One of the biggest (and most important) takeaways from SCBWI-LA’s Writer’s Day last month was the fact that no matter how good the query or the referral you get to an editor/agent, it won’t help you at all if the work isn’t good. This is obvious, however, critical. We must always be working on our craft. We must be actively finding ways to improve our work. We can all write, but to write well is the most critical step towards becoming an author.
Here are a few of the ways I actively work on my craft:
1. Read what I want to write. I read a lot of picture books. This is my favorite genre to write. With every picture book I read, I gain valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t work in dialogue, plot, setting, etc. I also read chapter books and YA novels, genres I also want to write.
I get an even more valuable education when I read aloud to my children – chapter books and picture books, especially. I hear first hand what makes them giggle (or not). With my eight year-old, we read the same book on our own and then talk about it. Reading with my kids is one of the best things I do on a daily and weekly basis for my writing.
2. Join a critique group. I submit my work to an online group. In return, I critique others’ work in the group. Being a part of a community that is working towards the same goal is motivating and helps to keep focused. I also learn a lot from my fellow writers – problem areas to avoid, tactics that work, and themes that inspire. Of course, I also get trained feedback from a community that is supporting each other to succeed.
3. Take writing classes. I love UCLA’s extension program, but my schedule has made it difficult to attend a class in years. I just registered for Anastasia Suen’s Chapter Book course. I am excited to try an online course, learning at my pace in the comfort of my home. I think classes are great for many reasons. Aside from the obvious skills and knowledge you learn in an area you are seeking, you also get the regular discipline of writing weekly, feedback from a published author, and community with other writers.
4. Read books on writing. I have a stack of these on my bookshelf. I admit that I have not been as diligent in this area, but I aim to. There are some great resources out there that can only add to my knowledge and help in some way. Many books offer exercises and writing prompts that get you writing too.
Read. Write. Critique. They all add up to perfecting the craft. What do you do to improve your writing?