The Education of a Writer

girl-1174539_960_720One of my biggest regrets in this life (and I say that like I have a lot of regrets in this life, which I don’t) is that I didn’t study writing in college. Both my degrees are from liberal arts institutions, so that means I did plenty of reading and writing in college, even took courses on it, but I didn’t major in it. I look back now and I’m not sure why.

As a child, I read constantly, carting home stacks of books from the bookmobile that set up shop in the bank parking lot on Tuesday nights. Each summer before we left for our two week vacation in an un-airconditioned, TV-less cottage at a beach with no boardwalk, movie theater, or mall, my mom would take us to a used book store and I’d fill a brown grocery bag with books and then spend my entire vacation reading in the sun or on the screened in porch once I’d burnt my body to a crisp after a few days.

When I was a teen, I suffered through the self-conscious, angsty, insecurity typical of most teens (although at the time I thought I was the ONLY miserable teenager who hated to look in a mirror). Reading was my escape. I lost myself in books that took me far, far away from my tiny little town where every embarrassing moment and bad hair decision followed you through school with the same kids year after year.

In high school my favorite class was the journalism elective I took repeatedly, writing for the school paper. I loved the students in that class and the obvious passion of our instructor who ran the class as if we were a world-class publication.

Freshman year in college, that first semester in English 100, my wickedly funny professor always picked my essays and stories to read to the class with her syrupy southern accent, cackling as she read. She loved my writing and told me so.

So why I didn’t turn to writing as a career, I don’t know. I suppose I didn’t believe that I could possibly write something anyone would want to pay money for. Becoming a published author was, and still is, exceedingly difficult. It takes vast swaths of confidence in yourself and your abilities, something I was decidedly missing in my youth.

Since embarking on a professional writing career about ten years ago, I’ve done everything I can to educate myself. I’ve taken online courses, attended conferences, signed up for workshops and classes locally, and accumulated a vast library of books on writing. And yet, I still feel uneducated when it comes to writing.

So this year’s resolution is to hit the books. Many of the books I’ve piled around me have barely been opened. My excuse is I’m too busy writing, to read about writing. Pretty good excuse, right?

Not this year. I’m at an impasse in my career. My third novel comes out this spring and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. I don’t have a contract or commitment for my future writing. So, I’m taking this time to avail myself of the knowledge and direction in the books I already have (and a few I bought with the cash my FIL sent for Christmas – thanks Jim!).

I’m hoping to post about what I’m learning here on this blog, offer insights on my Facebook writer page and tweet the real gems on twitter. Again, best laid plans, you know? Puppies and publishing opportunities could sidetrack me, but I’m writing it here in the hopes that you people will hold me accountable.

Here’s my reading list:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron (because EVERYBODY’s talking about this book and because she is the speaker at the Women’s Fiction Writers Retreat I wish desperately to attend next fall but haven’t managed yet to find the cash to make happen)

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (because one of my current works-in-progress is a memoir!)

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass (because he’s, you know, the guy and I’ve had this book too long not to have read it)

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld (not that I necessarily need this book, persistence is my strong suit, but I’m hoping to extend my streak)

Fierce on the Page: Become the writer you were meant to be and succeed on your own terms by Sage Cohen (because who doesn’t want to do that?)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (because how could I have come this far in my writing life and not read this?)

I bought a pretty journal (with coloring pages!) to make notes in and a set of 12 gel pens so it will be fun to make notes.

Sounds like a plan, right?

Here I go.

(And hey, if you’ve got a writing book recommendation for me, feel free to toss it my way. I’m always looking to expand my library, especially with personal recommendations.)

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Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

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