Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Standing on formality

I have a confession to make. I have no real, formal training in writing aside from high school English classes and the required Comp class in college. I’m not an English or Creative Writing major and my degrees are not in the Humanities.

I’ve always written on and off, but didn’t begin to write fiction regularly until about ten years ago. And my friends, both of whom have English degrees, did beta and critique. And I’ve been wondering off and on if/how that affects me as a writer. I mean, I'm not always very technical in my analysis and craft. Does that make me a fraud?

So, I’m thinking of taking a writing class. And I wanted to know: How did you come to writing? Through a program, degree, or classes? Some other way? If you took them, in college or on your own, did you find classes on writing helpful? Or did you find books on writing equally or more helpful?

37 comments:

  1. Is there a help group we can join? I'm in the same boat. I majored in History and wrote many papers for graduate school, but have little formal training in writing. I took two English classes in college.

    Since September, I've read a few books on grammar, so my writing has improved somewhat. We always need a beta readers, regardless because we miss stuff no matter how diligent we aim to be.

    I've considered taking a class or two, but I don't think another degree is what I need.

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  2. Don't get confused about people who are educated in literature and English (like me), because that didn't help me one bit to write fiction. I learnt everything, I mean EVERYTHING that was valuable for writing a novel after writing it, getting it wrong, getting it critiqued, then fixing it.

    None of my knowledge from university came into play at all - because at university we focused on analysing other peoples work, writing essays, and short pieces of fiction, 'why this' 'why that' 'why every other thing' until every piece of writing we read was broken down into symbolisms, that in reality, the writers surely hadn't even thought of when writing the material in the first place.

    University education does not teach imagination. The skills taught in University English and Literature are completely different to the skills needed for writing a novel length book.

    So, seriously, don't sweat it. You got ideas? You can speak, read and write English? You have a vivid imagination? Then write it all down and then learn the 'skills' you think you need. :)

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  3. I wrote for ten years before I went to college. And then my degree was in Native American Ethnology with a minor in Creative Writing. I believe I only had 2 writing classes.

    You don't need a degree to write. You need a heart and a soul and a trememdous amount of patience, a good ear, a pen and a piece of paper. I've seen the stuff you write, You're not a fraud. You're a writer.

    In answer to your questions -- I find more writing helps. Practice makes perfect. A few chosen books by writers helps. As well as the blogosphere, it's better than any college campus. I wouldn't waste my money on a class. But that's just me.

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  4. I am so glad you posted this! I'm right there with you. I never went to college because I raised my children while working instead, but I did take a number of continuing ed writer's classes. But of all the things I did, wrote for newspapers, did free-lance mag writing, the best thing was to join a writer's group with other writers who enjoyed the same styles (not genres) of writing. It ramped up my level of commtiment to the craft and through editing, critiques and osmosis, it continues to teach me more about the aspects of grammar etc. where I'm weak.
    If you are driven to write and you write instead of talk about writing, than yes you are a writer, no matter your credentials.

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  5. I think it's whats inside that counts, no degree can give you the inspiration and the courage to write all those words on paper. A YA author (Ally Carter) wrote several novels and she didn't take one writing class... she actually went to school for agriculture since in the little itty bitty town she lived in farming was what was important and she knew she needed a fall back career just incase.

    The writing classes are there if you want to learn a little more or need some inspiration but overall you can definitely do without!

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  6. I'm with you and Theresa. We should join a group. Other than high school and a few college courses, I have no other training. I'm learning as I go. I'm sure others will cringe at that and think I'm a fraud but I'm trying not to let it stop me.
    I went to college for four years and came out with an interior design degree. I do practice what my degree dictates but let me tell you--there are many other people who claim to be designers and never took the route I did.
    So no worries lady. You write well and keep on going. Keep practicing that is the only way to become a better writer--in my eyes. We can all learn together.

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  7. Great questions! I like you, only have taken English in HS and in the English 101 every single person is required to take once in college. I kind of fell into writing about 1 1/2 years ago after having my youngest son- it was a way for me to deal with the stress of a newborn and a 2 year old. It instantly became a passion and now I'm trying to pursue this hobby all the way. I have thought about taking a writing course as well, specifically a creative writing class, but haven't gone through with it yet. I'm looking forward to hear the opinions on this.

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  8. I majored in English and took several creative writing classes, but the English degree only helped me learn to think more critically, write damn good research papers, and expose me to books that I may not have otherwise read.

    I learned about writing from reading, and I still think that's the most important thing for writers to do: read. Read all kinds of books in all different styles.

    But some grammatical lessons can be helpful, not that I've noticed that you have grammatical issues in your blog posts. :-)

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  9. Like Summer, I learned about writing from reading. Then, after I began writing, from doing and critiques.

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  10. Thanks for the shout out about the contest, Sarahjayne. Personally (and I see others here agree with me) my bachelor's degree taught me ZIP about how to write fiction - or even to write for publication. I've taught myself everything I need to know. Can you learn how to do this through a Master's degree course? Probably. I've heard the Iowa program is great, for instance. But there's something to be said for the school of hard knocks. ;D I've considered it, but have no money for it.

    Good luck whatever you do. Great post.

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  11. My degree is in flute performance, so I'm the same way as you! I've always been interested in books and writing, but I have no MFA or formal training. Mostly the English classes that I took were reading classes, not writing.

    I don't think it matters because we aren't writing essays, we're writing fiction!

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  12. i do have a degree in creative writing. But that said, i've learned more about craft since i've been out of college than when i was in. The one thing the degree did offer me was a chance to crit and be critiqued constantly, which was wonderful and so much fun.
    I just think i wasn't ready to really embrace my writing during that time, even in my master's classes

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  13. I think its too easy to get hung up on the technicalities of the writing process, for me it's all about getting the stuff out there and developing your own unique voice!

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  14. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Alena

    http://dataentryjob-s.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm with most of the other commenters. I took one college-level creative writing course. It was helpful, but not nearly as helpful as crit groups, reading literature, and practice.

    Actually, some of the things I learned in college and at writing seminars has been out of date. The business of novel writing and selling has evolved so much in the past few decades that it seems that writers' blogs tend to give better, more relevant advice than professors.

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  16. honestly, I think the practice of writing (every day) does the most good...and reading (every day) along with it. Classes will offer you a space of accountability for writing and will offer gems of inspiration, but this can be found on your own. Joining a writing group and/or book club will give you the same space for accountability.
    If you've been writing for ten years, I'd say you certainly are not flawed. :)

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  17. My degree was in art education, all level, with an elementary endorsement. I taught school and read, read, read the books I someday hoped to write. I always wanted to be a writer and one day just sat down an started writing. I go to conferences, have been a member of critique groups (all helpful), and buy "How to books" for advice and technique. So don't worry about formal English courses--from what I can see you have talent, desire, and drive. That's what counts!

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  18. I started writing when I was 14. I found it came naturally to me so I majored in creative writing in college. While that experience was valuable, I don't think I learned a lot about the craft. Maybe I was too young and definitely too arrogant--I wanted to be the next Agnes Nixon (the All My Children creator) in a room full of Updike wannabes. I was totally out of my league.

    I did find value in taking a "how to structure your novel" class in community college a few years ago. By then I was a grown up in a room full of grown ups who just wanted to write. I got more out of those three semesters than I did with an entire four year degree.

    I say take a writing class if only to meet other writers, get feedback, and workshop things. You probably aren't going to learn anything you don't already know but sometimes a class can give you validation. And, if you're like me (you're not), a class forces you to write, sometimes on the spot, in class.

    I've also found online communities of writers to be very helpful and even the fan fiction in which I've engaged (yes, I've gone there and have outed myself) has helped my confidence and abilities.

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  19. Sarahjayne, as you can see, a lot of us are hoping that just wanting to write is enough. I was an elementary ed major--and I don't write Middle Grade! heheh.

    Anyway. Reading. Writing. Tell the story. Revise the story. Feel the passion. Try again. It has to be enough.

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  20. I intend to go to University, and I do not intend to study writing or take writing classes. For me, the real writing comes from within - one's craft is learnt from experiencing life, from contemplating, from reading the timeless works of literary geniuses. I'm sure learning from an actual professional would help, but I don't think it's all that essential.

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  21. I started writing when I was very young and just kept it up throughout my life. I went to Governor's School when I was in high school, but I don't have any formal training other than that. College wasn't a good fit for me and I probably will never go back. But that won't stop me from continuing to write. That being said, a writing class might help you think about things you might not necessarily have considered. We can all use information, why not try a class to enhance yours?

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  22. Curiously enough, a PhD in history doesn't involve a great deal of making silly things up and writing them down either.

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  23. I don't have a degree in English, Creative Writing or the Humanities. I started writing as a child. Loved the pen and paper. Great way to entertain myself. I have taken two writing classes online. I found them helpful. I also have a bookcase full of writing books. The three that helped me, were Writing Down the Bones, The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch and Pen on Fire oh and I forgot, Hooked. I can commiserate with your feelings. I struggle with my feelings of posing as a writer. I battle with the voice that shouts fraud. HeyHo! Still I write. What else can we do?!

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  24. I don't think you need formal training. I think you need to practise writing, and have someone who can critique your work from an experienced perspective. You wouldn't expect to become an expert in piano-playing without a teacher. I think it holds true for writing, too.

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  25. Having the "credentials" doesn't automatically make one a great writer. I have an English BA and a master's in journalism and I think at times it gave me a false sense of "I know what I'm doing." I've written a lot of grammatically correct utter crap. Taking those fundamentals I learned in school and using them well takes PRACTICE.

    If you'd like to take classes, do it. You'd probably find them stimulating and fun and growing. Interacting with a live teacher and classmates can bring energy that a craft book can't on its own.

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  26. I joined a writing group two years back that has changed my writing skills completely. It's called The Next Big Writer. The support I got from them was amazing. I had no formal training either but... well, I recommend joining a group.

    CD

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  27. Tag! You're it!

    You haven't been tagged, yet, have you? I couldn't find a post on it so I used you as a tag.

    If you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, see my latest post :)

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  28. I've read pieces of your writing, and you have real talent and skill. You experiment with POV and style, successfully. You aren't a fraud.
    I've read plenty of published, best selling authors that can't craft a decent sentence.
    Take a class or workshop if you want to, for you. But don't take them for credentials or resume.
    There are plenty of amazing books on craft that I find more valuable than anything I learned in creative writing classes or even recent workshops.

    Hugs,
    Lola

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  29. My degree is in Math, so I have no formal English training either, other than the high school and mandatory college classes you mentioned.

    I did take one continuing education class at our local high school which was illuminating, but it was more about fostering ideas and being creative than about actual structure.

    I would love to take an "official" writing course, but I've never had the finances for that.

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  30. I've been writing for ever, and I've only taken the basic English classes so far (did NOT find them helpful) so I can't say much there, but I have found that writing and reading can help.

    I mean, if I'm not writing EVER there's not much chance I can get better, is there? I'm also realizing I totally need a critique partner person being. *sigh* People can help you see where you need help and stuff.

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  31. Really great post!! I took some classes in college for creative non-fiction, journalism and poetry (independent studies) however none of those helped in a comprehensive way to write a book...just bits and pieces. I think the major learning experience for me is reading book after book after book throughout my life, seeing in black and white what makes a great read and trying to emulate that with my own voice! I did however take a screen writing workshop years ago and that did help oddly enough! I also have some serious PH.D level writer friends that write well but it's so formulaic and analytical, not fresh, quirky or authentic!! Sometimes I think when you learn writing in a class it can actually stifle your writing by teaching you this "write in a box" approach...good luck with whatever you decide!!!

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  32. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Alena

    http://dataentryjob-s.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. I've taken some creative writing classes, and an on-line writers course. I learned quite a bit actually from the course, but if I'd just bought the books on writing, I would have learned the same info. We posted our writings for us to critique each other's work, but most of my fellow students wouldn't give feedback. I did because it was part of the experience, in my view.

    I've gotten more out of reading recommended books on writing, joining a critique group, and attending a conference than I did from the paid class, though I don't regret the experience. It was fun, and helped me create a little writing discipline. I have one more course I'd like to attend - but its 12 weeks and a little expensive and I'm not sure I have the time to devote to it. It's like the creative workshop Simon Larter is currently attending.

    I don't believe a writer needs the MFA, or even a whole bunch of classes to be a good writer (fiction or non). It would be different if you were trying to actually teach on your blog, or were writing a book about writing. But just to share what you've learned, your own experiences with your WIP or books you've found helpful, nah. I like hearing from other aspiring writers what their process is.

    ........dhole

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  34. hehe. I didn't get a chance to read your post earlier when I dropped you the comment, but I had to come back to see why everyone's comments were SO long. And funny enough, my answer to your questions are in my post, which you already read, and was the whole point of my first visit. Funny how things work out.

    And I LOVED the creative writing class I took. It was SO much fun, I definitely encourage the idea :)

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  35. I have zero training, just love to write. In college now going for my degree in English.

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  36. My 2 cents...

    I think that in creative arts inspiration is the main driving force - this and the non-definable quality which compels us to do something (be it write, paint, compose music, and so on).

    Books and classess can be helpful in refining this drive, giving it a more focused direction, but the rest must come from us.

    I've never read books on how to write, but I found King's "On writing" very helpful about the kind of mind-set you need to channel that driving force into your work.

    Sorry for sounding so...Yoda-like! LOL

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  37. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Alena

    http://dataentryjob-s.com

    ReplyDelete