Monday, May 30, 2011

Learn Writing from the Experts...for Free!

Newer writers face two uphill challenges: not only must they learn the ins and outs of today’s publishing world, but they must learn how to produce publishable manuscripts. Mastering one of these without the other might well prove fruitless.
          Multiple resources teach how to format manuscripts and how to approach editors or literary agents with book proposals. In a sense, this is basic, objective information that you simply tweak to conform for each agent's or editor’s preferences. But how does any budding writer grow more skillful at the actual craft of writing for publication? After all, any moderately educated human can peck words into a document, but a much smaller group understands how to shape words into articles, short stories, devotionals, or books that publishers will buy and that readers will read.
          Standard advice includes attending writing classes at a local college, attending conferences, subscribing to writers’ magazines, and joining a critique group. However, what if you live on limited income? What if you simply can’t find fellow writers in your community?  
          One simple technique may exist right on your bookshelf. Even without signing up for a writing course, you can learn from expert authors for free. Choose a book or a magazine article that represents your favorite genre. Now, starting at page one, sit at your computer and begin copying those words into a blank Word document. But don’t type mindlessly. As you keyboard those already-published words, temporarily “become” that author. Notice the clever way that “your” words arouse curiosity in the reader. See how the author you’re emulating finds more interesting verbs than the threadbare “has/have,” “was/were,” “went,” etc. Feel what it’s like to record descriptions replete with mood-evoking details, ominous sounds, tell-tale odors, possibly even the taste and feel of objects. Pay attention to how that author employs punctuation marks.
          Of course, your goal isn’t to become a second-class copy of some famous author. However, by allowing a professional writer’s words to flow through your eyes, through your brain, and through your fingertips, you should gain a feel for the difference between good, salable material and the hum-drum copy that anybody can churn out.
          Once, I visited a writers’ group held in a public library’s downstairs meeting room. “My problem,” lamented one woman, “is that I goofed off in high school and never learned to write well.” What a pitiful excuse. Above her head waited a library crammed with thousands of excellent examples to explore. Yet, she closed her eyes and clung to excuses rather than taking active steps to learn.
          Serious writers don’t make excuses. They read, they learn, and they put into practice tricks of the trade gleaned from those farther down the road of publishing. If you have that creative writer spark inside you, can learn from studying the pros.
         Perhaps you as a writer have found other tricks that helped you to mature in your writing skills. If so, many colleagues would like to hear from you!

Rick Barry


  1. Wow, this is great post. Really starts one thinking. I think having a great mentor is also the key to getting published. One must also be able to handle constructive criticism too. When you know criticism is coming from someone who just wants to make you a better writer, it really takes the sting out of it (well, mostly).

  2. I started doing this years ago. It's a magnificent exercise. Even if you've been writing for a while, its a good way to loosen up the sticky gears now and then too.

  3. Nice blog, Rick. We all have the resourses on hand. We have to see it, then use it.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Great post, Rick. I'm so grateful for the library and all the free resources. :) And what a neat exercise! I'm going to have to try that!