Honing my Writing Skills

I hadn’t realized how out of practice I had become—for forty years I had squeezed out adjectives and adverbs to streamline my writing for the business world. As I look back, I was probably not cut out to be a business writer—focused only on the “ask”, cutting out descriptions for bullet points.

I still see that I have remnants of my business writing that creeps into my creative non-fiction—I am always writing in bullet points; even now when I don’t actually use bullets, I can feel the lists growing by way of commas.  To remedy the situation, I took classes to help me get back into the groove.

At the Loft Literary Center, their sole purpose is to help people become the writers that they want to be. And they have a class for almost everything. I ended up taking the following:

  • Writing a Memoir
  • Pitch like a Boss
  • Revising your Novel
  • Finish that Book
  • Writing a Query Letter
  • Pitch Conference
  • WordPlay conference

I also attended two (so far) Twin Cities Book Festivals, hosted by RainTaxi, a local book review organization and literary champion and the Loft class Indigenous and Writers of Color workshop by David Mura.

It’s been an eye-opening adventure. Many of the classes I’ve taken have had a similar format—write, group critique, write more or rewrite, more critique. But when I say critique, I don’t mean critique like what you see happening in a Harvard law school movie. These critiques are more about finding the positive and boosting that rather than finding the flaws and magnifying them. I am still torn about how valuable it is to be praised for the good all the time. I thought my weaknesses would be pointed out so I would know better what to work on. But when I reflect on it, throughout my teaching life (which has been my whole life) I know how important positive reinforcement is, not only for the individual’s ego, but also in keeping the door open for the eventual criticism that comes.

It’s like raising kids—I never realized how much my kids needed my positive reinforcement and validation. I thought they knew they had that already. And I didn’t realize how impactful the smallest criticism could strike to the core. I can remember the fear of criticism at my annual reviews in corporate America, and how I worried beforehand, and dwelled on it afterwards.  

But age has its benefits—I’ve had 40 years of successes and failures, and I have come out each time smarter and better. I’m still OK.

What I did learn in those classes was that writing is only a fraction of the work of becoming a writer. The other component is the sales and marketing of the writer and the writer’s brand. I am, or should be, lightyears ahead of my peers in this area—I have spent my 40 years prior to this adventure working is sales and marketing.

And while selling my writing may seem different than selling hog feed or salt, the basic principles are the same. I just need to write and sell the product of Elaine.


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