As you go about the work of writing, and the business of writing, don’t forget to study the craft of writing. Find ways to continually learn and improve.
A lot of writers feel a strong urge to enter an MFA program to do this. If you feel compelled to pursue that, by all means, research it and see if that’s the right next step for you.
But what I’m suggesting is you set out to invent a kind of self-study writing course using resources readily available online or at your local library.
You’ll learn efficiently when you develop a self-study writing course that includes practice and study pertaining to your biggest areas of struggle or weakness.
Novelist James Scott Bell wrote an article about how to strengthen your fiction the Ben Franklin way.
He explains how Ben Franklin came up with his own self-study course to grow in virtues. Franklin made a grid and evaluated whether or not he was successful in his pursuit of a given virtue each week. In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father concluded he did not attain perfection, as he had hoped, but “was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
James Scott Bell proposes the fiction writer identify key areas to develop into a stronger writer much as Franklin identified his list of virtues. Bell calls these key area “critical success factors,” or CSFs.
Business and sales folk have been using Franklin’s system for decades to improve their own performance. Not via Franklin’s virtues, but by determining their own areas of competence. These are called critical success factors.
Bell goes through each CSF a fiction author would want to develop and points to related resources: if the reader wants to learn about scenes, voice, or other aspects of fiction, Bell provides links to articles or books that can address each of those. By tapping into these resources, the writer develops his own self-study course.
You can do the same.
You can make a list of what you feel are your personal CSFs—this could be something like organization or productivity or time management. Then list CSFs of whatever writing you do. In this way, any of us can identify an area to improve in and find instruction pertaining to that exact skill or technique.
For fiction, you could check out James Scott Bell’s list in that article, where he cites the seven key elements a fiction writer could focus on plot, structure, characters, scenes, dialogue, voice and meaning (theme).
You could make a list of CSFs for nonfiction writers. This might include research, idea development and organization, grammar skills, or something as focused as transitions.
You could list key skills a poet or essayist could work on to improve your craft.
Consider some of the areas you’d like to grow in first, and then find online courses, books, articles, webinars, and podcasts created to address those key skill sets. Work through them, over time, as a self-study program custom-made for you, and by you.
When you realize you’ve learned all you can from that phase of study, fully absorbing and applying what you found, you can revisit and reconsider those CSFs, and see if there’s a way to ramp up your training, as if you’re ready to move up to the 300- or 400-level courses, or grad-level understanding—even though these are all your own lifelong learning efforts as an autodidact.
In this way, you can and will improve. You can and will grow. You can and will gain confidence.
You will arrive at some level of success.
And if you feel you aren’t as successful as you’d hoped, you can look back and see that by this endeavor, you’re a better and happier person than you otherwise should have been if you had not attempted it.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, page 41
- “Strengthening Your Fiction the Ben Franklin Way,” by James Scott Bell
- Interview with James Scott Bell via The Creative Penn
- Lessons in Manliness: Benjamin Franklin’s Pursuit of the Virtuous Life
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Andrea Clark says
Thank you for providing resources in this pod-cast. I considered only on one self study subject and I am elated that I can afford James Scott Bell’s ebook on dialogue! [How to Write Dazzling Dialogue].
I love your podcasts. You have a very soothing voice and I wish I could afford you!
All My Best,
Ann Kroeker says
Andrea, I’m thrilled to hear you could snatch up James Scott Bell’s book and start your own self-study course! And don’t forget how much is free online. So many great courses and articles to help you hone your craft. If you like fiction, get to know “Helping Writers Become Authors,” with K.M. Weiland. She shares so much knowledge about writing fiction.