This is a series for writers. Articles were originally published in North Columbia Monthly. Each article will refer to that publication's archives with a link.

So far, the following articles are posted here:

  • What Makes You a Writer?
  • Learning to Write 

 

What Makes You a Writer? 

The art of writing to express ideas beyond the level of grocery lists and racing forms has been with us for centuries. From the times of the Egyptian pharaohs, humankind has sought to tell the stories of everyday life as well as heroic epics. At first, these stories were difficult to record, requiring special skills and materials, not to mention wall space. During the Middle Ages, scribes painstakingly copied texts by hand, and almost no one owned copies of any scrolls or early books. Finally, the printing press opened a new door and before long the “common” person was able to purchase a weekly newspaper and even a few books. 

Flash forward to the 21st Century and writing is everywhere; in some ways, we’re almost drowning in written information, as well as audio versions of literary works and now e-books and online efforts such as blogs. So what are we to make of the world of writing today? How do we differentiate mundane writing from literary art? Can we consider all writers to be Writers, or must we draw the line somewhere to develop a tighter definition? 

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I suspect if asked, each of us would give a different answer. I offer a definition limited enough to make our topic wieldy and yet broad enough to encompass the scope of most people’s interests: 

To be a Writer is to express one’s unique ideas in written form for the purpose of educating, enlightening and/or entertaining the reader. 

This definition covers both fiction and nonfiction – novels and other kinds of books, articles, essays, poetry, and blogs and other online pieces. Business and technical writing are included, as are textbooks (in print and online). 

But is this definition totally satisfying? Actually, readers are more likely interested in the arbitrarily-defined form called “Professional Writing.” And by that, they likely mean writing for which one is paid. That is certainly to be included in my definition, but unfortunately many writers are not paid even though they strive toward that goal. Thus, I shall not leave people out of the defined group simply because they have not yet reaped monetary benefit from their efforts. 

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In this column we’ll talk about writing from beginning to end – the end being a published work, or a finished work that is at least satisfying to the writer. We’ll talk about the process of becoming a good writer, attracting the attention of an agent and/or publisher, and what it means to follow through. We’ll cover marketing, building a platform, developing your brand, the mechanics of the industry, how and whether to self-publish, and other related topics. 

The world of writing is a big one. The path you follow will provide opportunity for personal choices along the way, but each decision is usually consequential to your quest. Compromise may or may not be necessary to reach your personal writing goals. The path to becoming a paid and/or accomplished writer is not usually an easy one. If you hope to have any success, you need to be prepared for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that can be required. Ask yourself these questions: 

Why do I want to write and what are my goals? 
 Do I have a realistic view of what writing will mean to my life? 
What are the practical assets I can bring to the process? Such things as time to work, a budget for supplies, and a place to work are all important, as are a sound understanding of writing principles, ideas and an ability to do research. 

I hope you will think this over and meet me here next time for more on “The Writer’s Way.” 

Linda Bond is cofounder and leader of the Inland Northwest Writers Guild and Outreach Coordinator at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, WA. Write to her at lindathewriter@gmail.com. 

NOTE: This article was originally published in the North Columbia Monthly magazine in the August 2016 issue. To view the original online version, click here and find article on page 27: 

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/3e7a7b_751615116779489cb78f07d6102bc127.pdf

 

 

Learning to Write 

Nearly everyone can learn how to write, although some seem born with a talent for learning faster and expressing themselves better. So, how much education does someone who does not feel gifted need to become a decent if not great writer? The answer depends on more than one kind of education. I suggest considering three: 

Formal education 
Informal education 
School of hard knocks 

Sooner or later, a good writer will most likely visit each of these schools. Let’s look at what they entail. 

Formal education 

Basically, this involves a teacher, lessons, tests, and proof of accomplishment in the form of a certificate or diploma. Basic education in writing begins with tiny tot sessions of thought-organiz­ing in kindergarten or at home, then moves on to primary or grade school, junior high, then high school, maybe junior college, a four-year college, even a master’s program and on up to the level of a doctorate. 

All of this involves time, money and proximity to institutions of learning, although in today’s world much is available online. 

Informal education 

Often, this looks a lot like formal education. For instance, in a workshop offered at a confer­ence you may sit in a room with a teacher who has you write something, and afterward you are granted a certificate of attendance. The primary difference from formal education is time: a work­shop may last a few hours, a day or a weekend. 

But other activities from which you may gain a head full of knowledge about writing can be far more informal and still provide a bounty of what a writer really needs – IDEAS. 

This category includes opportunities to learn quickly, for a reasonable price and at your own level of interest: 

books and magazine articles 
presentations through media (including the nightly news) 
movies, including documentaries 
attendance at author readings or signings 

Have some fun and make up your own list of possible sources for what to write about and where to find successful examples to learn from. When you’re done, I’d love to see what you’ve come up with (my e-mail address is provided below). 

And now to my personal favorite, which is also the favorite of many famous writers. 

School of hard knocks 

This is an education no one can avoid. From the day you’re born to the day you “shuffle off this mortal coil,” you will be in attendance. You will have many, many teachers – some good, some bad. And the responsibility for getting the most out of your attendance is totally up to you. There are some good ways to retain what you learn: 

Keep a journal to record your experiences. 
Take photographs of unusual sites; record outstanding sounds. 
Talk about your experiences with others – a friend, a trusted colleague, a guy on the bus. 
Most of all: Think about it! 

This is the school that will likely give you your best writing IDEAS, so don’t ignore anything. 

Finding a source for your education: If you are like most of us and have to continue working while you get an education, look for online op­portunities. Just be sure to research first to make sure what you choose will really meet your needs. 

Attend conferences and retreats. Take ad­vantage of as many presentations, readings and other writing-related activities as you can. Ask questions of everyone! You never know who might have a good lead to share. 

If you have the talent, you may be able to get a grant, an internship or some other form of support while in school. If you’re at that point in your education, check out the MFA (master of fine arts) programs available to you. Some offer tuition-paid internships based (hopefully) on merit, so don’t sell yourself short if this is part of your writing goal. 

Here’s a place to start: Inland Northwest Center for Writers, c/o Eastern Washington University, 668 North Riverpoint Blvd., #259, Spokane, WA 99202. 

I leave you with this thought from Albert Einstein: 

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” 

Linda Bond is cofounder and leader of the Inland Northwest Writers Guild and Outreach Coordinator at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, WA. Write to her at lindathewriter@gmail.com. 

NOTE: This article was originally published in the North Columbia Monthly magazine in the September 2016 issue. To view the original online version, click here and find the article on page 23: 

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/3e7a7b_61aa55e08265491a816a5d228d3ecc2c.pdf

 

 

 

 

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