Tag Archives: how to write better

Curves in the Road

At sixteen my plan was to spend my senior year of high school as an exchange student, then go to Northwestern for journalism and become an international reporter. I’d make the world a better place and have adventures at the same time. I was on that road. I was editor of my school paper and studying both French and Spanish. I joined AFS and met exchange students from all over the world. I brought home the application.

But my mother had been a stay-at-home mom for almost forty years and she wasn’t ready for an empty nest, so she insisted I could wait and go abroad while I was in college. That last year of high school, there were few academic courses left for me to take. Instead, my interest in art, music, and drama, which had been largely dormant for two years, came back full force. I never even applied to Northwestern.

The killings at Kent State, a month before my high school graduation, did nothing to change my mind. The paranoia of the day seeped into me. Publication of the Pentagon Papers could have inspired a renewal of my interest in journalism, but instead the content increased my detachment from world events. Then Watergate filled the television and my first choice for president was a crook or the man he’d made look like a buffoon. I did a write-in vote for “No Body” and wanted nothing to do with any of it.

I just wanted to live my life.

It’s a good way to live, focused on immediate surroundings, the things where you may make a real difference in lives, one at a time, or one small community at a time. And that is one way to change the world without taking on the big issues.

Looking back, there have been many other roads not taken, some of which might have brought me back closer to my original intent. It’s okay I didn’t take those roads. There have been rough spots, but overall, life has been full and interesting and right now it’s really good. I’m writing fiction full of strong women, providing good role models. . .but, every so often, I wonder if I’m playing hooky from another destiny.

A few weeks ago, I bought the January 15, 2018 Time because it was supposed to be a good news edition, edited by Bill Gates. This morning it got to the top of the reading pile. In it, there’s an article by Melinda Gates about how women’s movements around the world are bringing about significant changes not just for the betterment of women, but for society as a whole. She advocates for an increase in financial support for grassroots women’s organizations and women’s funds.

The article makes me feel as if there’s more I need to do.

It could be a diversion from projects already in place, to avoid completion. I need to guard against that temptation. But I suspect the road I’m on is curving and will eventually intersect with the one not taken long ago.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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What Makes a Good Writing Class

I’ve taken courses and workshops in English, journalism, fiction writing, poetry writing, technical writing, grant writing, and probably more that I’m not thinking of this moment. Quality has varied, but many were excellent. Based on that experience, here are some elements I consider essential for a good writing class:

  • The instructor is a good teacher, someone who builds on your strengths rather than focusing on your errors.
  • Once you have basic skills, the instructor helps you refine your writing style rather than forcing your writing into a template or their personal style.
  • The instructor is a writer, preferably someone who’s published or is in the process of trying to be published, so they know what it’s like to risk rejection repeatedly.
  • The instructor regularly writes the form they are teaching, be it short or long fiction or non-fiction, plays or screenplays, or academic work.
  • Students are there because they want to improve their writing. If it is a required class, the majority of students become enthused as they see their writing improve.
  • Everyone is expected to write for every class meeting, whether that’s bringing in new or revised work and/or doing spontaneous writing in class.
  • The class as a whole or in small groups critiques each other’s work with the instructor modeling and supervising constructive critique methods. The emphasis is on the work, what works, and what can be improved. This way you will learn from everyone’s writing.

If you have other criteria, please post them.

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Resources to Improve Your Writing

WMWDWMPicsLast week I listed resources for selling your work, because that’s my current focus.This week I’ll back up a step for people who know their writing still needs work. Some of the resources listed last week also include articles on writing that are very helpful for writers at any skill level. Those were: Writer’s Market, Writer’s Digest Magazine, The Writer Magazine, and Writer’s Digest Books.

Internet
Today, the internet is my primary resource. My personal preference is Yahoo’s search engine, but I use Google Maps for maps and when I have access to Chrome, and I use Google Earth to view places. Wikipedia has an extensive list of search engines divided into useful categories to get more targeted results.

I use Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and thesaurus when I’m searching for a word. For access to style guides, I use Purdue Online Writing Lab, but they have free basic writing instruction there, too. I haven’t used it yet, but The International Writing Program offers massive open online writing courses (MOOCs) for free – and this is supported by the University of Iowa, which is known for its writing programs, so I would expect the courses to be excellent.

BONOWWPbooksBooks
I have about seven feet of bookshelf taken up with books on writing, screenwriting, self-publishing, and marketing – about half of them published by Writer’s Digest – and I’ve given away twice that many over the years. As much time as I spend with a computer screen, curling up with a book to dive into the details of a topic is a pleasure.

You should go to Writer’s Digest Books and pick out ones that are relevant to your skill level and interests, so I’m not going to list all of mine. For fiction writing, my favorite is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. My favorite non-WD book on writing fiction is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a memoir and a textbook for writers. I underlined key comments and marked them with sticky notes so they’re easy to find.

Finally, for grant or other technical writing or editing, the Allyn and Bacon Series in Technical Communication is well-designed. Whatever kind of writing you do, keep developing your skill.

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