[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]What do you remember from learning to write in school? Did you have a particular teacher who made writing interesting? Did you read a story or article and think “oh, I wish I could write like that?” We get so used to the structured learning in school that sometimes when we’re out on our own in the Real World we’re not sure how to continue – or even begin – the learning process. That’s what this month’s nonfiction know-how is about: finding the master class that’s happening all around you.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Where’s the teacher?
Of course, it’s great if you can find and afford a writing class taught by a master. Do a little research and ask around – maybe in the coffeehouse – and I bet you can score a great class with a great teacher. And honestly, it’s worth it if you can swing the cash. There’s no true substitute for direct, honest feedback from a human who is reading and familiar with your work.
But what if you can’t afford a class, or find one that fits in your schedule?
Well, there’s a million great resources right here on the internet. It might take a little more effort, but in the end that effort will pay off. So let’s jump into being your own teacher, starting with syllabus design.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Where are the course materials?
Step one is to find or design a syllabus for yourself, including what time your “class” will be “taught.”
Think about how long you can commit to really taking the time for “a class” and mark that time out on your schedule. Two of our editors work together on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 9-10 pm. That’s it. That’s the time they have, so it’s the time they use. Sometimes they work on collaborative projects, sometimes they run plot ideas past each other, sometimes they just log into a chat window and keep each other company while they edit. But it’s two guaranteed hours of writing time a week. Think about what time you can commit to: is it every Tuesday on your lunch hour? Three lunches a week? The two hours on Saturday when the kids are at swimming lessons? Figure out a schedule and commit to it. A good rule of thumb is to promise yourself that you’ll do it for six weeks. That gives you a chance to see how that writing time fits into your lifestyle and whether you need to change it up. The important thing is to set aside a time for your writing practice that’s as important as any other commitment on your calendar.
Once you know what time you’ll be writing, go find something to fill the time.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Online classes and materials
Some sites have “classes” already laid out for you, a six- to eight-week program of writing exercises like WordPress’ Blogging University. If you find a program like that, it can be helpful to also find a writing buddy to do the exercises with you. That gives you more immediate feedback, and you can discuss what each exercise is meant to teach and test as well as reviewing each other’s work.
Many universities also offer free online classes with a syllabus and exercises you don’t have to prepare for yourself. As with other writing programs, the thing that’s really missing here is feedback, so take advantage of the opportunities to interact with other students taking the course, or grab that writing buddy and twist their arm again. These free classes give you access to some phenomenal instructors, but they don’t usually give you feedback from those instructors. Remember that your feedback is only as good as the person giving it, so ask for help from that writer whose work you admire so much on the grid![/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
DIY – with a little help from your friends
Another method of studying writing is to take a more active approach to your learning. Because, well, this is yeah write, we’re going to use yeah write as an example of how to do that, but the same approach will work with literally any site that has any writing tips or tricks, as long as you also combine it with books, essays, poetry, or even fanfiction. Use whatever you enjoy reading; it doesn’t have to be professional, for-pay, pro-edited writing. In fact, you can often learn at least as much from amateur writing with minimal editing as you can from “the classics” so stretch your reading wings a little this month and read what you love. If the class isn’t fun, you won’t stick with it, so make it as enjoyable as you can for this little two-step you’re about to do.
Step one: what’s today’s lesson?
For the first step, find a piece of instruction that discusses a writing technique or grammatical issue. One great place to find this information is in our writing help section; another is to read back through our winners’ posts over the past five-and-a-half years. Even the posts that don’t have an editor’s pick discussing a specific essay, poem or story will usually have a few tips and tricks either in the roundup or even in the body of the post. We’ve also done several actual series of summer classes that show up in the writing help section, so pay careful attention and don’t scroll past the one you need!
Once you’ve found a technique or issue that catches your eye, familiarize yourself with it. Read that post on how to write the poetry form that intrigues you. Follow the links to additional instruction and read those too. Sit down with “lie, lay, laid and lain” for a while. Make some sticky notes and put them on the side of your monitor. Read the whole post or discussion before you go look at any writing. Think about what the author is trying to communicate.
Once you think you’ve got the rules down or can recognize the technique, you’re ready for step two.
Step two: what’s my homework?
Once you’re familiar with this week’s lesson, do your homework: read! If you’re reviewing a roundup or editor’s pick, go look at the specific pieces of writing that are being discussed. If that’s a roundup, you might have to read through the whole grid to figure out which essays or stories the trend applies to. See if you can identify the issue or technique without going back and looking at your “course material.”
Next, move on. Keep reading, but read actively. Pick up a piece of work you enjoy reading and see if you can find the technique in it. If you can’t, maybe it’s not there and you should move on, or maybe it is and you didn’t spot it – this is when it’s a good time to call on that friend you made in the coffeehouse!
If you’re looking for a grammar issue, read as much amateur, unedited work as you can stand. You might also try going back to the weeks when there wasn’t an editor’s pick; sometimes we can’t quite bring ourselves to award that pick to a pretty good story if it’s also full of errors like comma splices, run-ons, or misused or missing words. Spotting why that story you loved might have missed the prize can help make you a more active reader. (This can be really hard with your own work, because you know what you meant to say!)[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
So…where’s my grade?
That’s the one thing that’s rough about self-directed learning: there’s no immediate payoff. But trust me, finding and using the resources available to you to learn to recognize techniques and correct grammatical errors will pay off. You’ll do better in competitions, you’ll feel better about your writing, and you’ll be able to say what you want, the way you want to say it. That’s an A-plus in our grade book!
If you’re really addicted to that sweet feedback, though, don’t forget to use your membership benefits! Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you forgot how to do that.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]