In any number of careers you would need to take training courses or maintain qualifications. As writers, have you done anything more formal, after university, to hone your talent or is there something you plan/want to do in the future? Anything you found really helpful? Aside from just putting in the hours and hours actually writing.
I didn’t go to college for writing. I went there to be a scientist and I dropped out after 2 years. Gordon went to college to get a history degree with a minor in political science. Neither of us recommends formal education for creative writing if your aim is to write commercial fiction. Most MFA programs are taught by people who have not achieved commercial success. In some cases, it can be detrimental rather than helpful.
Gordon actually started as an English major aiming at journalism. His English Literature professor assigned the class an essay on Green Knight after lecturing at length about it. Gordon analyzed the Green Knight and received a failing grade. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding. He was under impression that the professor wanted his thoughts on Green Knight. Instead she wanted her opinion regurgitated back at her in his words. Gordon switched his major that day and never looked back.
A bad teacher will kill your creative drive.
Things that one can do to improve their writing
Hours and hours writing and hours and hours reading.
Although I am mostly reading manhwa and manhua, Korean and Chinese comics. People ask for recommendations for those, but I typically don’t reccomend them because a lot of them they have themes that Western audiences would not tolerate well. Which is why I read them. You must read widely. Lots and lots of stimulus from reading, looking at art, watching TV, observing people in real life. Your mind will take all of it, chew on it for a while, process, and produce fiction. You can’t make fiction out of nothing.
Read widely. Read new. Read old.
For hours the hard-pressed beast had fled across the Martian desert with its dark rider. Now it was spent. It faltered and broke stride, and when the rider cursed and dug his heels into the scaly sides, the brute only turned its head and hissed at him. It stumbled on a few more paces into the lee of a sandhill, and there it stopped, crouching down in the dust.
The man dismounted. The creature’s eyes burned like green lamps in the light of the little moons, and he knew that it was no use trying to urge it on. He looked back the way he had come.
In the distance there were four black shadows grouped together in the barren emptiness. They were running fast. In a few minutes they would be upon him.
Brackett, Leigh. Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars (p. 9). Phoenix Pick. Kindle Edition.
IN THE MYRIADIC YEAR OF OUR LORD—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
She didn’t run. Gideon never ran unless she had to. In the absolute darkness before dawn she brushed her teeth without concern and splashed her face with water, and even went so far as to sweep the dust off the floor of her cell. She shook out her big black church robe and hung it from the hook. Having done this every day for over a decade, she no longer needed light to do it by. This late in the equinox no light would make it here for months, in any case; you could tell the season by how hard the heating vents were creaking. She dressed herself from head to toe in polymer and synthetic weave. She combed her hair. Then Gideon whistled through her teeth as she unlocked her security cuff, and arranged it and its stolen key considerately on her pillow, like a chocolate in a fancy hotel.
Muir, Tamsyn. Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy) (p. 15). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
Peer critique is useful if you can stand it. Some people can get vindictive and mean, because everyone is a special snowflake when it comes to their own writing. Also, you have to be aware that because everyone is working on their own fiction, they will concentrate very heavily on one aspect at a time. The adage of “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” holds true in this case.
For example, let’s say that I’ve become convinced that I use the word said too often. If I am critiquing other people’s work, I’m going to point out all of the saids with a vengeance, because I can’t unsee them. In reality, the word said is one of the most invisible words in English language. Go ahead and use it, because I guarantee that “he declared” will stand out a lot more.
Your best feedback comes from reader reactions. One well placed, “I am bored” can tell you more about your book’s issues than five pages of analysis from another writer.
For example, suppose you have a scene where your character has a verbal fight with his brother. The reader says, “This is boring.” The writer friend says, “This scene lags. I’d cut it.” But the problem isn’t actually in this scene. The problem is two chapters ago where you failed to set up the emotional conflict between the two brothers. If you have one brother kick the other brother’s dog in that chapter, I guarantee you nobody will be bored during their fight. Most of the times only you can figure out where the problem is because only you know what you want to say.
My go-to recommendation is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. It’s getting long in the tooth, but it’s still useful because it explains some of the fundamental techniques like how to fold time or how structure a chase scene.
I’ve read a few books on writing written by working authors, Like David Eddings, Steven King, Dean Koontz, etc. They were not helpful in terms of making me a better writer. They did demonstrate to me that writers like to talk about themselves and their creative process and that all of us feel sorry for ourselves. 🙂
If I ever wrote a book on writing, it would basically be an update of Swain, but we already have Swain, so I am going to send you to it. Just ignore some of the outdated social commentary. It was first written in early 70’s, I think, and the revised edition dates to 1981.
I’ve tried Patterson’s master class because I wanted to know about his process. I quit after 4th or 5th lesson because there simply wasn’t enough substance for me to sink my teeth in.
I haven’t tried anything else. In theory, the idea of continuing education for writers seems useful, but your best continuing education is to pick up something new and fresh, something odd, and read it.
Mentorship is having someone, preferably a successful writer, steer you through a draft of your first book. There is a lot of potential benefits here, but also some danger. Successful writers tend to be forceful in their approach to fiction, For example, I have to be very vigilant to not bulldoze over someone when I critique. I have done it a number of times and then went back, looked at it, and thought, “Why did I do this?” That’s why I do my best to not critique anymore.