I’m going to cut to the chase. I firmly believe that there are only two things you really need to become a great writer:
1) lots of practice, and
2) good critique partners.
Everything else is mirrors and glitter.
Practice is simple. Practice makes you better. Critique partners are a little more complicated, but you can still find them online and in your local town: good ones help you learn what you do right, and work on the rougher edges. And critiquing your partner’s work allows you to see what they’re doing right and apply those lessons to your own work.
That’s really all you need.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
It’s all about how you learn. If you like literary fiction, thrive in group or workshop settings, want to learn from teachers—or want to be a teacher yourself—you might want to choose an MFA. (I tried to get an MFA myself, but was never accepted to any of the programs to which I applied.)
Since I learn well in a school setting, I chose the “genre workshop” method, in which I attended serious, concentrated workshops like Clarion and Viable Paradise. They were both incredible, challenging mini-MFAs, and introduced me to some of the critique partners that helped me develop Architects of Memory and its sequel.
But, to be honest, you don’t have to do any of this to be a good writer.
Like I said, all you need is practice—and a good few critique partners to keep you on the straight and narrow (or the wild and woolly, whichever you wish). You can find similarly-minded people online at Internet hangouts like NaNoWriMo and Absolute Write. You can take short classes and meet people at Cat Rambo’s school or Writing The Other. You can write fanfiction or post to Wattpad. You can go to local reading nights. You can start a group of your own. You can hit up local libraries and coffeeshops to find your people. Trust me, they’re all there. I’ve found some of my best friends in this world in all of those places. And, failing that, you can write.
You can always write.
And isn’t that the point?
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