Monday, July 19, 2010

Graduation Day

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 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 contestThe 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 for more details.


Karyn Good said...

I've never taken an online writing class but it's something I've always wanted to look into. About two weeks ago I came across the Mystery and Suspense Chapter of RWA and wrote myself a note to check out the classes in the fall. Looks very intriguing and geared towards what I write.

Thanks for the tips and the reminder to keep learning the craft.

Great pics!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Unfortunately, a great photographer, I'm not. But it was wonderful to see her graduate. Now all she needs is a full-time job in her field of interest!

I'm kind of addicted to on-line classes. I really like them and have to limit the number I take. The topics always sound so interesting to me!

Another way we keep learning is to keep reading, especially new authors. That gives us an idea of what's selling. Reading well-written fiction also also inspires us to reach for something better in our own writing.


Kate Richards said...

I had such a good time here on Saturday, I had to come back and play again. What an interesting column. I love taking online classes and have learned lots. I have others lined up and the mystery/suspense chapter sounds like a good place to find more. But the place learned the most (besides my crit partners to whom I owe my life) is editing. Whether I'm editng professionally or being edited myself, I learn what to do, what not to do, what works and what doesn't. I recently had the word 'look' highlighed in a work of mine by my editor so many times we joked about my paying her a nickel each next time. Don't know what I was thinking...but I think I've learned from it. Either that or I'll need more nickels.

Janet said...

Great reminder, Jana, to make sure we continue to grow as writers! Like Karyn, I haven't taken any online writing classes, but I think that will be on my winter "To Do" list. Lu, who visits here often, always brings up Margie Lawson - says she's an amazing teacher and has some fantastic classes.

If anyone's interested, I found her link - Margie Lawson. Hopefully, that works.

And congrats to the Daughter! No wonder you're proud :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent post, Jana.

I've taken a Margie Lawson Deep EDITS workshop at a conference and would like to take another one. She's a teacher who really connects with her 'students'.

Last June I took a plotting course, too. I struggled with it - not because of the format - but because of the content. The course confirmed I'm not a plotter. Heh.

I'd like to take more classes. However, I like the 'classroom' structure of the moderated chats as well. For instance, the ones put on by The Wild Rose Press and My Book Therapy are free and only take a hour of your time. Of course, they're not as detailed as an on-line course, but they do help improve the writing craft.

And that's where you're so right... just because we're grown up and have graduated from school, doesn't mean we should stop expanding our minds.

Thanks, Jana.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Kate,
I'm glad you came back to see us. I hope you make a habit of it!

I totally agree with you about editing. I've learned a lot from the editors I've worked with as well, and I always say they made my work stronger. I had a similar experience to yours with an overused word, only mine was "smile". My editor highlighted in yellow every time I used the word. To say the least my manuscript was pretty yellow! How I missed that I have no idea.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Yes, Margie Lawson is a pretty amazing teacher. I took one of her classes once. It was on motivation and getting things done and stuff like that. I really should dig out those notes and reread them. I'm certainly not the most organized person in the world.

I know you've learned a lot about how to query and how to write a query from your agent search. Those are waters I haven't treaded yet. I'm afraid it might be over my head! But it is something I know I have to learn.

Thanks for the congrats! Like I said, all she needs now is a job!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I've never done the moderated chats that you speak of. Are those live? It sounds like it would be very interesting and being free, very affordable! On-line classes are pretty reasonable, with most of the classes in the $20 to $30 range for 2 - 4 weeks of class time. I'm sure you'd like any of Margie's classes. She's great.


Sylvie said...

Tahnks for sharing your tips! and enjoyed the comments..I didin't know RWA had a Mystery and Suspense Chapter.

Helena said...

What a great post, Jana! This is a perfect time of year to be looking ahead to the 'next chapter' (in more ways than one). When fall arrives -- and unfortunately, summer is galloping away on me -- it always seems like some learning should be going on. Comes from being associated with academic institutions all my life, I suppose, and being on both ends of the learning stick. Starting with Grade One and ending with retirement, that's a lot of years. But a person would get stale without taking in new ideas, and learning at the feet of experts, so I still feel the need.

I have taken two workshops in the last two weeks, both on writing fiction, and I feel so energized. I'm heading back to Surrey in October, and I've registered for several Master Classes before the conference begins.

You're also right about writers' groups. Twice a month I get a shot in the arm from critiquing the work of others and having my own scrutinized. We all learn a lot.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Sylvie,
Yes, the Mystery & Suspense Group is a chapter of RWA, and if you are a member of RWA and you write mystery, you might consider joining. But you don't need to be a member to take one of their classes. The classes offered are really good. Not all of them are geared specifically to mystery and suspense. Many are of interest to any writer in any genre.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I don't need to tell you anything about life-long learning! You've had a very busy summer and it sounds like your fall is going to be just as jam packed.

I believe all people, not only writers, should embrace life-long learning. There are so many things in this world to discover. It baffles me when people are content to know what they know and have no interest in anything else.
I'm sure you'll stay sharp forever!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana, yes the moderated chats are live:

The Wild Rose Press:

- 2nd Thurs of every month 8pm EST Contemporary moderated chat

- 3rd Thurs of every month 8pm EST Historical moderated chat

My Book Therapy:

- every Monday night 8pm EST (This is hosted by inspirational authors so it starts off with a prayer but the topics are romance in general)

Transcripts are available for those unable to make the live chat.