The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Whar Kin I Larn to Rite Good? --#IWSG

It's #IWSG Day

      First Wednesday of the month means it's time again for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the monthly event hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.   This is where a bunch of writerly types convene to discuss writing and all of the conflicting good and bad feelings that come with the pursuit of the literary arts.  This is a forum for commiseration and encouragement.  Confide your fears or crow your victories.   I'm sure you've got something worth saying so join in and let it all hang out.


Is Good Writing Learned or an Innate Talent?

       I started reading and writing at a fairly young age.  My parents bought me a variety of books over the years and always encouraged book ownership for me as well as visits to the library.  The reading must have inspired my writing.  That along with some good teachers over the years who encouraged my writing and instilled fairly decent knowledge of grammar and spelling.   I've always enjoyed writing even when it came time for the essay tests in high school and college.

       My sense is that our upbringing and education along with the attitudes of those around us are the influences that shape us into writing well.   I'm not a big fancier in genetics making us what we are as far as behavior, preferences, and tastes, though I'm no geneticist so I don't feel qualified to argue this point.

How Can I Learn to Write Better? 

      Especially when the A to Z Challenge gets underway, I start finding blogs where there is some truly outstanding writing.   Some of what I read on blogs is so amazing that it almost makes me just want to forget about blogging and take up some enterprise like watching television.   Then I go and read books by really fine writers and see my own writing future as one of unsalvageable mediocrity.  How can I write as well as these book authors write or some of the outstanding bloggers compose their blog posts?  

      Is it a matter of taking more writing classes?  Reading more books about writing?  Subscribing to writing magazines?   I think all of those can help but they are not the panacea that guarantees great writing.   Reading top notch authors certainly can be a good influence.  Even reading poor writing can teach us something sometimes.

       The most important thing though is to keep practicing our writing.  Blogging is useful in that respect.  Writing when you feel like it is better than nothing, but writing when you don't want to write can be an amazing exercise.   Daily writing such as the Blogging from A to Z Challenge might require can provide a good writing work-out.   The bottom line though and the main point I'm trying to make is that writing should be treated like a job if you're seriously considering becoming a pro at it.  You write because you have to do it and not just write when you feel like it.  

         If writing is like your hobby then fine--have fun with it.  If you write to relax then don't get stressed about it and just take it easy.   If you write because you feel like writing then that's appropriately what you should probably be doing.   But if writing is a passion that you'd like to see pay off with either financial remuneration or just the satisfaction of being published or whatever your end goal may be, then sit down and just write without complaining, without regretting, and without excuses.   No guarantees that you will attain writing greatness, but odds are you will write better.

And Now A Survey For You

       Can you help me with some research?   If so, please answer the following questions:

1)   There are many ways we can improve our writing such as classes, writing groups, books about writing, writing blogs, magazines for writers, and so on.    Which resource have you used the most for learning to become a better writer?
2)   Whose knowledge do you accept as the highest authority where it comes to writing (for example--famous authors, established writers, writing teachers, bloggers, friends, family members, yourself, or someone else)?
3)   Do you now or have you ever subscribed to any writing magazines (Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, The Writer, Quill & Quire, or others)?   If so which and what are your thoughts about the usefulness of that(those) publication(s)? 

      Thanks in advance if you've been willing to help me with this research.


A to Z Reflections Posts

      If you haven't added your Reflections Post link to the list yet we hope you will do so by this coming Friday May 8th.  There are some outstanding posts so far--I hope you've been checking them out.  There's been a lot of praise as well as some good ideas offered.  These posts should be available throughout the year with the Linky List available on a tabbed page on the A to Z Challenge Blog.  

Battle of the Bands

     Voting is still open for my most recent Battle of the Bands post.  If you still haven't voted I hope you'll pop over to cast your vote for your favorite version of  "Je Crois Entendre Encore" as performed by David Gilmour or Alison Moyet.          





   

59 comments:

  1. I was reading before I even went to kindergarten and had my own library card, but I wasn't a writer at all and I didn't like it. I wasn't good at 'essay questions' or papers. My college roommate who was a writer told me basically just bullshit your way through it...just say whatever comes to mind about the book or textbook we read and that did help improve my grades. But I really didn't get into writing till I became a paralegal and my boss would tell me to draft Declarations, Briefs, Settlement Conference/Mediation papers, etc. That's where I had to read the file and write the story. They would add the legal argument afterwards. I really enjoyed that part, the writing. But even now, I still don't know how to end the stories I write. It's always really abrupt because I've no idea how to wrap it up.

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    1. I agree with your roommate. My essay questions and other written assignments in school sounded good and injected some basic facts. I almost always did well with my written work even though a lot was a matter of bluffing my way through with finesse. Maybe you should focus on nonfiction and not worry so much about stories with endings.

      Lee

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  2. I write to enjoy myself so it's usually stress free. The only stress is my own inner critiques running through my head.

    1) I utilize writing blogs and read a whole one book on writing. I find I glean more from real people like on the IWSG.

    2) I take my CP words as gold. He's been through much to get to where he is. He's already walked the path and is helping me avoid the same pitfalls

    3) No publications here. I don't think Taste of Home counts, right?

    Take care!

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    1. Actually I think Taste of Home does count. It is written and if you are reading you are picking up something from it.

      Lee

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  3. 1)
    I do some of all of these. The best resource for learning to become a better writer is to write in my opinion. It is why I do blog and I also belong to writers' groups. I have found some excellent writers' workshops and retreats ( Piper's Frith in Newfoundland is a great one - so is Community of Writers in Nova Scotia) I read lots of books on writing from Anne Lamott to Stephen King and everyone in between. Blogging writers like Elizabeth Spann Craig and many many more are a resource more precious than gold! I also read a great deal and across all genres. I can't imagine wanting to write if you don't read deeply and broadly.
    2)
    I don't believe in a higher authority - I have some well-established writing friends and I do lean on them from time to time but ultimately our art is our own. I will take in what others offer but it must be processed through my mind and heart.
    3) No I don't and haven't. I have read lots of Writers Digest but never subscribed. I subscribe to The New Yorker where I read fabulous fiction and poetry every week as well as reviews.

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    1. Jan, it's hard to beat actual writing for becoming better at it.

      Lee

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  4. There might be a bit of natural talent, but it all comes down to learning the trade and practice.
    Writing books, writing tips online, and critique partners have helped me the most.
    Highest authority - successful, established authors.
    I don't subscribe to any writing newsletters.

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    1. Maybe good writers can be genetically bred?

      Lee

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  5. I have learned so much about the craft of writing from taking writing classes and reading books on writing. My three favorites are: "The Voice of the Muse" by Mark David Gerson, "Bird by Bird" by Annie Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg (I can't remember the title of her book, grrr, senior moment).
    I have an editor I've worked with on both my memoir and my current WIP, whom I trust implicitly. But more and more I'm relying on my own gut instincts. Of course, we all need beta readers, too.
    I used to subscribe to some of these publications, but no longer do so. I'm trying to limit my snail mail paper to deal with.

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    1. Karen, a good mix of everything is the best way to become a good writer. Relying totally on oneself might not correct mistakes we repeatedly make.

      Lee

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  6. I learn through everything, but reading is definitely the main avenue. I think a lot of it is inherent and you just learn by doing and what you pick up when you're out living life. I knew I wanted to write since I was a kid. So I read a lot, wrote a lot and kept doing it. Best teacher there is. Repetition and dedication.

    Great post!

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    1. CG-- good point. We can learn from all sorts of sources. Reading the newspaper, advertisements, or instruction manuals can provide us insight about certain aspects of written communication. Reading creative fiction and non-fiction is essential for anyone who wants to write in any extensive manner. I agree about repetition and dedication--so true.

      Lee

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  7. No doubt about the amount of discipline required for the A to Z Challenge, but what makes it easy is that it is a fantastically fun endeavor! Otherwise,just read, read, read. Good, bad or indifferent, you can't open a book without learning something. (I must say, you sure don't seem to have a problem with writing :-)) Though I've an entire shelf full of 'writing' books, one I really enjoyed was (is) by Stephen King, called "On Writing".

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    1. Thank you, Diedre, for that kind compliment. I liked the King book as well and I too have a ton of books about writing that I've never read or only cursorily glanced through.

      Lee

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  8. 1) I search for and read writing blogs, I use Pro Writing Aid, and I have critique partners. All have helped given me aspects to consider in my writing.
    2) The writer has to earn the right to give me advice. If I don't like your writing, I'm not going to listen to you. If I do, I'll seek you out. :)
    3) Nope

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    1. Loni, but don't you think that even writers you don't like or even readers who don't know about writer might offer you valuable perspective especially from the standpoint of the marketability of your work?

      Lee

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  9. I still have the very first draft of my first novel, and it's atrocious. I learned to write by writing. I've attended classes, bought the books and subscribed to the magazines but for me - it's write - write - write! I still struggle with grammar - but I've come a long, long way! They say practice makes perfect, so I've got a long way to go!

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    1. Yolanda, I'd say the absolute best writers still aren't perfect. And if we don't write then anything else we do won't make us become writers.

      Lee

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  10. 1. I read a lot of writing blogs, I've read a few books--I don't usually find them helpful, I'm on AbsoluteWrite's forum, so I've learned a lot there. I was a writing major in college and so, that gave me a foundation to take in all the other information.

    2. Highest authority on writing? There is none. I enjoy reading what my favorite authors have to say about writing and my writing friends and I talk shop a lot, but if their advice doesn't work for me, then I can't incorporate into my writing life.

    3. I used to subscribe to Writer's Digest, but didn't really find it useful because I wasn't at the level where I was looking for an agent at the time.

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    1. Michelle, I'm not sure I understand your third point. Are you saying the WD is primarily of value to the writer who has product to market and this publication is the resource that will assist in finding an agent?

      Lee

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  11. I think learning to write is a skill you have to learn (not just the physical act of it) but storytelling is somewhat innate. There is some genetic proof of this, but I'm not going to get into that, right now. The thing is, though, inborn talent is never enough. No matter how much talent you have or don't have doesn't matter if you don't exercise it.

    1. As far as I'm concerned, the only useful way to improve one's writing is through reading. Lots of reading across many genres and always pushing to extend the quality of what one is reading.

    2. I am the only authority on -my- writing. I am not the authority on your writing, only whether I like your writing.

    3. Publications that tell you how to write are next to useless.There are no "10 steps" and nothing definitive.

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    1. Andrew, that's a very sensible answer I think.

      Lee

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  12. Between finishing the A2Z and visiting our son in Chicago, and experiencing the dark of a migraine, I am not totally sure what I read above. Forgive me.

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    1. Oh dear, Susan, I must be a horrible writer.

      Lee

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  13. To improve your writing, you have to practice. And you have to read well-written books.

    A great teacher helps but they are few and far between. Too many confuse having the knowledge base and skills with being able to teach. There is irony in someone so skilled at communication and does not have the ability to share the skill.

    I have read poet and writers as a general interest magazine. There is too much instruction on how to get published versus how to write a piece of quality.

    I am so far from published as to I don't know if I will ever produce something worthy of being published. God gives us a timeline and I will respect what happens.

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    1. Ann, I wonder if most writers reading the magazines are mainly interesting in getting published? A great teacher doesn't necessarily show exactly how something is done as much as inspire the student to hone their own mastery of the skill being taught.

      Lee

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  14. There was one blog I found during the challenge that had amazing writing. I was blown away.

    1)I find lots of resources through Twitter from people linking things they've found.
    2)I've honestly never thought about it.
    3)Nope.

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    1. Patricia, I often find blog posts that I think are very well written.

      Lee

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  15. I was with a writer's club for a while and a member of Romance Writers of America. I didn't get a lot out of either. I do subscribe to a bunch of writing and marketing newsletters that are very helpful though.

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    1. L.Diane, so in what way are the publications "helpful" to you. Is it mostly how-to or where to go or just a combination of useful info?

      Lee

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  16. I have become very frustrated with all the publications about writing. Who is the definitive authority on what is good writing, the reader that's who. Personally, I think the best tool for learning to write and write well is to read and read a lot. From the classics to the popular. Even some of the 'great' writers are windbags IMO.

    Often, I'm reading something and come across a sentence or paragraph that is so well crafted, I have to stop and reread it several times. I marvel at the mind that constructed it and it's purpose in the story as a whole.

    I do think that really good storytelling (being able to take something that might be a simple everyday experience and turn it into a fascinating read) is something that comes from deep in the writers soul. I also think that many of us have this ability, if we will just let go and begin to tell the story and then let it take on a life of it's own.

    When it comes to grammar and sentence structure and the actual mechanics of writing...well, that's something that we all need some schooling to accomplish, but writing in the sense of storytelling; that's a whole different matter that comes directly from the heart and soul of the author, IMO>

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    1. FAE--That's a pretty good perspective I think. I've had some college instructors who were able to convey great ideas about what good writing was but I never saw them produce anything that seemed particularly worthy. Sometimes we know that a written work has exceptional qualities and we can point them out and yet perhaps we can't consistently create something of equal quality.

      The more writing that we put out the greater odds that some of it might achieve some level of greatness or at least some value of worthiness. But we do have to read a wide range of literature on a regular basis to lodge the language of expression and storytelling in our brains. And we need to have experiences of our own and turn ideas over in our own minds to be able to discover the hidden treasures of creativity within us.

      Writing our words and passing them to others to get feedback from them tells us the most about what we are doing. Whether it be a book review or a blog response, we can't absolutely be our own judge of our creative output. We should have a sense of the mechanics of what we put out as well as the flow of language and the story told, but if we're writing for a market then we must receive response from that market in order to know that we are writing well.

      Lee

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    2. I definitely agree that feedback in all forms (good and bad) is a valuable tool in this learning process. Of course, we are not an effective judge of our own writing. Heck, sometimes I can't even see the spelling errors in my own work, even when word underlines them in red. My eyes, just keep seeing the misspelled word as correct.

      CP's, editors, and the public in general will judge our work and be more than happy to tell us what they think (especially if they DON'T like it). This is why I'm always happy to give a review or critique to anyone who asks. That said I don't like to give a bad review (a critique in private maybe) to a friend. If I really don't like it, I just tend to keep my mouth shut.

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    3. Telling the truth can be painful sometimes and even lose friends. That can be a difficult thing to do when faced with that decision. What if someone you really do like requests that you review something on a public forum and that work is really bad, do you forsake your own credibility in the name of friendship? When I've been faced with something similar, I've emailed the author to tell them if I honestly reviewed their work it would not be a great review and in the 3 cases I remember this happening all of the authors said to do the review anyway. I still correspond with one of them and continue to have a positive relationship.

      Lee

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    4. That's a tough call. But I think the cases you sighted, where you privately told them what you thought ( I think I would go so far as to privately send them the review) and they said to go ahead anyway, is a good way to handle such a situation.

      All that said and even with the authors consent, I belueve you're likely to lose a friend. It's hard to have someone critique your 'babies'.

      I sincerely hope I would never compromise my credibility or integrity to give someone a favorable review. I would rather refuse to do it altogether first, and risk the friendship than to genuinely hurt someones feelings.

      Now a critique done privately between the author and myself is a whole different animal. That's a place where I think it's important to be painfully honest.

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    5. Honesty is a good policy I think. In my opinion any kind of review is better than no review at all. There have been cases where I have made a purchase based on curiosity piqued by a bad review. What one person thinks is bad may sound good to another.

      Lee

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  17. I got started way late in life (like when I was on the cusp of 40) when came to writing and I've only been serious about it since '09. I did try to write silly little things in my younger days, but my speed was more verbal then written (made up a very good ditty using the old Getty jingle and Bobby Thompson's HR that won the pennant for the Giants).

    In regards to your survey, is my 25 cents worth (adjusted for inflation).

    1} When I'd first started blogging, I specifically set out to follow/read writer's blogs. Fortunately, the ones that started reading were by people who were becoming well known in their genres/sub-genres, but not necessarily well known nationally. I gleaned a lot of good writing tips/advice from those writers and still to this day, I will more often than not, search out stories/books that they wrote to see how to do it the right way.

    2} This basically ties in with number one. I have far more respect for those who that I personally know and have done it right, because those are the type of people that I will pay attention to when they comment on writing.

    3} I have never subscribed to or read any of those aforementioned magazines. I find that those kind of mags are great for curing insomnia more than anything else.

    Father Nature's Corner

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    1. There a lot of people with their opinions, but when their own life exemplifies what they say then they do have a bit more credibility I'd say.

      Lee

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  18. I think good writing is a combination of talent and practice. I've seen some talented writers never develop, and I've seen some mediocre writers develop into great writers.
    In answer to your questions:
    1. Writing teachers and books have helped the most. Also, critique groups/critique partners (I've learned from critiquing others and being critiqued).
    2. Highest authority--probably successful authors in my genre.
    3. I get the SCBWI Bulletin because I'm a SCBWI member, but other than that, I've never subscribed to any writers' magazines.

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    1. Practice is essential, but the passion and heart for the writing probably makes the biggest difference of all.

      Lee

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  19. I also think it a combination of innate talent and learned skill. Desire to be good sparks an interest in learning. Nobody becomes an expert at any craft without practice, and education. Growth keeps the desire fresh. Sometimes i feel like only a hobby writer, but I still have the dream of being a famous author (in my lifetime) so I suppose I more than playing at it, but not dedicated like I should be.

    1.I use all those to learn about the craft of writing, and to make me better. I'm more of a hands-on learner, so writers groups and critique partners (both giving and receiving) have been most beneficial to me.
    2. I learn all I can, from everyone. I am more influenced by traditionally published famous authors and writing books/magazines though. But lots of bloggers have well thought out, effective writing posts also.
    3. I subscribe to Writers Digest, and have has subscriptions for other writiing related magazines. And I visit some dedicated craft writing blogs and online forums. It doesn't matter the venue, I think all media is helpful. I am glad there is so much out there online. Discussions with other writers is very useful.

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    1. Having that dream to succeed is the ember that needs to be fanned in order to catch fire. You can do it! I've subscribed to Writer's Digest for many years though most copies like most of my writing books go unread. They're kind of neat to have in my library though.

      Lee


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  20. To answer your questions:

    1. The best place to learn to write is opening your imagination. Put the pen down and day dream a wonderful wild dream. Then write it down.
    2. The most critical reader I've ever dealt with was me. I tear my work apart on a regular basis. My betas are pretty tough too.
    3. I can't say I subscribe, but I do have a large library of how-to-write manuals that I refer to often.

    I write because I need an outlet. A method of expressing myself that hurts no one, and I'd go completely bonkers if I quit. :-)

    Anna from Elements of Writing

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    1. I like looking at my writing library, but I'd probably be better off reading some of those books. Of course I'd be best off if I'd just write more, more, more!

      Lee

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  21. I lucked out with really good teachers in high school and college but I still took refresher workshops when I started writing fiction as an adult.
    Susan Says

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    1. Refresher workshops or any kinds of classes can be worthwhile not only for new things you can possibly learn, but also for networking potential. Never know what new friends you'll make in those situations.

      Lee

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  22. My best teacher is a regular writing practice, followed closely by reading. I love to study great books, but even a bad book teaches me, because I realize what not to do. I read writing books regularly, and some are real gems. Finally, I like to attend one or two conferences a year to give me motivation.

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    1. Reading and writing are probably the best for improving ones writing.

      Lee

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  23. Answering your questions...
    1. A lot of the progress I've made over the years has come from a combination of those things, plus continuous reading. Watching a well-constructed movie or TV show (e.g. Breaking Bad) also helps me learn about good storytelling.

    2. I don't know if I regard anyone as the highest authority because I'm wary of putting anyone on a pedestal. But if more than a few people keep suggesting I need to change something in my story, I'd listen.

    3. I subscribed to Writers Digest years ago. I remember enjoying reading about the contests out there.

    Hope this helps!

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    1. I've been tempted by the WD contests but have yet to enter one. I think I learn a lot of storytelling skills from watching TV and movies.

      Lee

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  24. Law, Law, help me law! Yes-diddy I had a look at comas. Uh-huh, those little things that resemble fish hooks. I gotz to larn me sumpin'.

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    1. Thankfully I've got most of the mechanics of writing down fairly well, but I know I misuse commas on occasion.

      Lee

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  25. I thjink anyone can be a good write just like someone can sing well or create art or a craft but then there are the "special" people who innately are just a step above. They don't just play the piano, they make it sing. There are people who can take all the classes, study, read and can be good in what they write but can never attain that extra something that I believe in inherent in some way. Do I think that any creative person can just create and they have a masterpeice? No. They must take classes, read, study, experiment to turn their gift into nsomething truly great. The key is not only that innate sense but the passion. With passion comes a certain perfectionism which is a blessing and a curse. I look at what my mom created, Faberge Eggs. She was a true artist since she made almost everything inside as well. She created them using real eggs. She loved it, read up on it and practised and practised. She had a passion. I made a few eggs-they are nice but no where close to what my mom created. I did not have that passion nor was I a perfectionist. One can see the difference. I have read from other bloggers who have almost scrapped all their writing and started again because they needed it to be better.-The blessing and the curse of the perfectionist. One will go to great lengths to make sure what they create, whether it be a piece of art or writing, is what they will be happy with and usually they can still find fault. The writers, I think, will use any means to help their craft. Reading helps, I loved taking creative writing classes. If I would show any of my writings, it would be to someone who is an author themself or knowledgable with the English language since my grammar sucks:) I have never bought a magazine about writing but I am certain many do

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    1. Yes, I agree with what your saying. In essence, good anything is made more than born. We might have certain inclinations toward particular talents when we are born, but without the training, the practice, and the will we won't necessarily become great at it.

      Lee

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  26. 1) writing blogs, classes, interesting articles, but mostly I learn from writing - especially using challenges which make me step outside my comfort zone - and the comments and feedback on my efforts. I am going on two workshops next weekend, though :)
    2) Come to think of it, I don't take kindly to authority anyway, so I don't look on anyone as a 'highest' authority.
    3) No. I don't read many magazines anyway, and I wouldnt subscribe to a writing one. I occasionally find interesting articles online though.

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    1. Reading through these comments I probably should have used a different assignation than "higher authority". Just about anything we do that takes us out of our zone is probably at least somewhat helpful when it come to our interests and developing our abilities.

      Lee

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  27. I had hyperlexia (full-blown advanced reading) at age three, and began writing at age four. I've gotten much better over time, though all my teachers and other people always said I was really talented for my age. One of the best things to develop oneself as a better, more mature, more professional writer is good old-fashioned time. We should always be growing and developing as we get older and gain more experience with writing. All the critiques in the world can never take the place of continuing to better yourself as a writer over many years. It's one thing to be told an earlier draft isn't up to snuff or that a certain style you thought was so awesome is just a bad, poorly-executed gimmick, but only with personal growth and an honest eye towards your own work can you understand WHY those earlier efforts are facepalm-worthy and in serious need of rewriting.

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    1. Well said. We should be best advised not to take any one critique to heart to any extreme degree since a good deal of what comprises critique can be based on personal preference as well.

      Lee

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  28. Hi Lee - having not done any of those things on your survey ... I think I'd flunk the test ... and at school I certainly did; only found my writing voice via blogging and getting wonderful comments about my rather distinctive style of writing/blogging ... so I can only thank blogging for this support. I am grateful when people comment with some viewpoint on the blog - makes me feel I'm in the right direction with my writing - it's different ... and that's the way it is ... a unique voice ... I doubt there's more than one of me - and poor thing if there's another?! Cheers Hilary

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Go ahead and say something. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
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Lee