How Do Writers Learn?

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Some of the writers who keep me sane and teach me a lot. L to R – Dan Foley, me, John Valeri, Ryanne Strong, Stacey Longo, and Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Writers learn by doing. You can’t be a writer unless you write. For me, this means nearly every day. I may allow myself time off here and there, but it’s bloody rare. Even if part of me wants a day off, there’s another part that craves that ass-in-the-chair time. I need it. To quote Debbie Reynolds in the movie In and Out, “It’s like heroin.” 

Writers learn by reading. Books. Magazines. Blogs. Read great ones. Read good ones. Read those that stink for no other reason than to learn how NOT to do it. In the beginning, you’ll undoubtedly borrow from the writers you like most. And by “borrowing” I DO NOT mean stealing ideas, lines of narrative or dialogue, or their characters. What I DO mean is writing as they do, mimicking their style, their cadence. When we’re starting out as writers, this happens all the time as we hunt for our own singular voice. .As long as this borrowing doesn’t become a life-long habit, you’re okay.

Writers learn from other writers. Join a writers group. Start a writers group. Talk with other writers online. Critique one another’s work. You’ll figure out pretty quickly who knows their stuff and who’s talking out their hindmost quarters. Find blogs and follow them. How? Search and read. Find the ones that resonate with you.

Lately, Jane Friedman has been my guide. I learn something every time I read a post or watch a webinar. This past week, I spent more hours than I care to admit reworking my website, an adjunct page, losing one of my two Facebook pages (because I didn’t really need two–as Jane explained it to me–and don’t have the time or energy both required) and revamping my main one, all to better my focus on what I want to achieve as a writer. The woman knows her stuff.

I think I’m getting there.