Saturday, September 20, 2008

Making a Writing Class Work for You

Joining a writing class is the best way to get your stories written. Most of us cannot continue to write in isolation. We need that weekly stimulus, support, and ideas to keep us focused.

I have a student in my writing class who tried several teachers until she found a good fit. So do not be discouraged if the first class you attend does not work for you. Give it some time, but find another class that meets your style and needs.

Once you enroll in a class, getting the most you can from it is quite simple. Although any choices you make are up to you, it does help if you can attend each class, participate in group discussions, praise and give helpful comments to readers, share your writing weekly so you can get feedback to improve your story, and ask questions whenever you need help.

Besides getting involved with what happens in your class, you can see further benefit by noting what you like about others’ stories and emulating those ideas in your writing. Take notes as people read, jotting down ideas on how they organized the story events, how they present some aspect of their story, and what unique words or phrases they use.

The more you provide for your writing the faster you will progress toward your goals. Try to set aside a few hours several times a week to write and rewrite your stories. Reward yourself for completing a certain task.

If you have a particular writing problem, ask for help from your instructor in how to make corrections. Examples of typical problems include:

1. All sentences sound alike. Most start with a subject, then a verb and then an object.

2. Verbs are boring. Over use of the same verbs as went, bought, sat, walked, ran, etc.

3. Words are redundant. You tend to use the same words over and over.

4. Story sounds dry or boring. If your story sounds more like a manual or a news article, you probably lack description and details. Use exciting verbs, phrases and action to get your reader involved with the characters. Readers must care about the people in your story.

5. Story sounds stilted or formulaic. You are probably being too descriptive or not writing with emotion. Write from the heart and show feeling. Use description and detail to paint a picture in your reader’s mind.

6. Paragraphs are confusing. Many small or large paragraphs can be a sign that organization is weak or you do not understand topic sentences and supporting details.

7. Story does not flow smoothly. Transitions may be lacking from one paragraph to another or from one story to another. This can be an organizational or word choice problem.

Come to class with questions about your paper. Be armed with a focus and be specific, asking listeners to pay attention to whatever particular problem you feel you may have. Ask for feedback on areas you feel are weak and make a note of the group’s comments. For example: If you are concerned that a certain part of your story may not be descriptive enough (or too much so), then before you read ask the group to watch for that issue.

As in any undertaking, the more involved you are, the more you get from the situation. At times, the effort may be difficult, but persistence does end in reward. Never judge your writing against another’s work as writing styles do vary, and we all have different skill levels. Everyone can improve their writing skills, but not everyone will have the same results just as not everyone will be a great swimmer. However, remember the original goal: It does not matter in the end how well you write, but that you leave whatever stories you can for your descendants.

E. Aulicino

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