Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Charting Writing Progress

I've written on and off all my life, but I got serious about writing about four and a half years ago. And by serious I mean I wanted to learn as much about the craft as I possibly could, and made sure to write consistently - if not on a daily basis, then at least on a weekly basis.

I have to admit that at first I was obsessed with word count, including the number of words I generated every time I sat down to write. I kept a word log in which I'd tally how many words I wrote each day, and my goal was at least 800 words, five days a week (so about 4,000 words a week).

Four and a half years later, I have an entirely different approach. I still log my words, just because it's kind of fun and makes me feel like I'm being productive. But in reality I have switched to logging time instead. Because there's so much more to writing than just the words you generate. There's doing research for settings/characters, creating and filling out character sketches, building and fleshing out worlds in separate documents (OK, those last two deal with generating words, but they're a bit different, because a lot of that time is spent brainstorming and the words aren't part of the "official" manuscript), tedious revision (in which you return a tiring amount of times to the words you've already generated and decide to hack them out of existence or add on a whole bunch of new ones), polishing, I could go on.

Point is, I think it's a mistake to calculate your progress in terms of fresh words you write. I used to get frustrated when I didn't meet those 800 words and sometimes I'd even bypass necessary research or something else my manuscript needed at the moment just to squeak them in so I'd meet the quota. But, really, I was fooling myself and causing myself undeserved mental harm (not very severe mental harm, mind you, but you know what I mean). So now I go by time. Two-to-three hours of solid work on my story each day for five days a week, no matter what it needs at the given moment, will bring me ever so much closer to the completed/polished book it needs to be.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program

I'm graduating from Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction MFA program this January with a polished, market-ready middle-grade science fiction novel, and I have to say the program is definitely one of the best things I've ever done. If you're serious about writing popular novels (or other forms of popular fiction) and want to turn it into a career, I can't recommend the program enough. The writer I entered the program as is a mere shell compared to the one I am now.

Writing is, of course, a lifelong calling and journey, and there's no guarantee any novel you write will get published, including one that's gone through an MFA program. But I have to say that when it comes to Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program, I must've shaved off at least ten years of toiling with writing on my own. There's really nothing like the hands-on expertise of mentors (published authors) in the field you write in, who not only tell you what you need to improve on, but literally help you achieve it in your actual manuscript. The program was also fantastic in the networking department. I have met some fine writers who have also become dear friends, and I hope to continue to both keep up and work with them beyond the program.

Overall, the program has been a mindblowing experience, and I can't imagine having not done it. For me, it was the big-picture stuff, such as building and applying a fleshed-out world and effectively developing characters' (especially the protagonist's) internal growth that I really needed to work on. It's funny how difficult big-picture stuff can be to see until somebody who knows what they're talking about points it to you. But, really, I had such a blast with this program and I know it's one whopping, important step in my journey as a writer. I wanted to make this post because I know lots of writers out there wonder if an MFA program is really worth it, since so many writers learn the craft on their own, so to speak, but I just wanted to add in my own two-cent experience: it was more than worth it. At least the program at Seton Hill University was.

And now back to what I try to do best: writing.