My English 221 teacher this past semester asked me a question that seemed odd initially. “You’ve gotten a book published, why would you take a step back and study English and writing?”
“I know I need the help.” Was my answer, and it wasn’t wrong. That semester, and that teacher, changed how I approach my writing. Here are a couple of the things that have improved for me as I begin a new writing project.
- Expect a fertilizer first draft. It gets pounded into the heads of aspiring writers that their first draft is going to be crappy. Grammar problems to no end, contradictions, poor writing, bad dialogue, horrible descriptions, and incomplete characters are going to abound, we’re told. That’s correct, but I find it misses the rest of the story. That first draft is critical, because your story exists once it is on paper or saved on the computer. It’s real. Yes, it’s going to be rough enough that by the time it’s revised and edited there might not be a word left from what you and I originally write, but that’s not important. We’ve got something to work with, and a place to go from there. The old adage is true that “there is no good writing, only good rewriting.” If an author spends their time editing and correcting each sentence as it reaches the page, then he or she will still need to edit the entire manuscript even after carefully laying each word. Have you ever seen a child playing with LEGO bricks? When they sit down to build something, do they keep each brick in the toy box and lay one down at a time? Every kid I’ve seen has just dumped out the entire bucket and sorted and sifted through. Writing starts off like that. Dump out your bucket and then start crafting.
- A writer does a lot of research. For my first novel, Juniper Crescent, I did a lot of research on human genetics, societal trends, and the teenage female mind (Not a lot of fun, I’ll admit.) But even after all that, I was missing half my research. Studying the elements of the story we plan to create is necessary. Let’s not forget the necessity to research principles of writing, and the work of contemporaries in our chosen field of writing. I fell in love with our textbook for Creative Writing, The Gotham Writers’ Workshop. It laid out and explained what it was that everyone had tried to explain in the past, but I hadn’t understood. It was a wealth of knowledge, and is a ready resource on my bookshelf for when I am crafting my work. Get a copy of that book.
- Develop thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your work, and even you sometimes will look at something you wrote and say, “what was I thinking?” That is not the signal to drop it in the recycle bin, but rather an opportunity to delve deeper into your work. Our own work, whether fiction or non-fiction, will always be a reflection of ourselves. We need to be asking questions. What were we trying to express? To whom were we trying to express it? If you can answer those questions, then you have a necessary confidence authors and artists need. From there, take a break from that particular work, and when you come back: edit, revise, edit, and revise.
I loved my English 221 class this past semester. I owe much to the teacher, Deidre Schoolcraft (coincidence in the name?) and highly recommend her to anyone who is a student at Pikes Peak Community College. Each class felt like a workshop of fellow authors, and people ripping my work apart wasn’t the scary execution it had been in the past.