Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Education of a Writer

This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question came from Lydia:

"What formal writing experience do you have (classes, degrees, majors/minors)? Did it shape your writing? Have you ever considered getting an MFA?"
Lydia's answer is here, and Laura Diamond's is here. Deb will be up next week.

As for me ... I'm going to be completely honest here.

I never considered myself an exceptionally creative persion. I was quite verbally precocious and always a good student, so writing assignments were always easy for me. I was just never one of those people who kept a journal or wrote poetry or dreamed of being a writer.

Then I got to college ... and became best friends with a girl who I still believe is one of the most gifted poets/writers/artists I've ever met. I watched her create the most beautiful things, often with only words. And, you know, for a while I thought maybe wanted to do it, too, but geez. I can't explain how it felt, looking at the pathetic crap I created, and then seeing what she could do. There was no comparison. She was amazing.

I think she's the reason I never had the guts to take a creative writing class. I mean, if she was a writer, then I KNEW I wasn't. She would probably be horrified to read that, because she was never anything but encouraging to me. She went on to get her doctorate and now teaches writing at a university. I'm quite sure she's brilliant at it, because that's all she's ever been, at least through my eyes.

(Please don't think I'm feeling sorry for myself here, because ... you know what? I was meant to be a psychologist.)

This is a long way to say: no, I've never taken a single writing class. I've never considered getting an MFA (I quit school in 24th grade and will never go back). I also don't read craft books or participate in crit groups or go to writer's conferences. DON'T get me wrong--those things are really valuable, but I haven't yet been able to interest myself in the formal aspects of learning to write. I have no patience for it, and that might be because I've had a heckuva lot of formal schooling, and at this point in my life, I want to have fun. That's what writing is to me--pure fun, even when it's work. I write what I'm interested in reading, I pay close attention to feedback, and I try not to make the same mistake twice. That's it.

How about you? Are you formally trained? If so, how has it shaped you as a writer? If not, have you considered it? How else did you learn?

And on that note: Happy Holidays, everyone! I'll be taking a break so I can spend some time with my family, and I'll be back in the blogosphere next week!

32 comments:

  1. 24th grade ... snicker, snort, giggle.

    I hear you, though! Perpetually stuck in the fifth grade myself, I have no desire to take extra classes. Bad enough I have to take one every 5 years in the field of education just to keep my certification.

    I've never had any writing classes. They didn't even offer creative writing in high school. That's okay. I like to learn by doing, anyway. :)

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  2. No formal training, but yet you have an agent. See? You ARE a talented writer. Me? I was always rebel, doing things my way/the hard way. But that's not to say I haven't sought out learning my craft from published authors, books on writing, attending seminars and workshops, and from editors I've hired who were brutally honest with my manuscripts.

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  3. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who went onto 24th grade. :D

    Wow, I wish I wrote like you with no training.

    I wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old, but I quickly realized I wasn't born with the talent to write and gave up that dream. It wasn't until I was much older when I discovered I could be a writer, but in order to be a good writer, I needed to study the craft. I'm not naturally gifted with words.

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  4. Nope, no formal training unless you count AP Lit. I had an incredible teacher and learned a LOT. Read a lot of books on writing, learned from other writers and authors. Learned from just reading. And practice. Lots and lots of practice. I'm still learning and hope I never stop.

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  5. aw man. did that friend ever get anything published? i bet it'd be brilliant!

    no training here. but i try and try and try to learn via crit and posts and critting for others and whatnot.

    24th grade= YOWZA!

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  6. I'd love to know if/what your friend published, too.

    Happy holidays, Sarah!

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  7. I'm an English major, so there was a lot of reading in my past (and present, of course). I've wanted to be a writer for a long time (since college?) but have never taken creative writing classes. Now I learn through reading, books on writing craft, going to conferences and hearing brilliant writers talk, and by writing itself (which gets to be picked over by my two brilliant critique groups.)

    I wish I was as clever as you, Sarah, because I do make the same mistakes. And more than twice.

    Have a great holiday with your family. We'll see you when you get back.

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  8. OMG, I don't think I'm that creative either, LOL!

    We must be though, because we keep creating new worlds with our writing, right?

    Nice post. Happy Christmas!

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  9. No formal training for me, but lots of informal training. I think yours is a good way of looking at it. This is what I do, this is what I love, and I pay as much attention as I can to advice and critique. :)

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  10. Everything I know about writing, I got from the internet :-)

    Merry Christmas to you.

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  11. I think it depends on what you want to write whether or not an MFA is useful. Certainly if we could all afford it and didn't have day jobs then it would be a no brainer for a lot of us. I've benefited from some critique groups and general conferences.

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  12. No formal training, just something I always had an aptitude for and enjoyed. :)

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  13. Sarah, I LOVE this post! No, I had no formal training other than a few creative writing classes. Interesting, because I quit school in 24th grade, too. ;)

    This just goes to prove that you don't have to have formal training in writing to succeed. You only have to have passion and tenacity. You'll go all the way w/those two.

    Happy Holidays to you! I'm so thankful I met you this year!

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  14. I love your outlook and that you don't question your path! I have only taken one free writing class at a public library. It was very helpful. Part of me wants to take more but don't want to get caught up in whether I am doing it "right". Keep on having fun and enjoy the Holidays!

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  15. Everyone is different. We all study craft in our own way, whether that includes an MFA, formal training, books, practice, blogposts - there are a million ways to get the info, but the test of a true writer IMHO is actually writing and striving to improve. :D

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  16. Nope. Nada. Zilch. If it weren't for Nathan Bransford, I think I'd still be sitting here in the dark. ;)

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  17. 24th grade! I love it! Let's see when did I quit...before the end of my 17th grade. haha now I feel smart...

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  18. I never had formal training. I went ahead and wrote, stumbled, fumbled, used advice, etc. Today I benefit from conferences, beta readers, and my critique group.

    Happy holidays!

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  19. I got a Bachelor's degree in English but that's about as far as I went with it. The rest is just practice practice practice and lots of reading.

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  20. Hello Sarah. Thanks for visiting my disgusting recipes for Christmas post. I'm enjoying the Toblerone Cheesecake in little portions out of the freezer, lol!

    I have degrees in Arts and Education and writing was part of that of course. I've done Creative Writing courses and always wanted to do more. Maybe I will do an online one this year or take one through my local Writers Centre.

    Happy New Year!

    Denise

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  21. Thanks for sharing your writing history with us. I hear you about the 24th year thing...for me it was more like the 23rd I think!

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  22. I'm the same way. I've never taken a "writing" class, but I was an English major. So I knew how to write and had to read lots and lots of books. Then I got into journalism and had all my flowery writing skills effectively destroyed. Just the facts, ma'am. :D

    I also, like you, write for fun. I never thought I'd write a whole novel, and then I did. And here we are. Yay!

    Here's hoping you have a wonderful New Year! <3

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  23. Hey again. Just stopped by to thank you for supporting my blog this year. It was truly appreciated. May you have a prosperous New Year. :-)

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  24. There are some interesting responses! I love what LTM said about getting into journalism and her "flowery writing" being destroyed. That made me laugh a little, because it's part of two different worlds.

    I have a BA in Psych, an MA in Education (specifically with technologies), but never even got the opportunity to take a creative writing class. Ironically it was the ONE class I wanted to take at the beginning of my college years. Perhaps I will sit in with a colleague one day and at least find out what I've been missing!

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  25. Love your answer.

    And to answer your question in return ... I was a creative writing major in college and LOVED it, but I did it for the same reason you write -- it was a FUN way to get through college. And I still write for fun. I love the way you said that -- it's fun, even when it's work. That's how I feel, exactly. Gets me away from dishes and whining toddlers for awhile. Gives my brains something fun to do. :)

    Happy New Year!

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  26. Oh, I hear you about the schooling thing. I've never had any formal training in writing, except for the occasional English class in college. I just have always loved it--it felt right, probably more than any biology class I took.

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  27. Your story is very encouraging!

    I've taken a couple of online classes and read more than a few craft books, but I've discovered writing ever day and making sure that I love every word has been the best schooling of all for me. :)

    I'm late in stopping by after the DejaVu blogfest. So sorry!

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  28. My degrees are in theoretical physics and geophysics. My last course in literature and language was in high school. Just a happy hobby writer >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  29. I've been known to joke about selling my degree--BS in criminal justice, because I never really used it. I worked in libraries in and after college--not much use there. Well, maybe overdue fines? But my college experience? Now that probably comes through in my writing!

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  30. "I quit school in the 24th grade." Now that made me laugh :)

    I took a few writing classes, but mostly just sat down one day and started writing. Then I started reading books on writing.

    Some things you just gotta have faith you can do :)

    ..........dhole

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  31. I feel a lot like you did. There were people who were talented writers, so I didn't think I had the right to write. I took a creative writing course in high school and another in college, but I don't think I blew anyone away with my stories. But the ideas were in the back of my head, so about 15 years after I took my college class, I decided to try.

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