One of the consequences of writing these posts, is that they are helping me to understand my own writing better. Not every writer needs to know how they do it. They don’t question it, they just write a story, do better the next time, and keep on. I have great respect for those who can do that without a lot of introspection and questioning.
Some writers I know believe that writing cannot be taught, that writers have a natural talent which others do not. But their stories get better over the years, so they are learning something with every story they write, and anything that can be learned can be taught. If you can find the right teacher.
My only real talent is being able to have my characters come alive in my head, each one a real person different from all the others. Everything else is an acquired skill. And though I took writing classes in college, I have learned nothing about writing from them. There are a few teachers, such as James Gunn, John Gardner, Joyce Carol Oates, who are writers as well as teachers, and are praised, by those who have taken their courses, for their ability to teach. Finding teachers like that is a trick.
Sone of what I have learned has been from books. I have — or used to have — something like 125 books on writing. I gave away — in one case threw away — those that were useless, or wrong, bringing me down to well under 100. A few of those remaining still have something of value, a very few are really helpful and have taught me a lot. But just reading these few books is not enough. It takes a lot of thought and time to understand what they are offering, and how make it a part of my work.
Everything else I learned the hard way, by just doing it, mostly badly at first, though there have been exceptions, and frequently doing it wrong. Slowly, over time, I became better, and I continue to learn even today.
It has been said that there are only two ways to learn how to write. Write a lot, and read a lot, especially the kinds of stories you enjoy, as well as other kinds of fiction, and any nonfiction that interests you. Pay attention to what you are reading, and see if you can do as well.
It has been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. That has happened to me with my Writers’ Workshop, where I and my panelists try to help beginners learn what they have done well, and where they can improve. I have learned a lot, over the past thirty years and more, about how to analyze a story, how to see it’s strengths and weaknesses, and about how to edit even my own work.
I am not trying to teach anybody anything, by posting to this blog. Except maybe myself. My posts are an effort to understand some small facet of the art and craft (they cannot be separated) of writing which I have learned. Writing long notes to myself leaves me with a huge jumble of notes, which I can never find again, or understand when I do. Writing for publication, even in a blog, helps me to clarify my thoughts, to understand better what I have learned, and so I continue to learn from everything I post.
I started this blog because it is universally acknowledged (as some writer once said) that a blog is the best way to promote my books (which is not what she was talking about). I still have to learn more about how to promote my blog. I chose to write about writing, rather than about my books, for which I have another website, as noted in the links above. But even better than self-promotion is growth and improvement and learning about how I do what I do, what works best for me, and why I do it. That reward alone is worth the effort. If my readers learn anything from this, then that is reward multiplied.