The following are three of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received:
- The biggest danger you face is that you will parrot yourself. Don’t do that.
- You seem really angry here but like you’re pretending not to be angry. Don’t pretend; just be angry.
- People like things in groups of three. One mention can be forgotten; two might seem like a mistake, but mention something three times and it suddenly gets imbued with symbolism.
And all three came from a classroom. They are also three pieces of advice that have meant the most to me as a writer and why I believe so strongly in the importance of getting a writing education.
The first point about parroting myself came from Ted Gup, most recently author of The Secret Gift. He was the man who suggested I get my MFA and seriously pursue writing.
Ted's advice taught me I should not get too hung up on my style — as much as he (and I) liked it.
Instead, I should just write and trust that my style will come through in whatever I say.
“Don't write angry”
Theresa’s advice (point #2) about my anger issue was absolutely spot on and was perhaps the most painful and meaningful insight I ever received in a workshop setting.
She called me out on my own temerity, pointing out that I was missing something important by trying to cover rage with wit.
“Write in groups of three”
Susan Taylor Chehak shared the “three times” point in a seminar she gave on writing structures.
Instead of talking about narrative arc or something more generic, Susan helped us see what about human nature draws us, sometimes unconsciously, to certain traits in literature. She taught us how we could consciously employ these traits in our own writing.
The benefit of a writing education
In courses and workshops, we get wisdom, insight, advice, and cautions that we can’t give ourselves, might not pick up from reading, and probably won’t receive from our loving, well-intentioned but too kind friends and relatives.
While wise writers build communities of readers and other writers for themselves, there’s something different about a classroom environment where people, teachers and students alike, are expected to give good advice and take critique.
That’s the purpose of a class.
So now when I teach my own class, I try to give my students this kind of wisdom — direct, pointed, insightful — because that is the gift my writing education has given me.
Without teachers and colleagues to caution, challenge, and train me, I’d be struggling a lot more than I currently am. And my writing, not to mention my life, would suffer for it.
[specialbox]If you're interested in growing as a writer, check out Andi's online writing classes and tutoring.[/specialbox]
Have you ever taken a writing class or workshop? What did you learn from it? Share in the comments.