Writer, Teach Thyself

Posted On Jul 8 2013 by

imageAt my last count, there were approximately 2.4 trillion blogs out there directed at fledgling writers. I’ll count again today and see if that’s changed, but for our purposes here, it should be close enough.

So why, some of you say, should I write about writing on my real-writer’s blog?

Because, says I and people who look smarter than me, the best way to learn any subject is to teach it.

Lately I’ve been re-visiting Larry Brook’s Story Engineering and reading through his follow up, Story Physics. When I struggle with a topic in either book, I blog about it. Don’t ya know that, by the time I’m through writing, editing, and posting that blog, I’ve got the subject matter down.

Level 1 – Memorize

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but in high school I failed cheating. It’s true. I would write down all the definitions or equations I’d need for a test on a sheet of paper. Then chop them down and fit them on a smaller piece of paper. I’d abbreviate and reduce and chop until the entire test fit on my “palm note.” Impressed with my cleverness, I’d walk into the classroom, palm note in my pocket. When the test hit my desk, I was astonished to discover that I knew every answer. The crib note remained in my pocket. I’d get an A.

Of course, that was all memory. After the Navy, I’d matured enough to attempt college. I applied my memory technique there as well (though I never intended to cheat). But the sciences involved in an engineering degree require a bit more than simple formula memory, though that would probably land you a passing grade in most classes. In order to rank at the top of the class, you had to dig deeper. I learned the art of digging deeper in my physics classes.

Level 2 – A little common sense

Digging deeper simply means that you have to think through the obvious. If my physics instructor gave me a problem such as the classic shooting of a bullet into the air, I could apply the formula for the answer, but if I made a mistake, I needed to apply some sense and realized that no bullet is going to leave a muzzle at 3000 fps (feet per second) and return to earth 600 miles away at 20000 fps. One had to think.

Once I learned to apply “thinking” at different levels, I began to question and manipulate theories. Applying my own “what ifs?” Once I learned to do that, I was thinking like an engineer.

Level 3 – Going deep

Okay, back to writing. The task of writing a blog about a concept is the first step toward deeper thinking. For example, one of my biggest challenges as a writer is keeping tension in each scene. I don’t have stats on this, but I imagine a quick survey of agents and editors would reveal most new authors struggle with tension. When I post a blog about tension, I force myself to dig deeper. Understand why and how to apply it. Play out scenes in my head. I”m not a tension expert for having written a single blog on the subject, but I’ve placed it on the top tray of my writer’s tool chest. Whenever I sit down to write a scene, it will be among the first things I consider.

The ultimate goal of your real-writer’s blog is to communicate with your readers. So eventually, sometime before publication, you’ll want to shift out of self-teaching mode and start talking about subjects related to your story. That’s a topic for another blog. For now, though, keep teaching yourself, along with some of your writerly friends (who will be your first readers, by the way).

Right now, pick a topic that you struggle with. Character development? Setting? Dialogue? Do some research and write a blog post on the topic. Congratulations, you’re on your way to expert.


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Last Updated on: July 7th, 2013 at 8:08 am, by Ron

Written by Ron

Just about everything I believe has been shaped by the written word. But books don't force a belief; they stir the imagination so that you, the reader, eventually draw your own conclusions. We grow richer in spirit when we read, deeper in our understanding of the universe and our role in it. That's why I read. That's why I write. To offer you a bit of myself. Come along on my journey, won't you? There's plenty of room.

One response to “Writer, Teach Thyself

  1. Good advice! Right now I’m struggling with plotting a mystery and keeping the two threads going. I taught a class on the difference between mystery and suspense writing, maybe I need to do some more research on plotting or maybe I should just write the darn thing! Though the funny thing about Digging Up Death (my 1st full length mystery) is that I didn’t really plot it out. I just kept thinking “how can I make this worse?” and then I told the story, weaving in the personal thread with the mystery. Maybe I should try that! 🙂