Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Education, Baby

Image by Julie Rowan-Zoch
Happy Writing Wednesday! Today, we bring you a wonderfully insightful post from Ella Kennen, intern at a literary agency and a RYS judge. She's a slush-pile gatekeeper, and knows her craft. Here are her heartfelt words of advice to all of us plunging along this path to publication:

Step 1: Read, read, read.
Step 2: Write, write, write.
Step 3: Repeat. Repeatedly.

That is the Three-fold Noble Path of Improvement within the writing community. It's supported by the 10,000-hours-to-expertise craze. But it is missing an important nuance. It is altogether possible (in fact, probable) for someone to be a prodigious reader and then pen a painfully awkward novel. It is likewise a sad truth that prolific writers can churn out poor manuscript after poor manuscript.

So, what’s missing? Education, dahlings. I’m not talking about an MFA (which has been a boon to some and expensive heartbreak to others) or even any of the plethora of writing classes (though the good ones can be very helpful). I’m simply referring to conscientiousness. If you want to be a good writer, work at it! Read up on craft. Then read the books that put those techniques to skillful use. Join a critique group. Learn not only from the pointers others give you, but also from editing them. Work to improve the skills and talent you have – it pays off.

I have the great fortune to be interning at the Corvisiero LiteraryAgency. I am one of the slush-pile gatekeepers, and I have to be able to articulate and justify my decision every time. I realized the other day that every decision I’ve made, every piece of advice I’ve dispensed – first as a critique partner, then as an editor, and now at a literary agency – I’ve learned. I learned what the rules are and, more importantly, why they are there. So did every half-decent literary agent or editor. They were not imbued with magical powers.  They did not go to Professor X’s School for Red-ink Sadists. They learned, formally and informally, over the course of many years. As the publishing industry evolves, they’re still learning. They learn because they care.

And so should you.

This isn’t to say there isn’t room for creativity. Of course there is – it’s the lifeblood of writing. But if you think that learning about technique, style, and the publishing environment will hamper your ability to do well, then you are getting something wrong. When you realize all the nuanced possibilities that exist within characterization, plot, setting and more, you realize you have that much more room for creativity. And, if you are interested in not only telling a tale for yourself, but also imparting it to other readers, knowing what works and what doesn’t only helps you fulfill you goal that much better.

I have loved the concept behind Rate Your Story since the beginning, since before I was fortunate enough to become a part of it. This writing business is hard stuff, and the publishing business is downright fraught. I’ve no doubt that RYS has prevented more than one premature submission, has challenged writers over and over again to up their game and make their idea into the manuscript it can be.

But for all the punch it packs (and I believe it is huge, for something so brief), the RYS feedback can only do so much. And so the Writer Wednesday blog – which I am thrilled to be heading up now – exists as an extension of the learning process. This year, you can expect behind-the-scenes looks at the publishing industries, articles on crafts, information on helpful writerly resources, and insights into how other writers successfully navigated their massive revision projects. So stay tuned, and if there’s some burning issue you want discussed, please mention it in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

Ella Kennen

And here's one to get you started from fellow Rate Your Story Judge Terrie Hope:

Write Through 2014 Challenge

Want to make 2014 a productive writing year? Need a bit of a push? Want a challenge? Join us on the Write Through 2014 Challenge. There's a free new challenge every week.  All you have to do is sign up at

Once you have signed up, read the challenge for the week then get writing.   Every week we are posting our achievements. All I ask is that this is done by 5pm on a Saturday. This way we will have time to give praise (for achievements) and encouragement (for the new week). Any participant is welcome to submit a challenge for consideration. So sign up, have fun, and write through 2014!



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  2. this is so true. Creativity is great and needed to write for children, but there is also a lot to learn. I have writing books, belong to critique groups, read lots in the genre I write and am always reading blogs and articles on the internet about writing for children. Everything helps.


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