The dictionary defines practice as repeated performance or study. So, a practice can be writing, reading a text, taking classes or seminars, doing a workshop, or getting feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. Practice is about getting better. It's about doing, analyzing, and critiquing. But it's also about reflecting. What am I doing to sabotage my story? How can I write this sentence, this paragraph, this chapter better?
There's a long discussion on the Mid-South SCBWI list serve about taking writing classes. MFA vs. independent seminars. Online vs. on campus. Obviously, the gang here at the Tollbooth took the road to an MFA. For me, that was after several years of writing, getting nice rejections (but still rejections) and finally coming to the conclusion that I couldn't move fast enough without some serious study. I didn't know much about online classes (and they probably weren't as prevalent even a few years ago as they are now), and I hadn't developed a discipline to read from a writer's viewpoint. I didn't have much of a writing community. I was out there forging it alone. But MFA or not, the point is to study. That's part of the practice.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of writing conferences, camps, seminars, and writing groups. For a long list, check out Cynsations or AWP or any multitude of lists online. But no matter what kind of study you are considering, here are some things to think about.
Are you looking for writing community? Online classes can be terrific, and a virtural writing community can be just as meaningful as a face-to-face group. But figure out what is important to you. Do you want to meet at the coffee shop and write with a group of friends, or are you ready to get everyone out of the house and work alone?
How motivated are you? Okay, it's that dirty little secret...we all want to have written. Writing is another thing. You have to get your butt in the chair and do the work. Can you get motivated to do the reading and the homework if your only connection to the class is a monitor and keyboard? If the answer is yes, then online is a terrific option. If you need physical accountability for getting your work completed, then maybe you need a classroom.
How sensitive are you when it comes to critiques? I know I'm a lot more secure about getting feedback on my writing when I'm with a group face-to-face. I can judge their expressions and body language to know just how bad my work sucks (or not). When I get editorial letters, I have to read them, then put them away. My tendency is to skip reading the good stuff and obsess about the critical comments. I have to process the whole thing before it makes sense to me, which takes a day or two. So, figure out what works best for you in a critique situation before you commit to an online or classroom program.
What are you hoping to get out of the study? More time and discipline? More tension in the plot? More lively dialogue? More showing? Obviously, what you want from your study will have an impact on how you go about it and what class can offer the most.
I take classes often, and I think about my writing practice as a journey with a goal in mind: I will be a better writer. A new year is always a good time to start a practice, so begin yours in 2009. Don't worry if you're writing every day (or not) or wearing your PJs (or not!). The process will be what it will be. It's the practice that matters most.
Watch this interview with Anne Lamott. It's a great way to get going. Enjoy! Anon. H.