My husband and I recently attended our oldest daughter’s university graduation where she earned her Masters degree. There was much pomp and circumstance, lengthy speeches, and really cool robes. We watched, along with other proud parents, family and friends, as hundreds of graduates marched into the auditorium. I don’t know exactly how many students convocated, only that it took over a half an hour for them all to enter the auditorium and get seated.
Aside from being lengthy, most of the speeches emphasized making the world a better place. I certainly hope my daughter and her fellow graduates reach that goal.
So what does graduation have to do with writing, aside from giving me a chance to brag? If I were making one of those speeches, I would have told the graduates that just because they’ve graduated, the learning doesn’t stop. In these days of rapidly changing information, lifelong learning is essential. Writers need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning as well. The writer who thinks she’s “graduated” when she finishes a book, wins a contest, or is published, misses the point. We never really graduate. We can always learn, always get better.
Here are a few ways writers can keep on learning:
Online classes – One of my favourite ways to continue to learn my craft is to take online classes. I’ve participated in classes with subjects such as how to conduct historical research, plotting (many of those), and creating sexual tension. Many well known authors, who’ve learned a thing or two about their subjects, host these classes. I’ve saved the lectures from many of the classes I’ve taken and refer to them often. If you’re a member of RWA, check out their website for classes being offered at http://www.rwanational.org/ Another good source of classes is the Mystery and Suspense chapter of RWA. They offer a wide range of classes, from police procedures and weaponry, to information relevant to any writer working in any genre.
Conferences and Workshops – We’ve talked here a lot about the Surrey International Writers Conference that many of the Chicks attended last October and some plan to attend again this year. The conference was a valuable place to network with other writers, learn more about the craft of writing, and meet editors and agents. Because I’m epublished, I’ve also attended EpiCon, the conference put on by EPIC or Electronic Published Internet Connection. This conference concentrates on some of the special needs of epublished authors as well as topics of interest to all writers. The conference I attended had a special emphasis on promotion. Whether you decide to attend a large conference such as the RWA Conference, (2010 and future sites of RWA conferences)a regional romance conference, or a conference like SIWC that caters to many genres, you’re sure to learn something new about writing.
Judge a contest – The Saskatchewan Romance Writers, the writing group that many of the Chicks belong to, ran the “We Dare You” contest for several years. I learned a lot from judging the work of other writers. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I discovered which openings grabbed me from the first page, the first paragraph, or the first sentence. My critiquing skills improved, and hopefully I was able to offer good advice on how the writer whose work I critiqued could better her work. Judging also gave me a little insight into what editors and agents go through. I could often tell from the opening lines whether the submission would grab me and make me want to read more. Sometimes I was able to apply those insights to my manuscripts. However, the biggest lesson I learned was that it is much easier to pick out flaws in someone else’s work than it is in your own!
Join a writing group or critique group – There are many reasons for joining a writing group. Writing is a solitary pursuit, so finding like-minded people to share the frustrations and successes is a joy. Writing and critique groups also provide learning opportunities for writers. Many groups provide critiquing for its members, and as I said, critiquing the work of other writers helps you learn lessons you can apply to your own writing. Receiving a critique is a learning experience as well. The insight of other writers can take your work in directions you may not have considered on your own. In addition, many writing groups offer information and workshops on a vast array of writing subjects. The Saskatchewan Romance Writers also maintains of library of writing books that can be borrowed by any member. And if you live in an area with no RWA chapters, or other like-minded writers, you can always turn to the Internet. RWA Online is a chapter of Romance Writers of America, and like it says, it's open 24/7.
Write a blog! – I’m sure the other Chicks will agree that we’ve learned a lot by creating and maintaining this blog. Not only have we learned the technical skills necessary to operate the blog, we’ve learned how to meet deadlines, how to promote ourselves, and how to come up with a post when the well feels very dry. I know my research skills have grown since I became involved with Prairie Chicks, and I also know that the more I write, the more I write. It’s given me extra confidence. Through my work on the Prairies, I’ve learned I can meet produce stories and articles others want to read. If I can do it on the Prairies, I can do it in my other writing as well.
These are some of the methods I’ve used to continue to learn, beyond my “graduation”. How do you continue to grow as a writer?
I'm a participant in the Long and Short of It Third Anniversity Party, August 2 to 29. LASR is giving away three Nook ebook readers from Barnes and Noble. Please go to http://www.longandshortreviews.com/promo.htm for more details.