Over the last few years, I’ve gone back and forth about getting into an MFA program. It certainly seems to lend more credence to an author’s work. Intensive work-shopping and guidance from a mentor also have a certain lure. On the other hand, I’ve already spent more than my fair share of time in the classroom, and I’m worried that if I tried to squeeze more time consuming commitments into an already packed schedule, it would be my writing time that would suffer, which seems counterproductive.
So, I did the next best thing. I just finished reading Gabriela Pereira’s book, diy MFA. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend it – for a tutorial it’s very engaging and reader friendly.)
I’ve been reading quite a few books on writing and craft developing lately, mainly to answer some questions that I’ve been unable to articulate into words. Am I getting my answers?
It isn’t always fun, but I honestly feel like I’ve become a better writer. I’ve read dozens of times that the best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read widely. I’ve always been a voracious reader; while I feel like there’s certainly something to be gained from reading in general, reading as a writer has me seeing the words on the page in an entire new light. (A celestial light, limned with rainbows and glitter dust straight from a unicorn’s sneeze.) According to Pereira, “Reading like a writer means that you don’t read just to find out what happens next in the story. You must read to figure out what the writer is doing and how she achieves a particular effect.”
While I normally notice if the pacing is off, or there is too much exposition or too little character development in a story, I basically read
to escape reality for entertainment and not to learn how an author is achieving certain feats of magic: How did the author make me so invested in the characters that I cried when they cried? How did the author ensnare me so deeply in his/her web that I had no choice but to stay up late reading, even though I was already dead tired and had an extra early morning the next day? How do the words on the page leave me breathless when I’m just sitting in place, reading? How? How? How?
Layer upon layer of intrigue in deftly crafted fiction doesn’t just happen by lucky accident or from reading a lot or because you caught a leprechaun and he gifted you an enchanted keyboard. One of the best things I got from this book is that writing is a form of manipulation. Your writing is stronger when you write with purpose – intentionally trying to evoke certain reactions, feelings and thoughts from the reader.
There are things I was already doing in my own writing – but I wasn’t consciously doing them. I wasn’t writing with the intent or purpose I should have been. I learned them from reading, included them in my writing, but if you had asked me the how or the why behind why I was doing it, I would have been lost to explain myself. By paying attention to the how and the why, I can craft a scene with much more impact which will hopefully resonate more strongly with readers.
Some of the information gets redundant, but I get at least 10-20 pages of highlighted notes from each book, which I then paste into a word document, print them out, and put them in a three-ring binder so I can read them again and again (yes, I am the nerd queen, but I’m okay with that).(Kindle is awesome enough to help you quickly find all of your highlights in a book. I save PDFs of books (often cheaper to buy, especially from sites like Writer’s Digest) to the cloud to get it on my phone to read and highlight.)
The final section of this book is about creating a writing community. Having a support network of other writers, attending events and conferences, and networking is a recurring theme in the books I’ve been reading, and one I plan to return to in later posts. I’m attending my first conference this November, and I’m already hard at work researching how to get the most out of the experience (what else would an introverted nerd queen do?).
If anyone has any tips or personal experiences they want to share, I’d love to hear them!
Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!