10. Get an Assessment/Edit
There are experts out there who offer this service. If they’re good at their job, they can point out exactly what you need to look at in your writing – plot, characterization, voice, grammar, punctuation, etc. If you have writing idiosyncrasies (and we all do) you can even apply some of this information to your other projects.
Look hard enough and you’ll find courses suitable to your needs. These can range from tertiary courses that have classes specializing in various fields (editing, shot story writing, novel writing, etc.) to short courses aimed just at specifics. One of the benefits of courses is setting assignments and deadlines that force you to write and meet word limits – always a motivator for the habitual procrastinator.
8. Industry Talks
Look for them. Tertiary courses often have talks from industry professionals – publishers, writers, editors. These can be open to the public. Otherwise, check out your local library, e.g. the Yarra Plenty Regional Library often run FREE sessions hosted by editors, writers, etc. Listen to what people in the industry have to say.
7. Books About Writing
They’re out there. Stephen King’s On Writing isn’t so much a technical guide, but an insight into what to expect and what you need to do. It is one of the better ones. There are tons of others. Some contain practical tips, some contain exercises, some teach you (particularly if your craft is screenwriting) about industry expectations.
6. Writing/Workshopping Groups
Find a writing group. Here, you’ll get together with other writers and talk about writing, and also workshop material. Workshopping is an invaluable tool. Fresh perspectives can identify issues you’ve become blind to – always a potential hazard when you’ve worked on something so long you’ve lost all objectivity.
5. Develop a Writing Kliq
Taking that workshopping group one step further, form a kliq with other writers whom you respect. Exchange stories. Be brutally honest with one another. Don’t be satisfied with your partner’s review of, ‘It’s good,’ or your mum telling you, ‘It’s the greatest thing ever!’ These last two steps involve finding people who can be honest and constructive with you, and who also have an understanding in the craft of writing.
There are some great fellowships out there – the Olvar Wood Fellowship Award, Varuna, the Hachette Manuscript Program, just to name a few. If you win a fellowship (they’re run like competitions), you’ll go up to wherever it’s run, live there for a period, write and get mentorship from industry professionals. Some of the mentorships are ongoing, and will see you to the end of your project. Fellowships also look great on your CV.
Submit your writing. In all likelihood, you’ll face a rejection or two. Most of these rejections will be form, where all they do is fill in your name and tell you that your work is not suitable for them, but wish you all the best in the future. Some few will give you feedback (which is always encouraging if they’ve taken that time), or are set up in a way that for a small fee they might offer some constructive criticism. Those tidbits you do get can really help identify areas that need improvement.
See how other people tell their stories – people who’ve made it in the business, whether that’s somebody as commercial as Stephen King or JK Rowling or Jodi Picoult, or as renowned in the literary community as F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemmingway or William Shakespeare. Don’t believe you have all the answers, that your talent is ready-made and everybody will fall to their knees in awe. Lots of great writers have put pen to paper before you. Learn from them – how they construct a sentence, how they shape a paragraph, how they carve out a character, how they build a plot. Learn from the bad writers, too. See what they’ve done wrong. Don’t ever – not even for a moment – think that you can become a writer without being a reader.
There are so many ‘writers’ out there who talk about being a writer, who talk about the stuff they’re going to write, who never actually write. Or they write starts to lots of things, but never actually complete anything. If you’re doing this you’re not a writer.
Write! Even if you think it’s crap, write! Finish those stories! Complete those books! Use those exclamation marks! It’s only through writing that you develop your craft, find your voice, and learn how to tell your stories.
Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) said it best in Throw Momma from the Train: ‘A writer writes – always!’
Just keep in mind there’s no secret formula, (outside of an observance of grammar, punctuation, etc.). Rafael Nadal sitting me down and explaining everything he knows about tennis isn’t going to make me a champion tennis player. You learn mostly from doing.