1. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    Is it possible to become a good writer

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lenny, Oct 12, 2013.

    without ever having attended any creative writing courses or the like?

    Hi there :)

    This feeling of being a writer, or just writing stories has been invading my head and heart for some time now but I'm not sure if it is essential to becoming a good writer that you have the foundation of a class or course.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes. Most good writers have never taken a creative writing course.
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'll think I've learned more by brushing up on punctuation and grammar, so I have the means to express myself. That, and reading and processing other writers' views and opinions. I've also found I've had some success, simply by bouncing ideas about. Doing so has given me a greater idea of what I'm setting out to achieve, and I think a sense of purpose is very important. I don't do well in a classroom, and having one-to-ones with people of varying styles, and ways of expressing their ideas has been very useful.

    Oh... and "Hi" btw.
     
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  4. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    Thanks, had a feeling it was all about talent not the qualifications etc, but don't get a chance to ask many writers questions.....thanks again
     
  5. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    You'll find a staggering amount of inspiration here. Take it on board and use what you learn as you see fit.
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think so. I've never taken a writing course.
    Drive and a love of words, for me, are the most important. Anything you love, you get
    better at.
     
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  7. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    Hi back at ye,
    Thanks for that, sounds like your similar to me with the classrooms etc, don't do well in them either
    think I'll be spending more time on this place sounds like it could be as good as a course.
     
  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I read interviews by published authors now and then who were New York Bestsellers (If that counts for anything), sold loads of books, or simply just plain well known enough.

    Many of them stated they were amateur writers and never really "learned" to write.
    They just did their best and learned along the way until they eventually published.

    Many of them worked real hard on a single book, more or less, and kept polishing it until it was ready to be queried.
    However, some did freelance jobs on the side and some had already quite a lot of publication in other non-fiction journals/magazines.

    Basically, it's about their own innate ability to communicate and trying new ways of writing down words. Eventually, they got good.

    I think most people here are more or less in the same boat.
    They are not enrolled in classes or schooling about writing, though I bet those that are have a more broad knowledge range on different styles and techniques which can probably help quite a bit.
    I don't believe it will be the difference between a "good writer" and a "bad writer", it will just give each kind of writer a different set of skills and experiences.
     
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  9. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    Thanks Peachalulu, I love stories and think I could be good at writing them but who knows

    great name btw
     
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  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Outside of your basic grammar (that you should have had in grade/high school), no. Writing requires only that you have a story to tell and the willingness to work at telling it the best you can.
     
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  11. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I concur with that.

    I have read published novels with grammar errors or typos in the first page.
    Published by big names too in the genre.

    Also, a good example, is Terry Goodkind.
    This is my opinion so I may be off on this.
    When I first started reading his novels, all I could think right off the bat was how amateurish the writing felt.
    It wasn't bad but somehow I saw it of a lesser quality than other authors who's writing seemed better.
    Maybe it was just a strange impression I got but I, as a reader, felt I wasn't reading a professional work. Had almost that top tier quality fanfiction vibe where you know the writer will one day publish no problem.
    I still LOVED the books. So, obviously he did something right.

    Grain of salt though, I could have just imagined or misconstrued the entire thing.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I should mention that creative writing classes can be helpful. It all depends on the teacher and the students in your class (because they'll be critiquing your work at some point). I know some people on this forum have had positive experiences with creative writing classes. There are also a few programs out there that are very prestigious (like the MFA program at the University of Iowa) and can help your career. These programs are certainly not a prerequisite for becoming a great writer, but I just thought I'd mention them in case you were interested.
     
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  13. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    thanks that's great, I've always had this nagging thought that the good writers aren't created by schooling, instead its the thoughts and characters inside of them makes the story they are telling good, so how can that be taught,

    on the other hand I don't have much to back that up just my own feelings, maybe why I thought asking some experienced writers was the way to go
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes.

    I'd thought about writing and made a few feeble attempts here and there, then finally became serious about it. It's taken some feedback from other writers for me to get off the ground, but I think I caught on quickly. It helped to be willing to take their advice.

    I see a lot of writers come and go from our critique group that simply don't listen to the critiques. It's interesting because the things people said to me I thought, yeah, that makes sense. It's not that every critic is a good one, but you can quickly see the person who never stops defending and never makes improvements.

    I also looked through a lot of advice books, picking the few that helped me the most.

    I don't expect to ever be the best writer out there, I wasn't born with that talent. But I think I've become a decent writer and I have a great story to tell. ;)
     
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  15. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    Thanks :)

    definitely willing to improve, its the only thing i can do trust me

    that last sentence has made me feel really happy for some reason, maybe its the way I'd like to feel to be happy being a decent writer, maybe its the fact you have a great story to tell and I'm looking forward to reading it one day, or it could be the wink ;) who knows but thanks for the advice
     
  16. A.M.P.
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    It is one of the reasons why I come writing forums, read the works of others, and read interviews.

    Knowing that others have the same troubles and questions really stops me from feeling.down about.my own writing. Its motivating to know that there is a learning curve and if I keep.working I.will eventually get even better and succeed too.
     
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  17. SarahD
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    SarahD Member

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    I did a creative writing course as part of a literature degree which I did find useful in parts. But one of the key things it suggested was to join writing groups and forums in order to keep growing after the course had finished because there is a massive variety of people with differing views and opinions in groups like this, which can only help you develop even if you don't agree with everything that people suggest.
     
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  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, of course it's possible... many of the good and better than good writers throughout the history of writing have done so...

    but being a good writer takes more than just having good ideas... one must also have excellent basic writing skills, in order to turn those ideas into readable and marketable stories/books/articles/essays/scripts/whatever...

    many good writers had/have a talent for wordsmithery and never had to take a course, or go beyond the equivalent of high school, to learn the skills it took to become a 'good [or even great] writer'...

    case in point:
    i didn't go to college [though i'd been accepted by 2, was offered a full scholarship to a 3rd], but i was a better than most writer from grade school on... decades later, i was being paid obscene amounts of money [$75-150/hr in the '80s!] by folks with multiple degrees--including phd's--to do their writing for them...

    if you have a strong desire to be a writer, but your skills are not quite up to it, there are some fine online writing courses available among the many poor-to-outright-useless ones a google search will turn up... among the best of the best are:
    gotham writers workshop
    ucla
    nyu
     
  19. Lenny
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    Lenny New Member

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    thanks for the advice that's great, I know myself that my basic writing skills can be better, will definitely be looking into these
     
  20. DanM
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    DanM Member

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    It's like anything: there's no substitution for hard work.

    Courses will help - but not if you do a course then don't pick up your pen again afterwards. I know a lot of people who are addicted to CW courses (open university, etc), but they never get anywhere because without that external motivation they can't get down to work.

    My advice would be to try and write for an hour a day, minimum, 6 days a week - and more if you can (personally, I do minimum 2 hours a day, with Sunday off). That doesn't have to be sat at a desk churning out words - it can be critiquing other people's work, or reading craft books, or analysing novels you like.
     
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  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can learn a bunch of things without attending a class/course/whathaveyou, you just have to be active, have a real fire burning for the thing you want to learn. People learn languages and instruments "on their own", so why not writing (or story-telling), too? :)

    Good luck! (and have fun!)
     
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  22. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I dunno. There are a few things that I don't think people are taking into account.

    • Through history writers were trained. They worked at a newspaper, or in some way were mentored. Even now, if you look at the month's best seller list and then search on the authors, those who have a Wikipedia page overwhelmingly show some background that's more than them sitting down and saying, "I can do this."

    • If simply sitting down to write, or communing with others who have a like interest but no more training worked, wouldn't a lot more of us have books in the local Barnes and Nobel? A rejection rate in the publisher's office says that we're missing something important.

    • I know of no profession where the practitioner can declare themselves a professional, without having bothered to crack a book, take a course, or find a successful member of the profession for a mentor.

    • The history classes we took in grade school didn't make us historians. The math classes didn't make us mathematicians. Believing that our writing there give us the skills of the professional fiction writer seems less than logical.

    • The TV we watched didn't make us ready to write screenplays. Reading newspapers didn't make us journalists. Eating out doesn't make us chefs. Why believe that reading novels taught us the process?

    Of course, there are people who just happen to make the right decisions when they turn to writing. Given the number of ways to screw up a perfectly fine story, that seems a stupid way to approach the learning of any profession.

    Did they tell us how to handle dialog tags in school? No. Did they tell us the three things a reader wants to know when entering any scene? No. Do we learn why a scene almost always ends in disaster, or even what the difference is between a scene for film and one for the page? Hell no. And the list of "did they" to which the answer is no is endless.

    We all leave school with several things in common.

    1. We believe that writing is writing and we know how to write.
    2. We believe that people read for the story—plot in other words.
    3. We believe that storytelling technique is storytelling technique, and since our friends tell us we tell stories well, that skill applies film, page, and stage storytelling.
    4. We believe that given the above, if we have a good story idea, and are blessed with natural storytelling talent, we can, with practice, turn out prose an editor will be glad to receive.

    Each of the points above is in error:

    1. Every one of the mediums used for storytelling imposes its own restrictions and strengths. If you don't know what they are you haven't a chance in hell of getting it right. We learned general skills in school, to prepare us to be responsible adults with a predictable and useful skill set. Employers expect us to write reports, essays, and letters, not fiction, so we learn nonfiction writing skills.
    2. People read for entertainment, for the moment-to-moment reading pleasure. If you don't make the reader want to turn the page they won't. And if they stop reading before page three, who cares how great that story idea is? No one will see it. Entertain, don't inform. But how can we do that when all our training is fact-based and author-centric—inherently dispassionate?
    3. Telling a story verbally is a performance skill, and useless on the page, where neither sound nor picture can be produced via the printed word. Each medium has learned skills. Your choice is to learn them or guess, and guessing seems not the quickest road to success.
    4. Writing talent? All talent is untrained potential. No magic muse is going to whisper the secrets of scene and sequel in your ears. And I don't care how great your talent. If the only tool you own is a hammer everything is going to look like a nail.

    Here's the deal. If you want to become a writer you can certainly fumble around reinventing the wheel and guessing. Given that we all pretty much begin with the same skill-set and background, so far as writing training and the reading we're exposed to, we're all going to make the expected mistakes. When I had my manuscript critiquing service I saw the same thing over and over. The story from a new writer read either like a report, with events chronicled and lots of overview, or, it was a transcription of the author speaking the story aloud—often presented in first person with the author in a wig and makeup pretending to be the protagonist, at some unknown time after the story took place, recalling it.

    Neither worked because readers don't want to hear about the facts. It's reaction that gives those facts context. And that takes emotion-based and character centric writing, something not even discussed during our school days.

    But take a creative writing course? I advise against it because they're designed to give you a taste of all things. You spend time on poetry, nonfiction, and other elements you're not looking to learn. And because they do, you get only a taste. And structurally, they seem to spend a lot of time with the students critiquing each other's work. That's pretty much useless becausew what do they know? They read the book and might or might not have understood it. So at best you're getting amateur comments on your efforts.

    There are some good ones, but it's spotty and hard to predict. So why not take a professional writing course from someone recognized as one of the great teachers? It's free, and you can work at your own speed. Free is good. Right?

    Here's something that Holly Lysle said that resonated with me: Michaelangelo did not have a college degree, nor did Leonardo da Vinci. Thomas Edison didn't. Neither did Mark Twain (though he was granted honorary degrees in later life.) All of these people were professionals. None of them were experts. Get your education from professionals, and always avoid experts.”

    You can get good advice here. Better then any site I've found, in fact. You can also get bad advice. Both are given by people who sincerely believe the advice is good. Both are trying to help. And because you haven't the the background both can sound perfectly reasonable. In short, you can't tell them apart. So why not go to the pros, and then discuss it with like minded people here? At least we know the advice worked for the one giving it, if we take our training from successful teachers and writers.

    So: head to your local free library and reserve a copy of Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure. That will give you the vocabulary, the background, and an understanding of why things are done—and not done. You'll learn what questions to answer quickly, so as to give a reader context. You'll learn things like why a line like, "Susan smiled when Jack came into the room," won't fly with an acquiring editor (It shows the effect, the smile, before the cause. Susan can't smile and then be motivated to do so in the real world. So if you present it that way you can't be in Susan's point of view) And if that's not available, pick up a copy of Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer (on Amazon if it's not at the library). They won't make a pro of you, but they will give the nuts and bolts, and provide the necessary tools to give your talent wings. And if that takes too long, I have a batch of atricles in my blog, based on Swain's book. It's kind of a Swain lite. :D
     
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  23. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG
    I don't know why but you're like a wise man sipping scotch.
    You always got good advice.
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    JayG speaks great truths except, my two cents would be, get your education everywhere you find it, but I digress...

    I concur.

    Take advantage of all your sources of learning, be it in a profession other than writing, be it a life experience, be it writing classes or self taught expertise. The key is be open to learning, seek to learn, seek sources of learning.
     
  25. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I thought he meant here something like this:
    Don't ask a painting curator to teach how to paint, he can only tell how others paint.
    Ask the painter, he can't tell you what the painting is but how to do it. (In the sense he can't ravel you with tales and woes of brush strokes and the art of his generation as he is a painter at his basic point.)
     

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