Craig Shreve, a graduate of the Humber School For Writers, talks about learning the hardest lesson of writing: there are no shortcuts.
I enrolled in Humber College’s Creative Writing Program in 2008, and had the honour of working with Joan Barfoot. My debut novel One Night in Mississippi was released by Dundurn Press in February 2015, and my time working with Joan in the Humber program was the single most critical step in my long journey towards getting published.
The biggest lesson I learned from Joan is the one that I think every writer has the hardest time accepting – that there are no shortcuts. There is no ‘secret to success’. John Steinbeck said, "I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.” Everyone has to find out what works best for them, and this is the value of the Humber program – it doesn’t try to teach you how to write, it teaches you how to improve what you’ve already written. I can offer a few suggestions that aided me in that pursuit, in hopes that someone else out there finds them helpful.
It’s effective in fitness, and it applies to writing too. Work in other media, other forms, other genres. Maybe none of that work will ever see the light of day, but it will strengthen your main work. Writing a screenplay will improve your dialogue. Writing poetry will help you create more vivid imagery for your prose. Play around!
2) Be a critical reader.
You can still read for entertainment, but if something you read really grabs you, re-read it. Study it. Tear it apart and figure out why it works and how it resonated with you. It’s the literary equivalent of reverse engineering.
3) No one will care about your project as much as you do
As a first time novelist in particular, you will be expected to promote your own work. At the Humber tent at Word on the Street years ago, David Chariandy offered an interesting tidbit. He said you have to learn to talk about your work. Years later, I understand what he meant. If someone asks about your novel, you have about 30 seconds to grab their attention. If it takes you longer than that to describe it to someone, then likely their eyes will go glassy and they will start thinking about cats.
4) Give in to curiousity.
If something, anything, catches your interest, follow it. It might lead to a story, or it might lead nowhere, but as a writer you need to be able to call on a wide range of information, so nothing you learn is truly wasted. Go off on tangents. Explore. Do things. Say yes to everything. The easiest way to write an interesting story is to live an interesting life.
In the end, all I can tell you is that it’s a long road, and it’s worth it. If you believe in your work, than you have to be incredibly patient, persistent, and resilient. If you love to write, then don’t ever give up on yourself.