The Care and Feeding of A Writer

Almost all the writers I speak to via my work projects and that I encounter in my writing classes have one thing in common: they’re always looking to fine tune their writing. When you want to be good at what you’re most passionate about, it’s no surprise that you seek opportunities to continue getting better and better at it.

As a writer, you want to work on writing style, technique, and ability to convey via the written word. But how do you tweak your craft? There aren’t any right or wrong answers here (except being a successful or unsuccessful writer!), but being able to hear about the finer points of the craft from specialists and other successful writers can make an important difference in your writing.

Meeting Writers

To begin with, very few things help a writer as much as meeting and discussing writing face-to-face with other writers. Talk about a passionate conversation! So how do you find fellow writers? How do you learn about good workshops and classes? How do you help your creative and learning process?

Meetup.com can be one tool. Meetup is a website that helps people meet other people with similar interests and arrange group meetings in the real world. There are a number of writer groups on this website. Writers coordinate meetings to discuss and share their writing at cafes and other mutually-accessible locations. I’ve been following the updates of my local writers’ meetup group for about a year, but haven’t had the chance to attend an event just yet.

Back to School

Local universities and colleges all have English departments and more than likely offer writing classes. Check out whether they have a writing program and any additional workshops. Writing classes typically involve a more relaxed and intimate environment―for interaction with the other students and professors―than do conventional classes in other subjects.

National-Louis University’s Master of Science in Written Communications, allowed me to sit in to the Writers’ Week program (this year on June 19, 22, and 24) and the Ernst R. Wish Pulitzer Prize Series with renowned and award-winning writers (such as New York Times writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Ira Berkow).

I was amazed at the intimate feeling I got from the Pulitzer series workshops, sitting a foot or less away from a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist or writer. These individuals were more than happy to share the pitfalls and successes that led them to where they are now—invaluable lessons for new writers about the industry and about the personal process of developing a voice and good quality writing. I was most impressed about Ira Berkow because he is such a down-to-earth, approachable guy who loves sports and the personal story behind each and every one of the famous athletes that he interviewed over his life. Not only these valuable, practical lessons, but hearing first-hand about his mentorship relationship with Red Smith was inspirational.

University programs can provide great focused discussions that pinpoint voice, writing techniques, and allow students to specialize in a particular type of writing (fiction, feature, children’s books, journalistic writing, online writing, etc.). Most of all, however, they provide camaraderie and support for our goals and our hopes to succeed as a writer.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education offers an online Degree Program Inventory. This can be a great resource when looking for a good writing program. This online catalog helps students find the degree, certificate, or non-credit programs that fits a particular area of interest. I used this service to find NLU’s M.S. in Written Communications program in 2008.

Share and Share Alike

I recently had the opportunity to meet a fellow student at NLU’s writing program, Kate Hutchinson. Kate shared with me some thoughts about the value she gets from writing workshops and writing programs. Here is what Kate explained via email recently:

“As a high school English teacher, I’ve found that the more I write, the better teacher I become — of both writing and literature.  What better ethos than to be able to share with my students that I, too, have to edit and proofread my own work?  Or to be able to provide them with models of assignments I give them, showing them my own revisions and how I struggled with the same issues they are?  When you become a student of the craft of writing, you are better able to appreciate the craft in a good work of literature and point out particular passages or images or sentences for students that show thoughtfulness, artfulness, or sheer genius.  It slows down your reading, as it should, when you begin to notice the little details and powerful verbs a strong author uses.  Since I teach A. P. Literature to seniors and often teach other sections of Honors, I’ve found I can “buy” myself instant credibility and cut down on the “testing” period students put me through by revealing to them that I have published several pieces of writing, both essays and poems.  They tend to trust more readily that I know what I’m talking about where writing and literature are concerned.

“On a more personal level, I would not be exaggerating if I said that my writing keeps me alive.  Not literally, but spiritually.  When I get into periods during the school year when the paper grading and lesson planning is all-consuming, even a bit of journal writing can refresh me.  And during the summers, I revel in the long hours with notebook in hand, crafting piece after piece.  It’s then when I find workshops and classes to attend, where I can be refreshed, learn some new skills, meet other writers, and let that artistic side of me take over completely, uninterrupted by the needs of my son or my home or my job.  It’s very self-indulgent!  For me, it’s better than a week on a cruise or at a beach (unless I was writing the whole time I was there)!  The workshop sessions are essential to my growth as a writer, both for the instruction of professionals and the sharing that goes on — the peer critiques, the close listening of each others’ work, the exercises and practice and fine-tuning.  Each workshop I’ve attended has given me many new ideas for poems and essays and also many new models to study in the pursuit of improving my own craft.”

Personally, I can attest to many of Kate’s experiences. I have found that exercising my writing skills via class assignments has enticed me to slow down when reading, and be more appreciative of what I’m reading and think more about how the writer reached that level of skill. I am more sensitive to the nuances in a good book. I also enjoy being able to discuss writing technique with professors and fellow students. There’s nothing like comparing notes on what challenges us and how we resolved those issues. It’s refreshing to see other writers struggle as well, and that I am not the only one. It’s also great being able to study the origins and particulars of good writing pieces and then implement those lessons in my own work as I progress forward.

Although writing can sometimes feel like catching a moving target, it’s the excitement of seeing where what you’re writing takes you that keeps many of us going, exploring, learning, and hopefully becoming better writers.

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6 responses to “The Care and Feeding of A Writer

  1. I love the Fox Valley Writer’s Group. I thoroughly enjoy the input I’ve received on some of my writing (“go back and change it from the 2nd person to the 1st person”, etc.) and I enjoy reading the writings of the others in that group.

    They’ve recently started the move off meetup.com over to Facebook (Meetup.com charges an annual fee, Facebook does not, thus the move).

    One of my biggest obstacles in writing is actually reading. I love to read and I’m having trouble juggling my love of reading with my love of writing. I just finished Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed and now I’m reading Pat Benatar’s Memoir for my music blog (I was approached by her management to do the review for my music blog) so for once my reading will actually spawn some writing.

    There was a comic strip (Red Meat) I saw once where one of the characters, Bug-Eyed Earl said he locked himself in a closet as a creative writing exercise. He said he wasn’t coming out until he’d come up with an idea for a story. He closed by saying he was torn between writing about a guy who has to pee really bad and writing about a guy who is really really hungry. I used to have it posted in my cube at work at my old job.

    • I enjoy reading your music reviews on your blog, I look forward to the Pat Benatar review. Good for you that you’re getting approached for reviews! That’s a major step forward. Kudos!

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I’ve actually also been approached by a band (The Research Turtles) and a singer (Lindsay Aline, well her management/PR people) to do reviews of their music. I already posted my Lindsay Aline review. I’ve been so swamped I’ve not had the time to review the Research Turtles yet.

    I hope you’re able to make it to one of the Fox Valley Writer’s Group meetings at some point. It’s a great group. Very laid back but the other members also provide excellent feedback.

    • I’m still trying to pop in to one of the writer’s meetings, but I either forget to check when they happen or something pops up. I had no idea and am surprised that the meetup site charges an annual fee. Facebook is a much better option!

  3. There is a meeting this Sunday @ 11am at the Panera in Batavia (right on Wilson St. in the downtown area in the same strip mall as Walgreen’s).

    We tend to meet every other Sunday @ 11 am. The past several meetings have been either at the Panera or at noon at the Batavia library but I’ve heard we’re moving our meetings back to the Limestone Cafe (also on Wilson St., but on the opposite side of the street and it’s on the east side of the Fox River, not the west) starting with our July 18th meeting.

    • Sunday we’re celebrating my dad and my mom’s bday in a big fiesta, will see what’s doable! TY for the heads up 🙂 I’ll look the group up on Facebook if and make sure I’m a fan/like.

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