Saturday, May 08, 2010

Always Learning

Recently, when I went to the Association of Writing Programs conference in Denver, one of the things I wanted to investigate (and then think more about) was the possibility of an MFA. Specifically, a low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There are only about five colleges in the US that offer this - no university in Australia offers any kind of Masters that comes anywhere near what I am looking for. Low-residency means I could go for two-week summer/winter schools and complete the rest online with a tutor.

That wouldn't worry me at all. I did nearly all of my BA via distance delivery, and it suited me well at the time. It's probably the main reason I enjoy teaching online myself now. I wish online had been available back then! And the piece of paper is a by-product for me. What I want is the in-depth study, the opportunity, time and headspace to explore the ways in which I can make my writing better. I always want to make it better. When I stop wanting that, I think I'll stop writing. I'll go back to reading even more books than I do now, and thinking about how nice it would be to have a great garden.

But there are often opportunities closer to home. Last year I blogged about going to a talk at a local library given by Stephanie Laurens. I have no intention at all of writing historical romance, but I do write historical fiction, so I thought it was worth the effort (not much, honestly) of getting in my car and driving to the library. So simple to do, yet so many people who want to write don't even do that. She had a few things to say that made me think, most specifically about her level of discipline and the number of hours she spends every day on writing. A bit mind-boggling!

Today I went to another local library (I am blessed - a brand new library branch has opened within walking distance) to listen to a crime writer talk about writing crime novels. I had a feeling that for some of those there he was a little disappointing, but that may just be me trying to mindread, based on how they introduced themselves. 60-70% of those attending were only just starting out on writing, and more than half of those weren't really wanting to write crime. The writer, Jarad Henry, talked a lot about getting your facts right - who investigates crimes, how the police work, what actually happens at a crime scene.
Blood Sunset
I thought it was great. I picked up a few things I'd got wrong, a few more that I'd got right, thanks to interviewing a homicide detective a couple of years ago. In case you're wondering, yes, I write children's and YA fiction. I've also written a crime/mystery novel for older kids that hasn't sold yet, and one for adults that is for pure pleasure (but it'd be nice if it got published - I'm not holding my breath!) Mostly, I just enjoy listening to professional writers talk about their processes, their path to publication, what they've learned along the way.

I came home feeling inspired and enthusiastic all over again. Going into a bookshop and staring at the thousands of books on the shelves is not inspiring at all. All it tells me is how many books are out there! Listening to another writer talk about their writing life makes me realise, yet again, that it's not just me. I enjoy learning from others and I hope that never ends.


Karen Collum said...

I'd love to do one of the US-style MFA programs too...but I might have to wait until my kids get a bit older. I agree - we need to take every opportunity to meet with other authors and glean little bits of wisdom from everyone. I'm yet to go to a talk by an author where I didn't learn something, regardless of genre differences etc.

Kristi Holl said...

I need to be more proactive to find out what's going on in our various branch libraries in the city. I imagine I am missing some great talks. Even if you pick up one tip you can use, the time is valuable.

Sherryl said...

Our new Wheeler Centre in the city has lots of writers' talks, it seems, but getting in there can be a real pain.
It's great to have stuff locally (and free is even better), but I'm going to try the city once in a while, too! The more inspiration, the better.