Monday, March 12, 2007

In the Company of Genius

As a writing coach, I've had the privilege of helping over one hundred students become better writers. I love it. I have a confession to make, though: I've never taken a writing course in my life.

That doesn't mean I haven't had teachers. In fact, I've been taught by some of the best. Writers have the unique opportunity to sit at the feet of the masters, because words are deathless. My writing coaches span ages and literary genres: everyone from Shakespeare to Beatrix Potter; from Ray Bradbury to the Apostle Paul.

Writers read. If they don't, they bypass the greatest body of creative instruction in the world.

Here are a few tips for you, O Aspiring Writer:

1. Read through the ages. You may have a poster of Charles Dickens on your wall, but make sure you read things that have been written more recently than 1870. Writing as an art form has come a long way since the 19th century. Become familiar with the styles of past and present, and you can mine them for a style of your own that is neither outdated nor destined to go the way of New Kids On the Block.

2. Read poetry. Read poetry even if you don't understand it. Read it even if you don't like it. Poets use language in ways that will enrich your own writing if you let their work sink in.

3. Read nonfiction if you're a novelist; fiction if you write nonfiction. The styles can learn a lot from each other. Fiction writers know how to pace a story and involve the emotions and passions of their readers--it's a skill nonfiction writers can benefit from. Likewise, nonfiction writers know how to cut to the chase, communicate clearly, and make the mundane sound interesting. Novelists, take note.

(A quick aside: novelists and short story writers will also find that nonfiction books--history, science, biography, social issues, travelogues, and more--are an incredible storehouse of ideas.)

4. Read critically. When something moves you, ask yourself why. When you're bored, ask the same question. What's working? What isn't? Analyzing the work of others will help you
figure out what's strong or weak in your own writing. Keep a journal where you jot down your observations, along with favourite quotes, interesting new words, and ideas.

5. Read the thesaurus. For fun. Seriously. I do this when I'm bored. If you doubt the extreme "fun factor" of this activity, look up "miscellany." Who knew "rumble-bumble" was a word?

And last but not least...

6. Read books about writing. People spend hundreds of dollars on writing courses and conferences, but the library has a host of how-to books that will teach you a lot about structure and pace and dialogue and exposition and everything else you need to know.

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Blogger Rachel Rossano said...

Reading is so important for a writer. I don't read enough. :)

9:30 a.m.  
Blogger Brittany Simmons said...

I have something to add to your list. Read Rachel Starr's posts! Very interesting and informative.

I have to chuckle about reading the thesarus. I tried to read the dictionary when I was a kid, at least, I took the notion into my head to do so, figuring I'd be very smart if I did. However, I never succeeded in that particular goal. :-P


11:40 a.m.  
Blogger Brittany Simmons said...

Argh!!! It took me about five tries to get that comment to post. Blogger is a pain.

11:41 a.m.  
Blogger Danielle said...

Hello Rachel!

I can't remember how I discovered your blog (although I have seen your name in "HomeSchool Digest"), but I did, and I love it :).

I wonder if I might reprint this post in my newsletter for young Christian writers? It's right up my alley, and I love your concise, cheery style. If you are interested, please contact me on scrapidee @ pconsulting dot com dot au


Danielle in Australia

5:30 a.m.  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Rachel, Very interesting. I don't care alot if I'm ever considered a writer; I just try to use what I do as a ministry and as a form of fellowship with others.

Lukas McKnight linked on my blog (son of Scot McKnight of "Jesus Creed") recently gave me some great tips on commas. I realized I was going overboard on commas and weeded out a bunch of them in recent posts, after reading him and heeding his advice (I had him read a recent posting of which he approved). I also was probably going overboard in short, "incomplete" sentences. So I work to improve at writing. But as you say, reading is important for writers and I would think most any writer loves to read.

Thanks for the tips!

7:18 p.m.  

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