One of my favorite things to do in December is reflect on the current year. I consider what I’ve accomplished, whether I met my initial goals, and what I plan to focus on moving forward. When we engage in professional development regularly incorporating it into our daily routines, we may start to do it automatically, without much forethought or effort. Anything that is a priority is worth habitualizing. Setting a small amount of time aside to learn and apply that new knowledge can lead to tremendous change over time. Our schedules, like our budgets, are a reflection of our priorities. I set aside an hour or more a day to read, listen, or watch something that I feel will help me become a better writer. Looking back at the year, there are a few resources that really stand out. They were extremely valuable to the progress I’ve made.
For me, ideas and inspiration frequently come from listening to, and learning from, those who are where I hope to be one day. Over time, I’ve discovered my ideal work to learn ratio is around 60% work to 40% learning. If I dip below this ratio, I become less productive and less satisfied professionally. Perhaps that is a topic for another article… The key takeaway is, knowing what I know about myself, I’ve concluded that ramping up my daily word count would require an equivalent increase in professional development. One of the ways I’ve fulfilled that need is through writing courses.
Reedsy offers free courses on writing, publishing, marketing, editing, distribution, and design. The course content comes to you via email. One lesson is sent a day for 10 days. When I learned they were offering these valuable courses 70% even “free-er” than usual [i.e. $0.00 instead of $0.00] for Black Friday, I couldn’t resist. I signed up for two.
I wish I’d come into National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo] this year with a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of How to Plot a Novel Using the 3-Act Story Structure. So, I found a few resources to begin adding depth to my knowledge in that area.
I enrolled in Writing Dialogue That Develops Plot and Character this year since [let’s face it] dialogue is a make or break. There are a plethora of ways dialogue can fall short. An author could use too much, not enough, be overly repetitive, fail to adapt the language to the character speaking, or overlook key differences between written and oral communication.
If there are so many ways to botch dialogue, why use it? When done well, dialogue tells readers a lot about a character. It also brings the audience right into the action where anticipation, fear, and other emotions are felt more deeply.
Join me in this week’s class – How to Write a Suspense Novel
Inkett’s Novel Writing Bootcamp
This Fundamentals of Fiction series is taught by author and editor, Bryan Thomas Schmidt. It covers the whole process, from outlining to marketing. I enjoyed that it was self-paced, that each lesson had a video and PDF, and the inclusion of homework assignments.
One of the lessons I found most enlightening provides tips and techniques for reviewing and improving your work. Then it covers how to find and approach working with an editor.
Anything [and Everything] By James Scott Bell
While I run [in an effort to combine physical activity and professional development], I listen to Audible books. One of my favorites this year was Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell. As soon as I finished, I was online finding what else he’d written.
After listening to VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing, I thought, “I’ll give someone else a chance.” So, I downloaded the Great Courses lecture series on How to Write Best-Selling Fiction. I must not have read the fine print, because [to my surprise] when it started the lecturer/narrator was none other than James Scott Bell. After a good laugh, I decided to listen to it next anyway and haven’t been disappointed with that decision. Bell really speaks to me as a newer, budding author.
I’ll have to keep you posted on the one I downloaded to Kindle yesterday – 27 Fiction Writing Blunders – and How Not to Make Them!
More Great Courses
I’ve been a fan of the Great Courses for long enough that I ordered my first lecture series Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in Western Tradition on 12 cassette tapes. It was the first of many. Among those lectures I started, continued, or finished this year were:
Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature
The series Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature covers heroes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins, from The Lord of the Rings, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Professor Thomas A. Shippey, Ph.D. asks the audience to consider what it means to be heroic, what heroes have in common as well as how they differ, and also what they tell us about ourselves.
Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques
In Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques, James Hynes describes how to get started with the writing process. His coverage of characters includes a discussion of how characters, for better and worse, are different than actual people and various ways to present characters to readers. Other topics include plot, point of view, and scene building. The final chapter, “Making a Life as a Fiction Writer” addresses the dichotomous aspects of the two main roles a writer must take on. The first as the creator of material, and the second as a promoter of that content.
The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction
I debated including this series since it is genre specific. As you can see, it made the cut. The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction notes that the stars of mystery have reached a high enough level of fame that even those who have no interest in the genre know who they are. This level of success is, at least in part, due to formulas and approaches that could easily be applied to other genres. The course covers elements found in mystery and suspense, the professional vs. amateur sleuths, and the impact of setting. What I found most compelling was the history of mystery, how shifts in culture over time have brought innovation and change to the genre.
Other Eye-Opening and Thought-Provoking Books
Writing Tools 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
Writing Tools 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark convinced me that writers need “tools, not rules.” The “Nuts and Bolts” section includes tips on adverbs and sentence length. “Special Effects” provides suggestions for pacing and degree of abstraction. The third section, “Blueprints,” covers dialogue, key questions, and archetypes. Finally, “Useful Habits” shares insights about breaking a large project into smaller, more manageable bits and pieces and limiting self-criticism while learning from external critics.
You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One)
Jeff Goin’s You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One) addresses a nagging question for many just starting out – when does one officially become a writer? He also puts forward a revolutionary idea:
“Writers shouldn’t spend all of their time doing things they don’t enjoy. Instead, they need to do what they love. They need to write.”Jeff Goin’s
You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One)
If you’re wondering what writers are doing if not writing, the answer is: social media, self and product promotion, pitching, querying, waiting to hear back from agents or publishers, etc. He later expands on what “just write” might entail. Spoiler, it involves a lot of practice, some humility, and a willingness to edit relentlessly.
I hope you find these resources as helpful as I have! Before you go, I’m curious, what is your “go to” for developing the craft?