Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writerly Wednesdays: On Writing Education

Hey Secret Lifers! Today’s post is going to be a bit short and sweet and to the point (if I can actually pull that off, haha), since I’m drowning in edits of my latest finished book, desperately trying to get it polished up and off to beta readers before the day is out.

So, here we go. Firstly, for those of you who don’t know much about my background, here it is: I’m 25, and well out of college, which I was lucky enough to be able to attend with the help of supportive parents (and yet still a crap ton of loans that I’ll probably be paying off for the rest of my life. Hooray!). I have a four-year degree in English, with a concentrated focus on creative writing. The school I went to had a fabulous Visiting Writer’s program, and I had the privilege of meeting and lunching with lots of published writers, and also attending classes taught by some of them. No doubt, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today without them. 

Let me clarify that: I would still be a writer, but not the same one-- for better or worse.

Why am I telling you all this?

Simple. Because one of the questions I see all over the web, and one that I’ve even been asked several times myself, is: does any of that education matter? Do you have to go to school for writing? Take classes for it? Do the people who do all that have any sort of advantage in this field over the ones who don’t?

And here’s an annoying answer: it depends.

For me, personally? The structure of a classroom was invaluable. I can be sort of chaotic, and a bit of a dreamer and not enough of a doer, I’ll be the first to admit that—but having an instructor, and knowing that my peers would be reading my work, forced me to own it. It taught me to meet deadlines, to hold myself accountable and to start working on that discipline that is so invaluable to being a professional writer. It taught me to write—creatively—even when I didn’t feel like it.

But maybe you can already do those things. Maybe you don’t have the attention span of a moth in a lighting store. In that case, the benefit of a structured education might only lie in the making of connections, and knowing that you’ll have the (possibly influential) people at your alma mater to support you when you are published. You can make those same connections in other ways, too, though. At conferences, on writing websites—hell, these days, twitter might be better (or at least just as good) for making connections than school. I suppose a lot of it depends on your personality and resources.

As for learning the craft side of things? I did learn a lot of that at school too, of course. Probably nothing that I couldn’t have got from books, though, or from the wealth of resources available—for free—online or elsewhere. There are an almost overwhelming number of resources available to help you become a better writer if you truly want to be, which brings me to the other point of this post: to introduce a new page on the blog. 

If you look over to that nice shiny list of links on the left, you’ll see a new one for resources. We’ll be building that page up with some of the more useful websites, blogs, maybe even book recommendations that we’ve found helpful along our writing journeys. Some will be helpful to you, some probably won’t: but that’s true of most things in the industry (and life in general, I think): no one person’s journey will be exactly the same. What works for me might seem pointless to you.

Bottom line, then? Don’t let anybody tell you that you need a proper degree or anything like that, or that you aren’t serious about writing if you don’t pursue one. Likewise, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wasting your time getting one, either. The important thing is just to keep learning and growing—however you want to do that, I think, is up to you.

Do you have any writing resources you couldn't live without? Any great learning experiences/mentors/etc that have forever altered your work? Share them in the comments!

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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1 secret replies:

  1. I took away invaluable feedback from my writing classes. It's not that I've never gotten feedback before, but I had only gotten particularly helpful feedback once and even then she couldn't tell me exactly why it wasn't working. And that's what I got in my writing classes: specifics.

    I didn't know about writing forums and critique partners in high school. If I had, I probably wouldn't have had quite so much to learn later.