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Step Three – Writing to Learn

Part of a series of blog posts that chart my progress from couch potato to published author. See Perspiring Authors page for a sequential list.

I enrolled in a creative writing class because I decided the early demise of books 1 & 2 was totally related to a bad case of writer’s block. Oh, hell, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t just blocked, I was bloody-well constipated. It’s enough to be word-stymied. Try having a constipated imagination.

‘You can’t spend all your life in fantasy,’ I’d reasoned twenty years earlier. Kids had to be picked up. Meals had to be made.

I’d quelled my imagination and let it wither.

My heart was doing the two-step when I walked into the class. I was early but that meant I could pick the best seat and watch as people walked in. Younger than me, younger than me, maybe the same age as me, oh, wait – much older than me!

And then my prof walked in. I’d thought she’d be a benign spirit, who’d smile sweetly and occasionally pat my head. A bit of an earth-mother. That’s not what I got. Instead she was youthful, and exacting, and yes, wise and sensitive, too. In her class, I learned about word count, self-editing and the power of a critique.

The first request was to describe a bedroom in 250 words. I took that literally and edited it down to 249 words. I learned a lot about self-edit that week.

For the next assignment, I had to write a scene in which the main character felt emotional pain. I spent 20 hours on it; gathering up words like loose confetti, trying to stick them together so they’d form a recognizable shape, all the while searching for an elegant way to infuse emotion. 250 words. One scene, little-to-no dialogue.

But I did it. And felt proud, even though I was not the best writer in the class.

The requests got harder. Using mostly dialogue, write a scene that shows conflict. Provide us with a 500 word scene revealing a pivotal moment between two people using description and dialogue. Take one of your shorter pieces and expand it to 500 words. Now, revise it based on the class comments. Do not exceed your word count.

And then…read it out loud to the class and sit silently and appreciative as people critique your piece. No excuses, no explanations. Sit and absorb. Listen carefully.

Harder still.

That class taught me a lot. First, the power of the impersonal, balanced critique. Second, self-editing is part of writing. And third– 

You have to write to learn how to write.

There is no short-cut.

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