Recently I’ve been wondering about how exactly to study and learn the craft of writing. For years I have listened to and heeded (though admittedly somewhat sporadically) the advice to write regularly, preferably every day. I have taken on board the injunction that in order to be a writer I must necessarily write. (Duh! )

But lately I have been experiencing a strong sense of writing in a vacuum. Yes, I do my writing practice, either journaling, or in response to a writing prompt from one of my vast library of how-to writing books, or more recently as a method of preparing myself for starting work on whatever my current writing project is.

Everything is fine so long as I am writing into a pre-ordained structure, eg a book review. But as soon as I start work on my novel, very much at the beginning stages, I quickly become lost. So being essentially a very logical person (my mother always told me that I liked my “ducks in a row”) I applied my more practical modes of thought to the thorny conundrum of how to gain an education in the craft of writing without signing up for a Masters in Creative Writing. Oh don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love to study such a course, either in one of my local universities, or online. However the cost of such courses are prohibitive for me. Consequently I have had to seek out alternative routes.

In many ways taking this approach is a little like embarking on a magical mystery tour. My choice of workshops and other writerly resources depends entirely upon whatever I land upon when I surf the net or peruse library shelves. However in the last few weeks the stretch of my net has narrowed down considerably as I find myself settling into my chosen genre. Plus there is only so much that one person can follow. The internet can be akin to an Aladdin’s cave of scriptorium delights, but it can also lead very quickly to brain overload. Many’s the night I have fallen into bed with a headache from too long, too late and too much surfing the net.

The other benefit of designing my own writing curriculum is that I get to pick and choose the modules I really want to do, and I am not required to do anything I am not particularly interested in! On the other hand, I don’t have the opportunity to receive guidance from the professionals. Still since an MFA is not on my horizon for the foreseeable future, I will concentrate on all the reasons why this situation is positive. (Pollyanna was one of my favourite novels as a child!)

According to Randy Ingermanson on his blog Advanced Fiction Writing

you learn the craft of writing in three ways:

· Writing fiction

· Getting critiqued

· Studying the theoryfrom excellent books and teachers

Well if he’s correct, and I strongly suspect that he is, I am already engaged in the first, writing anywhere between two and four hours a day on my current WIP.

The second recommendation is also underway, since I am now signed up for mentoring and individually designed writing lessons from Linda Lewis, who is really putting me through my paces, and this after one critique of my short story, along with suggestions for improvement and a request for a revised manuscript.

There are other forms of critique available out there, including web based organizations and individual writers and teachers who offer such a service. Another possibility is through online writing associations, eg Romance Writers of America, who offer critique services though many of their individual chapters, lots of them online.

Finally his third suggestion is to use books (and teachers). I suspect that many of us have our own favourite how-to writing books which we turn to over and over again. Mine are many and varied and I shall list them in a future post. But if I were to choose one alone to take to the proverbial desert island it would have to be Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor. Oh yes and a good dictionary (I like the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) Actually Ms Long’s book is like a Masters course all on its own!

So to return to the problems I am experiencing in organizing and structuring my novel-in-progress. The answer, it seems,  lies in finding the right resources via workshops, books and mentoring/critiquing, pertinent to my personal needs and requirements. As I discover them, I shall post them, along with my experiences of using them, on this blog.

In the meantime, I would love to hear about the resources which you find most useful in learning the craft of writing.