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Learning the Craft

by Linda Jenkinson

When asked how long he was in his business, an elderly colleague of mine would reply, “If I’m in this business for another 20 years, I’ll still have something to learn.”

I’ve written for most of my working life, but when I began creative writing. I was lost. My characters were flat; my plots were boring. So, I started reading everything I could find about creative writing.

At first, it didn’t make much sense to me. “Beat, stakes, story arc” were all Greek to me! An experienced writer in the commercial world, I never considered I had to “learn the craft.”

I read Stephen King’s book On Writing, Story by Robert McKee, and Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. I signed up for the Writer’s Digest newsletter and followed their links. I bookmarked the ones that gave good advice. I signed up for Master Class and took classes from Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Salmon Rushdie, and Walter Mosley. I joined a critique group and found there was plenty to learn from other writers.

I found out that if I am in this business for another 20 years (I’m 71) I’ll still have something to learn. At least, now I know what I want to do as a writer and how to do it. Right now I’m reading Stein on Writing by Sol Stein and Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott.

I’m not saying you need to do all or even any of what I did, but do learn enough to know what you want to do as a writer and how to do it. If your characters are flat, learn how to round them out. When you go back to them, you’ll see that you’ve done the best you can do to bring them to life. If you haven’t, what you need to do to jump-start them.