Writing Secrets You Won’t Learn in Class (Guest Post)

Phew! These past two weeks of school holidays have been busy, busy, busy! Now that school holidays (and the plethora of illnesses that have plagued our household) are over, I can hopefully get back to some regular blogging (plus look out tomorrow for a new anthology launch).

I’ve had this guest post lined up for a few weeks and I’m so glad to be back on the blog so I can post it for you. Thanks to Melissa Miller for writing it.

Writing secrets you won’t learn in class

Many creative writing workshops offered in high school and college operate under a certain set of rules and guidelines. These are meant to help a young writer shape their prose or poetry to a fine point so they can produce the best work possible. You know the conventional wisdom offered in many of these courses: write what you know, build a compelling narrative, create a multidimensional character, and use appropriate grammar. If some of these tips seem like common sense to you, you’re not alone.

While many writing classes offer a stellar introduction to creative writing, many more offer run of the mill advice that won’t do much to impact that career of a burgeoning writer. While no one expects any one class to fit all the complexities of writing in their syllabus, there could stand to be a more varied conversation. There are so many things that college writing courses and fiction seminars don’t teach you about the writing process. Allow me to share a few unconventional bits of wisdom that I’ve learned in my experiences as a writer.

Embrace new experiences as future writing material

This bit of advice is instrumental for those writers who have yet to travel. I can tell you from experience that a little sightseeing—whether it’s a weekend trip to a new city or a months-long trek across Europe—will do wonders for your writing. The richness of travel simply lends itself to great storytelling. There’s something about the experience of putting yourself in an entirely unfamiliar setting that just gets your creative juices flowing.

It’s also commonly believed that the more experiences you have to draw from, the more depth that you can then add to characters as you flesh out a story. Think about the range of experience the separates a writer who’s traveled the country from one that has lived in their hometown all their lives: there’s a good chance than one’s writing will be far more varied and diverse than the other’s writing. of course, traveling doesn’t’ make you a good writer, but it can certainly help you develop ideas and expand your worldview.

Don’t be afraid to write poorly

I advise any writer to avoid whatever slows down their writing. in my view, one of the biggest roadblocks to productive writing is the editing process. I’ve met far too many writers who were worried about perfecting the words, grammar, and overall structure of every sentence to the point where it interfered with their actual story. Yes, editing is a critical part of the writing process, but it’s by no means the most important part. You have to have an actual story before you can edit it.

In this vein of thought, I advise writers to continue writing a story, chapter, or section of their work without paying much heed to the overall look of their work. It’s much better to get your thoughts written on paper (or on a Word document) first, no matter how messy that jumble may turn out to be. There’s plenty of time to edit once you’re done with the first draft. Just write!

Sometimes it’s alright to tell rather than show

It’s the hallmark of any advanced creative writing class: show, don’t tell. While that device will certainly make aspects of your narrative more compelling, it’s by no means the only way to tell a great story. That’s right, I’m telling you that sometimes it’s acceptable to tell, not show. The appeal of “showing” in a story is that the author doesn’t spell out salient plot points or character developments for their readers. They drop subtle hints and show the characters and situations for what they are, hoping that the reader will pick up on the nuances.

You might be surprised to learn that a writer can be equally poignant if they tell the reader certain details of a story. Perhaps the narrator tells a reader certain things about a character which interestingly contrasts with the actions they carry out in a story. Or perhaps you simply want to tell some details for the sake of expediency—it’s not a writing sin, no matter what your teacher tells you.

What are some unconventional writing tips that you’ve learned along your writing journey? Let me know!

This guest post is provided by Melissa Miller. Many of Melissa’s other articles aim to help you understand the challenges and benefits involved in earning an online associates degree, and show you a way through the often confusing process. She welcomes questions and suggestions at melissamiller831@gmail.com.

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