A guest post by Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse
Each day, we seek to put our best foot forward. We shower, dress for the day’s activities, style our hair. We plan, organize, gather our things, and check the mirror before leaving to pluck stray fluff off our sweaters and straighten sleeves.
- To enhance our strengths.
- To appear confident.
- To show the people who interact with us that we are collected and ready for whatever comes our way.
It’s human nature to minimize our weaknesses. We hide zits, disguise thinning hair and avoid talking about our embarrassing mistakes. But in writing, covering up flaws can keep us from success.
All writers shares a common epiphany on the writing path. I call it Staring Into The Abyss. This experience happens when our writing has strengthened to the point where blissful ignorance rubs away and we begin to realize just how much we don’t know.
It’s a dark moment, a bleak moment. We feel shock. Frustration. Despair. Some stop right there on the path, their writing spirits broken. Others take a micro-step forward, progressing toward the most important stages leading to growth: acceptance and determination.
Once we come to terms with what we don’t know, we can set out to learn. Taking on the attitude of a Learner is what separates an amateur from a PRO.
Asking for help
Writers can strengthen their skills on their own, but it’s a lot of hard work. Reaching out to other writers will shorten the learning curve considerably. Critique partners can help identify your weak areas and offer strategies to improve. They also will know of resources which might help.
There are many great sites for writers to find a critique partner or two. I recommend The Critique Circle (free & safe to post work). There are also sites like Absolute Write, Critters Workshop and Agent Query’s Critique Partner Wanted board. Or let someone play matchmaker for you: Ladies Who Critique & Rach Writes.
No matter what areas need to be worked on, books can help. Find inspiration through your favorite fiction authors and in ‘how to’ books (here’s a good list to start on). Pick up a few and take notes. If you can, pair up with another writer to read the same book and then discuss it. Learning together gives you a better chance to fully understand any topic.
Resources, resources, resources
There are thousands of articles on writing that can teach strong writing technique. Plotting, Story Structure, Voice, Description, Showing vs Telling, Style, Dialogue, Characters…whatever areas you want to develop, there is content out there to help you.
The trick is finding the best nuggets of information without losing your whole day online. Try this Search Engine for Writers for starters. Then, bookmark The Writers Resource which is a must-have for any writer. And saving the best for last, turn your gaze to the sidebar! Write to Done is a treasure trove of fantastic material for writers.
Think outside the monitor
Many of us are introverts, and it’s easy to get caught up on the keyboard and screen. There’s nothing wrong with this, unless your rectangular life preserver is holding you back. Writing Groups, Conferences, Work Shops and Retreats are all excellent opportunities to hone writing skills and meet mentors. Writing events need not be expensive–get involved in a local writing group and see what events have a low or no cost for members.
When you’re looking for opportunities to learn, don’t forget the movies. So much can be gleaned by watching films to see what makes them work. In fact, some of our biggest epiphanies as writers will come from studying screenwriting. I highly recommend reading Save the Cat & Writing Screenplays that Sell. These books are pure gold. Trust me, your writing will thank you!
Write and rewrite
Transforming writing weaknesses into strengths takes time. Choose learning strategies that work best for you and never stop writing. Each step of the way, apply new-found knowledge to the page. We learn most of all by doing, so always make time to write.
Angela Ackerman writes on the darker side of MG & YA. She blogs at The Bookshelf Muse, a description resource hub for writers. Her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is scheduled for release in April 2012.