The Greatest Teacher

My formal writing education is limited to a couple college courses on fiction writing and playwriting. I don’t remember much of anything I learned in those classes, though I suppose some of the knowledge must be rattling around in my subconscious somewhere. I’ve never had any desire to get an MFA (two useless graduate degrees is quite enough already, thank you).

Most of what I know about writing books, I learned from reading them: both craft books, and novels in and out of my genre. Not just good novels, either. Reading something with elements that don’t work, or prose that’s just plain awful can be really instructive too. At first it’s just a feeling: I don’t like this, it’s not working for me. But over time you learn to articulate why something isn’t working, what could be done to make it better, discerning true storytelling structural flaws from matters of personal taste.

But ultimately, no one and nothing can teach you how to write. You have to teach yourself, through trial and error, failure after failure, writing the wrong thing a hundred times before you finally get the right thing down on the page. There are no shortcuts. That probably sounds exhausting, and to be honest it kind of is. I’m in the midst of writing my second book right now, and even with everything I learned while writing Temper, there’s still so much more to learn. So many other ways to fail and try, try again.

You don’t need a diploma or other fancy piece of paper to be a real writer. You just need to write, and keep writing, even when it sucks. Your failures are more instructive than any seminar or workshop could ever be, so treasure them. Let them teach you.

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Layne Fargo

Layne Fargo is a thriller author with a background in theater and library science. She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, a member of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters. Layne lives in Chicago with her partner and their pets.

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