Wednesday Writers Pad: Are You a Competent Writer?

So, you’re a committed writer. But you’re struggling with your confidence and competence. Writing everyday will certainly help boost your confidence (some days) and build your competence (most days). I talk with aspiring writers all the time who lack confidence in their competence. They have a story to tell, but do not fill equipped to tell it. If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing, then you can relate. As I’ve said before, writing is hard work. Virtually everyone I meet has a book idea that they would like to get on paper. However, most of them never succeed in doing it.

First things first. You can’t get better at writing without sitting down and actually writing. You must put words on paper or else you won’t be able to sharpen your writing skills. It doesn’t matter if you scribble words on a paper pad, hammer sentences out on a typewriter, or key in paragraphs on a laptop.  You can compose stories in the morning, scrawl notes at lunch, and weave tales after dinner. Just sit down and write.

Maybe English wasn’t your strongest subject in high school. Read other writers to improve your writing. Take classes at the local community college to learn more about writing well. Join a writers group to gain insights into how to write more better stories. But write.

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Once you get a few chapters under your belt, find someone to read and critique your work. You can start with your Mom if you want but know she will either over-love it or strongly hate it. And you will either think your writing is better than it is or be a train wreck left with your confidence lagging in the caboose. You could have your spouse read it and tell you what they think. Just remember, you both must go to sleep sometime. And if things get to far out of hand, there might be police involved. I suggest finding someone more neutral, less invested in every outcome of your life but willing to hold you accountable when it comes to your writing. And…willing to take time to help you become a better writer. They do not need to know everything about writing. Just more than you do. You won’t have to take everything they say to heart, but you will have to be willing to listen and open to suggestions. Yes, it’s your baby. No, somebody telling you that your baby is ugly or smells bad ain’t pretty. But truthfulness and honesty are what you need to get better. Anybody can read your stuff and sugarcoat their impression of what you wrote. Nobody wants to hurt your feelings. In addition to being arduous work, writing can be excruciatingly painful while being inexplicably wonderful. If we’re going to become better writers, we need honest feedback from fellow writers.

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Another step I recommend taking to become a more competent writer is joining a local writers group. Local writers groups will offer informational and educational meetings featuring speakers who are experts in the field of writing. Writers groups will also host workshops and connect you with other writers. Like most anything in life, having a network of like-minded friends will help boost your writing career. Writers groups will often host a critique group in addition to their monthly writers meetings. Personally, I know that joining our local Writers Guild of Texas (of which I’m a current Board member) has been instrumental in helping me get back into writing and creating content. In the last 3+ years I have learned a ton that has proved invaluable to me as a writer. And best of all—I’ve met a slew of great people who share my passion for writing.

To become more competent and grow confidence in your writing enroll in a writing class. Many community colleges offer writing course through their Continuing Ed programs. The classes are usually affordable and vary in length from a couple of hours on Saturday morning to a few days spread over 4-6 weeks. Classes, like the ones offered by Writing Workshops Dallas, focus on specific things like starting your novel, character or plot development, and marketing you finished book, along with a slew of other courses designed to make you a more competent and more confident writer.

In addition to enrolling in a few classes, look for writing contests that you can enter. Contests will help you focus on a central idea and teach you how to meet a deadline. Both are very crucial elements of getting serious about your writing.

Last but not least, I’d recommend attending a writer’s conference. Back when it was still active, I had the opportunity to attend the East Texas Christian Writers Conference in Marshall, Texas. I met a lot of good people and grew my network of writers, agents, and editors. The same is true of the Mayborn, a nonfiction writers conference that features along with a contest.  Writers conferences, like the annual WORDfest, allow you to immerse yourself in your craft for a day or even a few consecutive days. You’ll grow your network—you might even land an agent. No doubt, you’ll get better at writing.

These are just a few ideas that will help you become a more competent writer. Hopefully, they will prove useful to you. In the meantime…

Keep writing!

Words Tangled Up in God

For me, faith, writing, and recovery are intrinsically connected. These three very different things are intertwined, tangled threads of a beautiful tapestry.

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I wrote my first stories as a young boy. Growing up an only child left me ample time to employ my imagination. Through the years, my writing benefited from excellent teachers and mentors, many of whom I did not realize were influencing my creative prose at the time. In those years, Marshall High had a stable of phenomenal teachers. Most of us, me especially, did not recognize how good they were at teaching us.

Attending Marshall High School, my writing profited from the solid teaching of Mrs. Douglas and Mrs. Muchmore. Although dramatically different in their style and approach, both were adept instructors molding my skills even before I fully recognized writing as my calling. A dear family friend recently remarked that she could see Mrs. Douglas’ DNA on the way I write, particularly in the manner that I craft sentences and in the very deliberate, intentional organization of my story. Mrs. Muchmore served as one of my earliest encouragers, lauding the words I put on paper.

My Great American Novel should already be complete by now. But, it isn’t. Life threw me some unanticipated curve balls. That really irks me because I pride myself on my ability to anticipate. However, life takes detours in between here and now. All is not lost, albeit that it is different. Over the years I have managed to write a batch of stories, poems and even a couple of plays. My publishing success has been limited. I chalk that up to being my own fault.

The past three years, as a member of our local writers group, the Writers Guild of Texas, and through creating content for this blog, I have been able to rekindle my craft. It has not be easy. At times, it has been really rough. Telling a story isn’t simply a matter of putting a bunch of words on paper. Writing is a craft. Writing is a calling.

Like me, my writing has changed. I’m not the same writer that I was a quarter century ago. I’m not the same person. What I cared about writing about then isn’t what I care to write about now. But I still have stories to tell. Getting to know Jesus has affected my writing. For me, writing has very much become a form of worship. It has even become a means of ministry.

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Similar to my journey of faith and recovery, my writing remains a work in progress. Words can change the world. I believe that God uses the stories we tell for the good of His kingdom. At least, I believe He can. I don’t write in a vacuum. God has a plan for my writing. Sometimes, I am fortunate that He lets me in on it. But as is true with ministry most of the time, I simply need to be obedient and remain faithful in this creative calling.

Recovery impacts my storytelling too. The stories I care about clean and sober are not the same that appealed to me when I wrote drunk and high. Thankfully, sobriety has permanently altered my perspective. For me, I write with a greater purpose.

Faith, writing, and recovery. These 3 things remain intricately linked.

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Photos courtesy of Pixabay.