20 September, 2021 § 1 Comment
Want to learn how to write creatively? Most writers start out thinking they can write. Some can. Many realise after initial attempts that there’s an endless litany of lessons to be learned. Plot, Structure. Theme. Characters. Setting. Tropes. Editing, Publishing. And they are just the big topics.
When wanting to develop your writing skills, there are two avenues to follow, or are there?
- hunt for a tertiary education eg Masters in Creative Writing
- hit the search engines and see what turns up
Many published authors are disparaging of getting formal qualifications as a writer. Some are published because they wrote their seminal book as part of their degree. Can you teach creative writing? Yes, insomuch as there are conventions and techniques to be learned. Yes, insofar as gaining the discipline to produce a body of work. The question is how many people start a creative writing qualification compared to those who publish as a result? Is there a set of statistics to validate the value of a degree in writing?
Tap ‘creative writing’ into an accepted search engine and you will return over 1.5 billion results. Amongst those will be articles, blog posts, videos, and courses. Narrow that search to ‘learn how to write fiction’ and you will find more than 500 million references. That is a lot of rabbit holes to chase down to find the nugget you seek. There has never been a better time to learn to write well in terms of the volume of information and resources available to you. There has never been a more confusing time to learn how to write well given that very same volume of information and resources. What tends to happen is you dig around the results from your search and before you know it you either lose hours stuck in the web of usefulness or you find as you dig deeper there is so much more for you to learn. Either way, what you are not doing is the very thing you seek to do: write.
By all means, if you have time or money to invest in digging deep into the web offerings or a formal qualification, take that path if it suits you.
Let me give you alternatives.
- Write as often and for as long as you can. Each time you write you will develop your craft. Freewriting is a good way to kick this habit off. Simply commit to writing for ten minutes at a time without lifting the pen off the page. After a time you will notice the difference in your writing and will spot a few story ideas.
- Read as much as you can, even if it’s just a page a day, preferably in the style you enjoy – crime, romance, historical, memoir. Each read will implant a sense of structure and style in your mind which will spill onto the page as you write. Highlight passages that grab you, note sentences that strike you, jot down ideas that come to you. This is learning, not copying. You are teaching yourself by reading published authors.
- Spend time in your local library. Check the books on their shelves in the writing and literature section – take one or two home and learn from them. Borrow Stephen King’s ‘On Writing”, Anne Lamotte’s ‘Bird by Bird’, Stephen Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’, Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ to name a few. Ask your librarian about Book Clubs – they often run quite a few and will encourage you to read widely. Most libraries also have access to Historical Resources to explore local history or family history – both great sources of inspiration for writing ideas.
- Find a couple of easy, low-risk writing competitions which give you prompts to write to and a deadline to end on. Books or websites with writing prompts are good but it’s too easy to procrastinate without a time limit. Writer’s groups often have writing comps and exercises to improve your writing.
- Join your local writing group – you will get access to workshops, talks, craft development and feedback amongst other things. The cameraderie in writing groups is only limited by your preparedness to get involved. You may or may not find someone who writes in your genre but all chances to improve your writing don’t come packaged in neat little bundles. You have to untie them to find what’s inside, but all are learning opportunities.
Learning how to write is best achieved by finding what works from those who have gone before, and writing as often as you can. Keep in mind though, once you start writing, there is no end to the learning.
There is always something to pick up along the way and play with.
And if it’s not fun, why do it?
14 September, 2021 § Leave a comment
When you have an opportunity to hear an author talk, it pays to listen. Especially if that author is successful, as in some fifty published books or more – both traditional and self-published – and has won awards for her writing.
Today was such a chance for me.
Fiona McArthur is on the hustings (at least virtually in a covid environment), promoting her latest published tome, The Farmer’s Friend. Now, ‘farmer’s friend’ has a whole meaning on its own, but in this case, the story was loosely inspired by her son’s taking up of a small-town, general-purpose store, the kind that sells everything from baked beans to cattle feed. The small fictional town explores the nuances of living in a small but geographically spread community, the tragedies that come from living in a relatively isolated valley, and the camaraderie when people pull together to get through tough times. And, of course, the romance and the babies!
I’ve not read the book yet so you won’t be getting any spoiler alert from me but I do know it’s now available at local and national stores for purchase as well as online. Read about the book here.
As a best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife, and shares her love of working with women, families and health professionals in her books. In her compassionate, pacey fiction, her love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city and the strength shared between women. This book steps the reader away from her rural romances in vast outback landscapes and takes the reader into a smaller world but one equally as entertaining and enjoyable. It explores what makes ‘family’.
What are the lessons gleaned from today’s talk? Here’s a sample of what I took away.
- Fiona started writing seriously in her 30’s but didn’t see a completed book and success until she leant into her lived experience as a midwife and started putting her knowledge onto the page, woven with romance and stories grounded in quintessentially Australian locales. Message – use what you know – it’s more authentic.
- When you start with the nub of an idea, and steep yourself into that world, the world opens up for you and your characters – follow where it leads because there are layers of experiences you can bring into your book.
- Find moments that connect with the reader and be prepared to incorporate social issues such as the increasing prevalence of grandparents bringing up young ones, financial imbalances, mental health matters and so on.
- Consider writing as an activity that needs attention for it to bear fruit. Fiona writes around 500-1000 words a day every day, or at least two hours. Inspiration isn’t waiting for an invitation, it’s clocked in at writing time.
- Productivity meets deadlines. Fiona works at one major work and a couple of smaller books each year. That’s possibly around 200,000 words a year. Set yourself some targets even if it’s just a novella or a series of short stories. On top of writing time, remember there’s marketing, promotion, revision, edits, covers and more.
- Researching an area will reveal some little known facts such as how a produce store works, is stocked and managed – something most people don’t know or need to know but enriches the reader with some inside information. Give your reader some insights.
- Finally, no matter whether you have one book under your belt, or a half century of them, the more genuine and humble you are, the more readers can relate to you and the more writers are inspired by you. Fiona fits that bill. She’s one of my favourite writers, and humans.
On top of those specific points, Fiona’s talk sparked a few creative ideas which may or may not see the light of day, but they’ve been jotted down and popped into the ‘ideas’ file for when I need some inspiration.
As a reader, author talks let you dive deeper into your favourite writers and their stories and glean more from the behind-the-scenes moments. As a writer, every author approaches writing differently and you can learn tips and technqiues that inform your quest to produce a read-worthy story.
Take advantage of the surfeit of information available in the virtual platforms at the moment and soak up as much as you can before any semblance of normal life returns and we’re whisked back into places where we have less time to indulge ourselves in these stories behind the stories. But don’t just listen: learn.
Best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife and shares her love of working with women, families, and health professionals in her books. Her compassionate, pacey fiction, blended with a love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city, and the strength shared between women.
Check your local library for upcoming author talks. Mid North Coast Library is outstanding at snaffling writers for chats, workshops, panels, and other events. of course, at the moment those are virtual but they are even better ‘live’. MNC also has an amazingly successful series of Book Clubs throughout the region.