Creative Writing Skill: Three Ways to Develop Yours
By Katherine J. Barrett
Can creative writing skill be taught? A recent newspaper article posed this question to several established authors. Responses varied—yes, no, maybe—but all authors maintain
that creative writing technique can be developed or enhanced, if not instilled in toto.
Based on numbers of creative writing programs and MFA graduates, many
aspiring writers do believe writing craft can be taught. Certainly,
years to intense academic
instruction is one way to cultivate your talent.
But an MFA in creative writing is not for everyone. I've never
seriously considered it: I have three young children and can afford
time away from home nor the tuition. Besides, I've been to graduate
school (many years ago) and know that an academic style of learning
suits some people and some aspirations, but not all.
Online courses are another popular route to developing creative
writing skill. Classes that are open 24-7 and can be accessed before you
brush your teeth are a good alternative for writers
with day jobs and other commitments. A course taught by dedicated,
experienced instructors and populated with students eager to share work
and provide feedback can be worth the time and fees.
I've taken fantastic courses for less money than I'd spend at a
bookstore. Often, however, it's difficult to know what you will get
before you sign on. I've also registered with
well-established online creative writing schools only to find my fellow
students silent and the instructor more distracted than dedicated.
three additional, low-cost and sure-fire ways to develop your creative writing skill.
Find a mentor. To improve your writing, you need
someone to scrutinize your work and give constructive comments, someone
who will tell you to move the end to the beginning, cut every other
sentence, revise and then revise again. For that kind of critique,
you'll probably have to pay. Professional mentoring rates vary from
middling to steep, but I've found it worth every cent.
I've worked one-to-one with a mentor on a specific piece of
writing and revised that piece until it was ready to send out for
publication. I've then applied everything I learned to write my
next project. That intense, practical focus sharpens creative writing
skill in a short period of time. Find a mentor whose opinion you trust,
whose writing style you appreciate, and whose rates
you can afford.
Get a regular gig. Every author interview and writing
memoir I have read agrees on this point: developing skill takes
practice. Not one author has said, "Well, I just sat down one day and
this best-seller." Practice takes discipline and a good way to instill
discipline is to make a commitment. Last February, I agreed to write 13
monthly columns for Literary Mama.
words written, revised, edited, published, read and commented upon every
month. It's like a school assignment but the stakes are higher: your
work is out there. Look for opportunities in
community or graduate school newspapers, in fledgling literary
magazines, or in library newsletters and offer your writing services.
Producing completed work gets easier each time you do
it—and your creative writing skill will soar.
Read with a critical eye. You should read the great writers in your genre. Read the classics and recent prize winners. Read the Pushcart collections and the
Best American series. But also read
literary journals. This is where writers, both great and not-so-great,
hone their creative writing skill. Find stories you love and ones that
make you say, "I can do better than that," and
record your thoughts in writing. You might also train your critical eye
through more public means. Volunteer to read and comment for a literary
magazine, and comb through the slush pile
yourself. You'll see what editors see: Some stories flail in the first
paragraph and others grip you until the end.
Consider reviewing literary publications. I've recently reviewed literary
magazines for the Review Review.
Not only does this get your name into the literary web pages, but it
forces you to read an entire journal and explain why it's excellent,
or I-can-do-better. You can always write for your own website too. Start
a blog and post your critiques, your reading lists, your publications
and, of course, samples of your own, by now
flourishing, creative writing skill.