This is the single best piece of writing advice I ever received, and one that was worth turning into a brief blog post.
Never stop learning how to write.
Reading is an absolutely wonderful way to further your voice and sense of pacing and style, but the reality is that unless you're an expert with a dozen novels under your belt, you have things to learn. I made the decision last week to hire an editor to help me with a new genre of book I'm working on...a large undertaking in every sense of the word. It's a sizable financial commitment, a serious dedication of time because there are deadlines which I must meet, and as an educator and mother and author, sometimes I feel like I've learned everything there is to learn. Except I haven't, and that's one of the reasons I'm a writer, because I want to continue learning. In the spirit of this, I present a list of learning opportunities that you can take advantage of and SHOULD make time for. It's not just enough to write. Keep learning!
MOOC - Massive online open courses are free and offer far more than just writing tips and tricks. Particularly if you're planning a historical novel or your work centers around a specialized protagonist, take advantage of the free opportunities to learn and make your writing more authentic.
Online Writing Courses - Gotham is my personal favorite with a boutique of different topics, but there are dozens of online course hubs. If a full course isn't your cup of tea, many organizations are offering writing boot camps that provide a week of intensive study for very reasonable prices. (Mothers Always Write, the journal I edit for, just launched our maiden voyage with this. Ours is full, but many are out there. Decide first on your price range and how much time you plan to devote, and Google away from there.)
Editorial Help - Consider hiring an editor if you have arrived at the end of a project OR stalled on something you're working on. Again, plan what you're willing to spend and then find personal recommendations. Websites present a formidable summary, but until you talk to actual clients, you won't get a true sense of what the editors can do. I received my recommendation from a published author at a SCBWI conference, and I was sold.
Textbooks - If a traditional writing class isn't in the cards and online doesn't appeal, consider browsing syllabi of graduate courses that appeal. Often the texts are listed and just reading through one can be a refresher or walk you through a new genre. One of my all-time favorites, The Making of a Story, is an education cover to cover.
On-Site College Courses - Auditing courses can be a free and educational experience without the commitment of a full graduate program. Reach out to local schools and see what their policies are, or touch base specifically with the writing staff.
Writing Conferences - Most conferences, in addition to providing great access to professionals in the industry, also run workshops on a number of specified topics. Start with a writing group that speaks to your project or genre, such as SCBWI, or , or go to a general writers resource like Poet and Writers Magazine conference search engine.
Critique Groups - I saved this one for last because in my opinion, a good critique group is tough to find. You need to find authors that will challenge you and are there to better their writing. Be savvy when shopping for one and don't settle for a group unless you feel that you are gaining as much from reading the works of the other members as the notes that you receive on your own manuscript. Otherwise often a beta reader can provide the same without as much of a time commitment.
The long and the short is that there are opportunities for every price and time range, as long as you're willing to jump in and find them.
Creativity Doesn't Have to Cost
1) Stop pulling the writing all-nighters. Sure, you might race through ten pages but you will be physically zapped the next day and it will cost you in productivity down the road. And along those lines, treat your writing like the awesome partner it is, not a midnight affair. Write in a cafe, schedule it on your calendar, treat it with respect. Your body and craft will thank you.
2) Get up! Even if you're having the best writing jag ever, stand up and stretch or do jumping jacks. I've never been one to manage the standing desk (I'm too wedded to a dog tucked under one arm and a pillow under the other when I get cozy to write) but if I sit for too long my body feels sluggish and it translates to my writing. If you're too enraptured in your work to remember, set a timer on your computer or phone. For me, every thirty minutes of awesomeness requires five minutes of movement to keep the creative juices and blood flowing.
3) Stop being jealous. Other writers' paths will never be your path no matter how hard you try. And a friend or peer publishing does not diminish your possibilities or take anything away from you. I've seen so many writers stalk successful folks for the wrong reasons. (Stalk them for the right ones!) Find inspiration and take their successes as a universal 'You can do it!' poster floating in the air. And if you just can't shed the green, stay off of social media. It will derail you from your best writing by setting an invisible standard you can't measure up to.
4) Don't binge eat while you write. (I'm not judging. Your general eating habits are your personal business.) But too much sugar or caffeine will provide you a lovely bump of productivity followed by a sluggish food hangover. Take it slow and sip a fantastic drink or carefully nibble away at one treat.
5) Love yourself a little more when you write. Writing is grueling and conjures the inner critic from the first word you put on the page. It is easy to feel not good enough when you write, to compare yourself to others, and even to let hesitance on the page translate to wondering about life choices. Why aren't you a famous writer by now? Why isn't this story taking off? Why did you have Taco Bell for breakfast? At any rate, you were wonderful when you sat down to work, and you're just as wonderful when you shut the laptop.
The bottom line is that writing should be life-enriching. It should make you healthier in all respects. And with a little care and tenderness to your routine and yourself, it will!
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. And I love the fact that in my free time and through my career I can help others discover their voice, too.