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Is it possible to practice the craft of creative writing in isolation?

I am not directly affiliated with a writing community, at least a community willing to read small practice creative pieces. I do have access to the internet. I work with mostly scientist and engineers. I want to practice the craft of creative writing. I do not mind writing several minutes a day to practice and going back to read and edit, but I do not trust myself to be fully capable of judging my own work against what others might think of it.

Who do authors practice with?

  • I wrote in isolation for a long time but only cam into my own after taking a series of adult learning "creative writing" classes – CLockeWork Jan 19 '15 at 9:06
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I would counter that it is only possible to find your own voice, make your own way if you accept the element of isolation that is essential to the writing process.

Yes, you may take a class, join a group, find a wonderful mentor. In the end, it will be you and the world, and how that intersection expresses itself in words that will vault you into the task. Your class, your group, your mentor will be credible only insofar as they confront you with yourself, and leave the responsibility for evaluating your work to you - in the end, the only judge who counts.

This requires great courage, and courage is that thing you exercise when you feel the bottom dropping out of your stomach.

Take your lead from John Keats, the son of a stableman, who never made it to university, who died before his work was widely recognized: "I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."

In whatever art form, the artist owns the process, but has no claim on the outcome. Fighter pilot time. Jump into the cockpit, and give it a spin.

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This is an interesting question -- kind of the holy grail of "learning to write". The question is : Is it possible to learn to write better on your own?

I believe it can be.

Learn the Basics From Books

Learn the basics from writing books. My all-time, knock-down, marooned-on-a-deserted-island favorite is: Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost. Learn the basics from a good book then practice those basics as you write your own stories. Another great book is On Writing Well, by Zinsser - amazon link. If a person really read these books and practiced what they say a bit his/her writing would get better quickly.

The Improbability of a Writing Mentor

The improbability of obtaining a real mentor is large for many reasons.

  1. most of us will never come in contact with a real & successful published author

  2. even if you come in contact with published author, s/he will probably not have time to actually mentor us.

  3. if someone has to tell you that you're writing is good then maybe you aren't really cut out to be a writer.
    A. Consider this, if cannot step outside yourself and determine whether or not your writing works then maybe you aren't really cut out for writing. I don't know.

    B. If you cannot determine good writing from bad in other samples then you won't know it in your own either and you wouldn't make a good writer either.

  4. do you think Hemingway, John Grisham or Shakespeare had to have someone tell them that they were great writers? Unlikely. They knew when they were good and when they were bad. Yes, they surely wrote poorly also.

A writing mentor is really just a pipe dream that many people lazily dream because they aren't interested in actually working on their writing. I know, because I've done it. :)

Learn to Write From Published Examples

Finally, I've wondered about this for a long time and I've put together a book on writing fiction called Fiction Writing Gems -- amazon link which takes excerpts from over 25 published books of fiction (great ones and terrible ones) and shows you that you know what great writing and terrible writing is and you can learn from it.

Mastery and Artistry

Can you learn mastery of writing and artistry from books? Not really. But you can learn the basics and practice your way to mastery and artistry. The more you get the basics down the faster you get to mastery / artistry. Good luck.

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  • Thanks for the detailed answer. To reiterate point 3, if I believe that I am incapable of distinguishing good versus bad writing for myself, then I should find both examples of good and bad writing and read them first before self edit? I am sorry, when I first read point 3, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I should not even try to write at all. Thanks. – linuxfreebird Jan 18 '15 at 23:22
  • I know that point sounds as if I'm saying that if a person can't differentiate she shouldn't write at all. It's kind of a paradox. I think some people believe that. However, what I really mean is that readers are smart enough to know what is good versus bad and if a person is smart enough to know good from bad in other people's writing then the person is smart enough to do that with his own writing too. I'm assuming anyone who is actually seeking the answer is in that category. – raddevus Jan 19 '15 at 2:58
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You mentioned that

I do not trust myself to be fully capable of judging my own work against what others might think of it.

I may have an answer for this. I suggest writing a little every day, as you said, but not editing. Try to keep from editing for several days in a row. Then once or twice a week edit whatever you have. I prefer music when I edit because it blocks the creative side of my brain so I can focus on how adequate the work is.

Don't share what you've written until you're at a good stopping point. Preferably at the end of the entire work. By waiting until the very end, it will be pure to what you were trying to accomplish. Once you have your core interests written, you can have friends read it and advise you how they would change things. It is important to find honest friends who know a little bit about writing. Possibly they read a lot, or write some themselves. But you want them to be honest so you know exactly what is good or bad in the work. If you can't wait to finish the entire manuscript, you should wait until you finish the chapter, or other significant break.

It's best to get more than a few people's opinions on the piece. Often I will show someone my short story, who has great ideas for what I should have done or what to do next that I completely disagree with. When you ask around and the general consensus is to add a scene, take it with a grain of salt. As the author, you know more about the universe and the characters than anyone else. Try out the changes, but save a backup in case it was ill advise.

As author you know best.

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Two possible answers from my own past...

  1. Consider joining an online writing circle. I was a part of FMWriters for several years and got a ton of great feedback from the small samples and short stories which I shared on the site. If you join them, try to get into a private writing circle in your chosen genre. The open forums are wonderful, providing one-off critiques of any writing which you post, in return for your critiquing the posts of other members. The private circle's take that a step further, giving you a small group of writers to build a cooperative critiquing relationship with.
  2. Start a writing group of your own, in the real world, near where you live. You can't be the only potential writer who is frustrated with your area's lack of a supporting community. Running a group is an organizational challenge, not an artistic one. There is no requirement that you be a great writer before you start the group. I ran a 400+ member group for about 5 years and even after all that time, many of my members knew more about plotting, grammar and character development than I do now. If I had had to be a great writer before scheduling the group's first meeting, then it never would have come together.
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  • Before reading your post, I was considering to join Destructive Readers, because of their harsh yet critical feedback system. Have you read any reviews on them> – linuxfreebird Jan 19 '15 at 19:30
  • Sorry, I haven't heard of them. Since forming a local group I've pretty much dropped of the online writing forums (present forum excepted of course). – Henry Taylor Jan 19 '15 at 20:01
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It is possible to become and exist as a writer in isolation. If you write primarily for your own enjoyment you need not worry about anyone else. But being curious creatures we want to know what other people are writing or what is good writing. I would recommend that you read as much as possible and read many types of books. A great help to me over the years has been Stephen Kings' excellent book about the craft simply named "On Writing."

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