Peggy Bechko: Writing & Reading – Two Sides Of a Coin

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by Peggy Bechko

It’s easy to talk about craft and grammar and spelling and all the little how-tos and don’t-dos when thinking about and discussing writing. And it’s easy to skip over the more simple things a writer needs to keep in mind or do or both. The more general concepts you kind of have to get into your head and keep there.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. A writer has to read and write – a lot. You have to love it. You have to pretty much think about it when you’re not doing it. You must do both. The more you write the better you write. The more you read the better you write. If you read some bad writing it’s a great lesson in what not to do. Great writing gives you great tips on what you should do. Quite simply they go hand in hand. If you don’t have time to read then forget the writing.

And speaking of the writing, presuming you do write, then you really need to make a habit of writing if you want to make it a success. Write every day (well not EVERY day, you can take a vacation though I frequently find myself jotting notes on vacation and I know my niece, CorinnaBechko, a writer of comic books and her husband Gabriel Hardman writer and illustrator work out plots while on road trips).

In any event, create a schedule that works for you and stick to it. If you love to write in the depths of the night, do that. If you’re a parent and need to write when the kids are asleep or at school, then do that. But whatever time you choose I highly recommend you create a goal, how many words and/or how many hours you’re going to work uninterrupted and stick to it. Seriously, do it every day (well except for that vacation…maybe).

Now here’s a controversial thought, a sort of an overview. Do you as a writer need writing courses or seminars or workshops? The real answer is I don’t know. I don’t, never have.

Everyone is different and here are some things to think about. Is a classroom really a place for serious writing? You can’t close a door and write uninterrupted. You are probably writing something you’ve been told to write or on a subject or in a genre you’ve been instructed to write in. It isn’t coming from YOU.

Also, do you really need a degree to tell you you’re a writer? Or a name tag from a well-known retreat or workshop? If you write you’re a writer; that’s all she wrote!

The good things about writer’s workshops, conferences, etc, is being with like-minded people. Folks who don’t think you’re mildly insane for your desire to write books.

And taking classes to understand grammar and get your spelling brushed up isn’t a bad idea if you’re rusty or just never learned much in the school system.

There are some written courses I’ve seen that have some value, give some good instructional tips, web links to good sites, but those are a separate issue from the collective workshops, conferences and attending in person writing classes.
All in all I’d have to say I’m not big on those. They usually cost a lot of money, eat up a whole bunch of time and critiques I’ve seen aren’t generally to the point, perhaps for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.

So I’d say know your language so you can know what rules you’re breaking and focus in on you and your writing and a space, whether large or small where you can be alone with it and write.

Peggy Bechko: Life Lessons for Writers…and Others

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by Peggy Bechko

Having been a writer over the course of years, I’ve learned many lessons. So, I thought I’d share some of them with fellow writers and at the same time give readers a glimpse into the writer’s life.

Here’s the thing. A writing life is a great life. BUT, some additional planning needs to go in to it above and beyond what working at say an office or a store or another profession might require. I mean, stuff happens.

And, when it happens, you’re a self-employed indie with few resources other than the ones you’ve prepared and planned on. If you’re ‘laid off’, i.e. can’t get a writing gig at the moment, you don’t have unemployment. You also no doubt don’t have health insurance. Some writers take the route of having an outside job for money as well as benefits, but if you are exclusively an Indie, welllll….. you need to plan for the down times.

Save as much as you can. This can be tough because many Indie writers whether published by major houses or self-published, live pretty much on subsistence level income. Keep a file on resources that can help such as organizations you might belong to that offer assistance for artists/writers in distress. Those same organizations such as The Freelancer’sUnion, The Author’s Guild (if you live in the right state and qualify to be in the Guild), Romance Writers of America and other writers’ and independent workers’ associations offer avenues to pursue health insurance at a cost you might actually be able to afford because in our country we don’t have the good sense to have universal health care available. Of course there are usually membership dues that have to be met, but not always.

Do you have family that might help out in an emergency? I wouldn’t make a habit of that, but in extremis, it’s good to know.

Take your writing and yourself seriously. You’re not just a creative, you’re a business person. You’re going to have to learn to read contracts, negotiate and generally keep track of what’s going on in the industry (aka writing/publishing world). Yes you can have an agent who negotiates contracts for you, but I hope you aren’t reading those things blind and are actually taking time to understand the language. And that’s IF you have an agent. If you’re Indie to the bone, doing it all yourself, then you’re going to have to learn or you’re really going to get shafted somewhere along the road.

Another lesson I’ve learned is never throw any of my creative work away. Rewriting a story written years earlier, one you just didn’t have the skill to do justice to at that time, can be an unexpected boon. And that doesn’t count cannibalization. Maybe that old story stinks, but some of the characters were great or the setting was perfect for a new story idea. Think about it, work with it. Don’t throw past work away, especially now that it can be saved on disc!

Yet another lesson. Give your readers something to think about. Don’t give them all the answers. Now, by that I don’t mean leave your story hanging, but rather leave a little something behind that gets them to ask questions that might not have occurred before. Something to remember you by. Something that niggles enough that they want to read what you write next.