At DIY MFA, we talk a lot about iteration and crafting a writing process. Every writer’s process will look different. Some of us like sitting at the same desk, keeping to a strict schedule. Others probably thrive on a bit more adventure–different writing locales, juggling multiple projects. Many more probably lie somewhere in the middle. But no matter where we fall on the routine spectrum, I’m sure your process has been a bit upended over the past few weeks.
There is one thing that we can always rely on—even in these uncertain times— to bring a measure of peace, happiness, and momentum to our creative work. It’s a form of self-care and self-improvement, and is something no one ever regrets doing. No, I’m not talking about working out (although that can be good, too!).
I’m talking about learning.
Yep. Plain and simple learning. As humans, we are natural learners. We spend years in school doing nothing but learning. Then, as we become older, life gets busy, and it can be hard to set aside time for deliberate learning. But I have found that when I do, my life and writing are better for it. And I think yours will be, too.
Learning is an Inexhaustible Resource
Before I send an edit letter, I always tell my clients the same quote: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway said that. If Ernest Hemingway considers himself an apprentice, then I don’t mind calling myself one! Even Michelangelo, at 87 years old, having already completed the David and the Sistine Chapel, said, “I’m still learning.”
Like art, writing is not an exact science. Heck, science isn’t even an exact science. It’s a process of trial and error, a method of working toward something. Just so in writing—we can never learn all there is to learn, because there is always something new to discover. You never know what piece of wisdom is going to unlock your next idea, help you break through a block or work out a trouble spot you’ve encountered. There’s always another interview, article, or book to read. There’s always another exercise to try.
But learning about writing craft isn’t all the learning there is.
Writers are Researchers
As writers, we inevitably become learned in all kinds of areas outside of writing. Working on a fantasy? You’ll need to learn the ins and outs of constructing a world—how politics, economics, and art function in different societies. Writing historical fiction? You’ll soon know everything from fashion to politics about that particular time period. A contemporary novel also requires research—whether it’s on the way teenagers use social media or how a particular industry works.
There’s a reason a doctor might go on to write a medical thriller, or a lawyer to write a courtroom drama. We have to know what we’re writing about in order to write about it. And the more authentic we can make our fictional worlds, the more real they will be for a reader. It’s one of my favorite parts about writing—how we get to learn so much about so many things. Our jobs are never boring!
Because of this, iterating a process of learning can be beneficial not just to our knowledge of craft, but in our execution of it. Learning is a skill we can develop, one that will continue to benefit us in writing and life.
Make a Learning Plan
Time spent learning is never time wasted. It’s good for our brains and it’s good for our mental health. However, it is also time out of our busy—and maybe busier than usual—schedules. So as important as learning is, it’s equally important to make a learning plan.
This year, one of my writing goals was to deepen my understanding of character. To that end, I made a learning plan. With writing, of course, we’re not learning rote facts and figures; we need to learn from someone. So I researched different well-known experts on the topic. From there, I made a list of blogs, websites, books, and podcasts to peruse. I created my own loose lesson plan. Making this list took time and effort, but for me it’s worth it, so that I can know the time I spend learning is the most useful I can make it.
Not every resource has proved to be equally beneficial, but I’ve learned something from each one. This process has also led me to discover a handful of experts who resonate with me and whose work I know to be worth my time and, in some cases, money. Just like I try to iterate my writing and reading, I also iterate my learning.
Learning at DIY MFA
At DIY MFA, we’ve always believed in the power and necessity of learning, whether that’s through our courses, articles, DIY MFA Radio, or our other online tools. Lately we’ve been thinking a lot about our word nerd community, and how we might serve you during this time of great uncertainty, when learning can be valuable, but the energy and time required might be more scarce. We wanted to provide a way for word nerds to learn about craft, platform and business, from experts we know are rock-stars. We also wanted to provide this opportunity for learning in a format that fits around everyone’s upended schedules.
For the past few weeks, our team has been working behind the scenes to bring these experts to you. Without further ado, I’m so excited to announce:
What is the Summit of Awesome? It’s two weeks of learning, growing and more. It began with an interview with bestselling author Jerry Jenkins, and each day, we are releasing a brand new audio session where Gabriela interviews a writing or publishing expert on the craft or business of books. Each interview will be live for one week, so you can listen to it at a time that works for your schedule.
Ready to receive the awesome straight into your inbox? Sign up right here.
And be sure to tell other word nerds about this opportunity. Let’s share the joy of learning and the gift of writing with everyone!
Bess McAllister writes epic books in expansive worlds from a tiny town in the Midwest. For seven years, she lived in New York and worked as a fiction editor at Tor Books. Now, she spends her days telling stories and helping other writers tell theirs. For writing advice, check out her editorial services and connect with her on Instagram.
Bess’s work is represented by Brooks Sherman at Janklow and Nesbit Associates.