I’ve learned – and am now trying to master – the concept of single-perspective narration. My novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, is told in alternating present and past-tense third person. One section is told from Stan’s present-tense perspective; the next is from Paula’s. The flashbacks work similarly. For consistency’s sake, however, when the story is told from Stan’s perspective, we can know what Stan’s thinking, but we cannot know what Paula is thinking. She must speak anything she thinks, or otherwise convey it through body language or some external means that Stan can infer and comment on or describe to us. Just as Stan can’t be in Paula’s head, neither can the reader who is reading a third-person description told from Stan’s perspective. I’m now in the process of re-reading the manuscript to make sure I observe this common-sense writing rule.

Interestingly, the more I write anything, the more I can see improvement in my fiction writing. One of the benefits of this Challenge is the chance to practice for 35 days in a row. If I keep writing, as planned, I hope you’ll keep reading! Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be discussing my writing mentors.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to continuing to hone and improve your writing skills!

Laura

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