I learned to knit when I was in fourth grade. Our elementary school had a club period and I remember volunteers, mostly lovely grandmotherly ladies, coming in to show us the basics of knitting. I loved it! I was taught how to cast on using a very basic method and how to knit. We were given yarn and needles to take home for practice.
Also, the more you practice, the easier it will get. So many beginner knitters give up after first attempts because it can be awkward learning how to hold the needles and move the yarn. I always tell my students that it is like riding a bike. When I ask for a show of hands of how many can ride a bike, most hands go up. When I ask if they learned on their first try, the answer is usually no. Everyone has their stories about how they fell down, scraped a knee, or had training wheels for years. Knitting is the same because the more you do it, it becomes second nature and your fingers move without much thought. Writing is the same. The number one way to become a better writer is to write consistently. You will learn a process that works for you if you stick with it.
I took an elective class and met with a small group led by a fellow student. She told us about types of yarn, what materials to buy, and how to read patterns. She sent me to my first yarn shop (a dangerous thing) and even coordinated a group order of yarn from a local sheep farm. My eyes were opened! I learned skills that I could apply immediately and saw endless possibilities. My first project was a beautiful heather blue crewneck sweater. One problem with my sweater was that it didn't have the professional appearance I wanted. I was so eager to be done, that I rushed and didn't learn how to properly "finish" the sweater. An axiom in knitting is that the difference between "hand-made" and "home-made" is finishing. This applies to writing on so many levels.
Part of my writing process has been to educate myself as much as possible about the craft of writing. I have taught middle school English for twenty years, but learning to write for middle schoolers is entirely different. Regional and national conferences through SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), revision retreats, webinars from organizations like Writers Digest, and online writing communities such as Savvy Authors and Absolute Write have all become part of my education process. Adding to my writing toolbox through workshops and conferences has helped my writing have the polished "hand-made" feel I want.
One of the first things I did when I started writing was join SCBWI and find a critique group in my area. It was the best decision I could have made. My critique groups reads what I share and gives supportive feedback that I can use for revision. They tell me when it's good (and why) and, more importantly, they tell me when I am not getting my ideas across well. Even if something is "good," a critique group can help you make it "great" and that will help you stand out when it's time to submit your work to agents and editors.
Online communities and critique groups can work great as well. I wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for a few years and in 2012, I tried and failed. I got to about 8,000 words and petered out. Last year, I realized that the reason I failed was that I wasn't good at making myself write every night. If I didn't do it, there wasn't really anyone that cared. So when I heard about the Savvy Authors NaNoWriMo Bootcamp, I thought it would be perfect. For a very nominal fee, I was put in a small group with other children's writers. Every night, we posted to a forum our word count and did short writing challenges to earn extra points in the contest. Our little group of three people beat all of the other Savvy Author NaNoWriMo groups and all of us met the 50,000 word count goal. The support of other writers can certainly make a difference in achieving your goals.
Thanks again to Tracy Barrett for inspiring me to write this post. Writing is a skill, like so many other things, and there are many more connections I could make. What are some ways writing connects to your hobbies and interests?