Formerly, Education

Read an interview with Holly Cupala on Christine Fonseca's blog (great interview, Christine!), and one of Holly's answers, about how long she'd been writing, made me think about how long it takes to build writing chops.

For Cupala, it's been a ten-year span of craftwerk, some "dreadful picture book manuscripts," a few sales and other shenanigans until she wrote TELL ME A SECRET -- her YA novel that was published last month.

So I wanna know: how did YOU build YOUR writing chops? What experiences became the brick and mortar of your writing career to this point?

My story? Starts commonly enough: Wrote my first "book" when I was five. Yeah, that Newbery star was called THE GIRL WHO LOVED TO DANCE and you can bet your ass it was five electric pages of crayony drama.

Flash-forward to a performing arts H.S., where I skipped many rehearsals to write really shitty stories in the computer lab. Somehow scored college scholarship to play jazz piano. Dropped out (kids, please don't try this at home; if you do I'll come after you with spoons deadlier than whatever The Creeper used to cut Justin Long's eyes out) cuz the writing, it called me.

Several years lata (say it like Chris Rock, come on, do it, lata), I placed a few pieces in some national mags, became a newspaper staff writer, wrote first MS, took senior copywriter position and then managing editor gig, killed first MS, built a roster of clients.

Today, I'm a freelance copywriter tromping through a second novel. After 10+ years of wood-sheddin', I'm inching closer to the right track. But I'm still not there. Gah, the work. It makes me philosophical.

So I want to hear from you. How did you sharpen YOUR writing chops?

(Man, this woulda been a fun blogfest :/)


Alesa Warcan | July 15, 2010 at 9:02 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alesa Warcan | July 15, 2010 at 9:06 AM

Once upon a time in the smokies, lived an old woodcutter and his wife. The old couple were happy in life except for one thing: they had never had younguns.
One day, they were walkin' by the river and saw a big ole peach drifting its downstream. They figured it would make for a mighty fine snack so they pulled it out. The old man got was about to slice it up with his trusty bowie knife with it split in two halves revealing a tiny babe. That was me!

They took me in and raised me as if I were their bloodkin. Them there were mighty happy times... The only thing was that at times I got lonely: not many other kids around them parts, let alone born from peaches. So I grew up gabbing with the wild wood critters and telling'em stories.
Later on I learned me some letters and used em to share my stories with other folk.
The end.
(Too bad I can't use a crayon font for this comment;j)
You writer bio is totally cool enough to be that of a story character! : j

Falen (Sarah) | July 15, 2010 at 9:32 AM

Fanfiction, baby. In all it's terrible gloriousness. Nothing teaches you better about creating good characters then when you have to deal with the mary-sue's of your friends.
And then my BA in fiction writing to smooth it out

Summer | July 15, 2010 at 9:43 AM

I started writing my first novel at age 9 and just never stopped. But I read voraciously, and I think that influenced me a lot. I improved with age and maturity, but I'd say during my college years, studying English, I really found my voice and my style.

Piedmont Writer | July 15, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Oh maybe twenty years or so ago I wrote my first hysterical, I mean historical romance. It's so bad. I found it when I moved, what fun. I've been off and on since then but finally got down to serious business in 2006. There's no stopping me now.

Dawn | July 15, 2010 at 11:37 AM

Thank you for sharing :-)
I don't know how long I've been writing - it seems as though I've been doing some form of writing since birth. But in the past couple of years, I've had the honor of studying with some amazing authors who have mentored me and kicked my craft into shape. They've also reminded me that there is ALWAYS room for improvement and writers should never stop learning.

Lydia Kang | July 15, 2010 at 12:04 PM

I only started writing nonfiction a few years ago, got a publication or two, and then started poetry about two years ago. A little later, I realized I had a great idea for a YA novel, and crazy me, I wrote it.
Now I'm on my third, perfecting my craft, and trying to get an agent!

Aubrie | July 15, 2010 at 2:48 PM

Writing short stories has really helped me build my writing chops. That and reading everything I could get my hands on.

Great topic!

Carolyn V. | July 15, 2010 at 4:40 PM

I've taken tons of classes to work on my writing. I think it's starting to pay off. =)

Roland D. Yeomans | July 15, 2010 at 8:26 PM

Judging from all the rejections I've received, my chops are pretty downright dull!

I've been writing since I moved to Louisiana. I wrote my own friends into being. Wrote imaginary Green Lantern comics and went on from there to become a teacher, counselor, and forever dreamer. Roland

Rayna M. Iyer | July 16, 2010 at 2:00 AM

Not very exicting. Have been making up stories all my life, but it was when I took a career break to bring up my kid, that I realised I needed to 'do' something or risk going mad, and writing fit the bill!

Sangu | July 16, 2010 at 7:18 AM

Zoe! I've missed you and your blog posts in my time away! Just been catching up, and I have to say I love this post and your writer's biography.

Mine 'started' early too. My first 'story' came about at the age of four, involving an 'elefit' (elephant) and my first 'novel' was born at the age of nine - twenty-two pages of drivel. Cringe.

Shannon Whitney Messenger | July 16, 2010 at 5:03 PM

Sorry I missed this yesterday. Still struggling to keep up on my blog hopping.

I'd been writing my whole life--but I started seriously pursuing it when I was seventeen. I studied screenwriting, and I wrote several really bad screenplays over the next few years. When I switched to books I half wrote a couple crappy projects. Then I switched to my current MS and went through 16 drafts. So yeah, it's been a LONG process.

Tamara Narayan | July 17, 2010 at 4:32 PM

In second grade, I wrote and illustrated a gripping adventure story of two mice traveling down river on a raft, escaping bees, snakes, whatever, to make it to their new home. It was good enough for some loser to copy it. I'm still mad.

At twelve I wrote a hundred pages about a young psychic girl, but lost interest. Reading was way more fun.

Then at thirty-something, I was starting a career I didn't really love (math professor) and decided, what the f..., let's write a book. Seven years, a marriage, and two kid's later, the first draft was done. After the second draft, I decided it was good enough to query. (Insert raucous laughter here). Almost a year later, I'm still rewriting while researching for book number two. I've published nothing fiction, but have a scintillating dissertation on a branch of mathematics that no one outside math-mania has ever heard of.

Julie Musil | July 18, 2010 at 9:36 PM

Zoe, maybe my writer chops are not as sharp as others, but I'm ruthlessly working on sharpening them! I'm writing every day, submitting like a crazy woman, and enjoying it all the way. Plus, this blogging thing has opened even more doors and I'm blown away by all the learning opportunities.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving your sweet comment. You can be sure we're all glad you're a writer!

Vicki Rocho | July 19, 2010 at 1:26 AM

I'm not sure I HAVE got the chops yet, but I'm working on it! ;)

Roland D. Yeomans | July 19, 2010 at 2:32 AM

Hi, Zoe, on Monday's post, I'm trying that blog experiment I emailed you about. I'll either succeed or go down in flames. But you can't learn to fly unless you leap off the cliff.

"To all of life there is a shadow. The shadow of sadness, doubt, despair. Still it is but an echo of a heart moving forward."

~Nicole Ducleroir~ | July 20, 2010 at 7:00 PM

I love the term "writer's chops!" Yeah. I don't have mine yet, but I'm working on it!!

Stina Lindenblatt | July 22, 2010 at 7:07 PM

LOL. I'm reading Tell Me A Secret right now.

For me, I've completed two fiction writing courses, though the feedback from talented writers taught me more than the workshops did.

Post a Comment