This month’s question from Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) had me shooting memory rapids. IWSG asked, is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? That got me to thinking about how I struggled to find writing teachers and resources.
The Question Is the Answer
You’ll get weird looks shouting “five” to a room of strangers. However, if they seek the sum of two plus three, you’ll get a warm welcome.
During the first leg of my journey to write a book readers will love, I did not know what to ask.
I struggled to find writing teachers and resources geared to the way I like to learn. No shortcuts—no elevator to the top floor of success. To succeed, I had to climb the ladder one rung at a time, but I had a problem: where do I lean my ladder?
That’s when essential questions emerged:
- Which genre do I want to write?
- Who comprises my target audience?
- What do readers want?
Nothing worse than getting to the top of the success ladder only to find it’s not what you or readers want. Over time, more questions occupied my thoughts and research.
Breakthrough Writing Teachers and Resources
Of the many books read, websites visited, and courses taken, I give credit to a handful of writing teachers and resources—the breakthrough that helped me learn writing principles and see structural patterns.
For example, here are three teachers who influenced me.
A brilliant teacher who isn’t around anymore is Blake Snyder, author of Save The Cat! After his unexpected death in 2009, his legacy continues through a group of enthusiastic writers who employ and share his teachings.
I devoured all of Blake’s books, plus Jessica Brody’s Save The Cat! Writes a Novel. If you think Snyder’s advice is just for screenwriters, think again. His principles and examples serve novelists, too.
➨James Scott Bell
A few years before discovering Snyder, I found James Scott Bell, who taught in ways that resonated with the way I like to learn. Bell encouraged me, emphasizing how anyone can learn how to write if they’re willing to study and practice.
I own a dozen of Bell’s books on writing, each offering solid advice. His Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story helped me break through the mystery of how to organize a compelling work of fiction.
Is it the best book to organize a novel? I’ll let you decide, but back then, Bell’s book gave me the answer “five” when I needed to know the “sum of two plus three.”
A tough but interesting read by Shawn Coyne taught me the mechanics of editing a novel. In The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, I learned foundational terms that had me asking deeper questions, ones that helped me visualize essential patterns that significantly improved my writing.
I appreciated how Coyne amplified his teaching with detailed examples, breaking down why books achieve best-seller status.
Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
Today I’m able to see further down the road because I stand on shoulders of giants—dozens of respected teachers who cared enough to share key writing techniques designed to help those who want to write a book readers will love.
Tough but doable lessons that, when studied and practiced, will move your writing from good to great. (Hat tip to Jim Collins, who gave me a much needed career boost during my corporate years with his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.)
By the way, I only listed a few of the many teachers I follow, not to discount the advice of other influencers, but to show how your writing can progress by finding writing teachers and resources geared to the way you like to learn.
Visit the Books for Writers page if you want to see more (but not all) of the teachers I follow.
Focus on Principles and Patterns
The most important lesson learned: focus on principles and patterns, not rules.
A well-crafted story trumps everything else. That’s why I keep coming back to four pillars:
- Characters are who experience the story.
- Plot is what happens within the story.
- Theme is why the story matters.
- Structure is how the story is told.
Find writing teachers and resources that help you build on those pillars, and have fun!
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Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore?
Visit the Insecure Writer’s Support Group
Take a moment and checkout Alex Cavanaugh’s popular Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to sign up and take part in the monthly blog challenge. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up for the monthly challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.
Above all, the IWSG site is fun and informative!