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Writing Help: Dive or Wade?

24 September, 2014
like to drown

(Photo credit: Aimanness Photography)

To improve our writing, we have different help options to choose from—workshops, courses, teachers and mentors, books, blogs, websites. But with so many help possibilities, we can feel as if we’re drowning in possibilities.

How do you assess what best suits you?


Dive or wade?

Some writers like to dive straight into the help pool,  immersing themselves in many kinds of writing assistance. They zap through innumerable books, workshops, and websites. If they decide to try a writing group, they may join not one but several.

Some writers find it exhilarating to get their hands on so much information and help in a short period. For others, the informational deluge is confusing, stressful, and can lead to a loss of confidence.

Wading is a preference for some writers, and for others work and other commitments make it the most practical option. They start at the shallow, comfortable end of the writing help pool, perhaps reading a few relevant blogs and books, participating in a short workshop, attending a one-off lecture. As they grow more confident about their needs and interests, they strike out into deeper, adventurous water. They may enrol in a long-term course or sign up with a mentor. This approach is positive and does not overwhelm learners, but some find the learning process frustratingly slow.


Writing help works best when it fits your needs. Rather than focusing on cost and convenience, assess your

  • present capabilities
  • current interests
  • long-term  goals

Your present capabilities

What do you think are your strengths are as a writer? Where do you need to improve?


Your current interests 

Jot down the last five major items you have read.

You may be surprised. Some people daydream about writing poetry but tend to read modern novels. Others may decide to break into the potentially lucrative romance market, when the reality is that they are drawn to reading essays. And some don’t read at all.

With this knowledge, you can decide if you want help options that support your present writing interests, your future interests, or both.

What drives you, makes you passionate to write? Knowing your drivers can hep you identify the learning options that best suit you. Maybe you get a kick out of experimenting with ideas and storylines. Or capturing personal experiences. Or perhaps you like the technical challenge of a particular form. Or find research satisfying. Or discover reading your work out loud is the most enjoyable part of the writing process.

Your long-term goals

What do you ultimately want to achieve with your writing in terms of these outcomes:

* Skills 

* Material—books, poetry collections, screenplays, etc.

* Financial rewards—money, more or better career opportunities

* Recognition and readership—local, regional, national, international

How long do you expect to write? For example, once you’ve written your life story is that it for writing?  Or do you see yourself writing as long as you have the ability to do so?

What happens when you are faced with obstacles and lack of success? Setbacks make some people more determined to succeed. Others accept the obstacle—OK, I’ll never crack the NY Times best-seller list—modify their goals, and keep writing. And others stop writing and find another, rewarding interest.


Is it still . . . 

Whatever writing help you choose, regularly evaluate it to consider if it still meets your needs and interests.

Participating in a writing group may be useful at first, but as members come and go, you may find that its educational value for you has weakened. Continuing to join basic workshops may be comfortable but not challenge or provide new information.

For your chosen help option, ask yourself—

  • Is it still moving me closer to my writing goals?
  • Is it still helping me identify my writing strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is it still helping me become a more skilled writer?
  • Is it still providing other benefits, e.g.,  networking with other writers?
2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 September, 2014 8:11 am

    Hi Catbar, Yes, wading has the advantage of being more controllable, and it reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed. Lots of writers worry about deficiencies and let that erode their confidence. I try to follow the suggestion of a famous Australian writer: ‘Just write–you can always fix things up later.’ I find that helps keep me into creating rather than editing as I go.

    I haven’t looked into web-based writing groups for awhile, but they might suit you. Some of them have a huge number of members so it could be easier to find your special niche. Good luck!


  2. 28 September, 2014 7:35 pm

    I’d definitely be a ‘wader’. Too much of anything and everything too soon and too fast and all at once completely overwhelms and ‘petrifies’ me! Actually, I feel I’m getting too much of real life (RL) which is inhibiting me from writing much at all. To me, RL equates the certainty of getting interrupted, guilt over neglected chores, never having enough timeless time, and my health means I feel constantly fatigued.

    What has driven me to write in the past – and still would – is wanting to make a story out of my beliefs, and what I consider to be fair or unjust; wrongs I would like to see righted; my idea of a more ideal world and society; ‘goodie’ versus ‘baddie’. I enjoy writing dialogue – often provocative, ironic, parodical, and I love description.

    Which brings me to what I see as my weaknesses in my writing, and what I feel I should fight against. I am sure I over-describe – I’m a very sensual visual person. I also find it hard to keep track of things, and am not good at interconnection, so another weakness, I feel, is that my stories tends to end up compartmentalized and linear, instead of being ‘skilfully woven’ and ‘multi-layered’.

    When I’m reading something, first and foremost I enjoy a good pacy undemanding potboiler, full of relatable-to human interraction and contention. So I try to make my stories fairly fast-paced (and try to fight that tendancy to overdescribe!) and try to show not tell – another pitfall for me as I’m often in a quandary as to when to show and when to tell.

    Goals? Mostly just self-satisfaction for myself and getting my beliefs etc down in writing. I don’t hold much hope of ever being seriously published, though it would be great to discover other likeminded people – and even perhaps find I’ve done a bit of ‘consciousness-raising’ (!). Trouble is: I don’t feel I fit in to any ‘genre’. (Story of my life, really!).


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