Friday, January 22, 2016

Can You Be Self-Taught as a Writer? by @KarynGerrard #Opinion #amwriting

I don't claim to be a skilled writer. Far from it. In fact, you'll probably find mistakes in this blog post. Here's the reality. I don't have a university degree. Nor did I take any creative writing courses or attend workshops. I am not skilled in the ins-and-outs of grammar and sentence structure. I seem to have a brain block when it comes to tenses, but I am striving to improve.

I am not an expert in English Lit. So with grade 12 business courses stuffed in my credentials, how can I ever think I could become a published author? A pipe dream? A step too far?

Let's toss self-pubbing aside and the snarky comments from a certain segment of the literary world that claim, 'any monkey with a pulse and an internet connection' can upload a book and become published. Yeah, we are not going there.

Instead, let's focus on the craft itself. How many times have you gone back and looked at something you wrote five years ago and cringed?
Don't. Take pride that your writing has improved and you can actually see the evidence. University and/or creative writing courses sure come in handy for the technical aspects of grammar, story structure and such, but if you can't actually 'tell' a story then all the spiffy and shiny grammar and punctuation in the world is not going to get you published.

SELF AGGRANDIZING ALERT: One thing I have going for me, I am a storyteller. I always had a vivid imagination and vivid dreams I could recall in detail. Still do. I was the twelve year old at Girl Guide camp standing before the campfire making up a horror story off the top of my head that kept the other girls riveted. My stories were always read out loud in English class right up into high school. Bragging? Sure. It shows I have a propensity for storytelling right from childhood. I used to write poetry and short stories through my teens.

But then I was married at twenty, moved halfway across the country so my hubs could take up a teaching position. Writing became lost, though I was still a voracious reader.

But not romance. Yes, I was one of those people who looked down my nose at them. What did I know about the genre? Nothing. And I had no right to pass judgement. But so many do, don't they?
Long story short, I came to romance through gaming, doing sim stories, and I picked up a second hand copy of Simply Love by Mary Balogh one day for no particular reason.

I was hooked. Good and proper.

Over a period of several months I wrote a time travel romance manuscript. Found a bunch of digital publishers on the internet and submitted it. It was accepted in 24 hours. Hell, that was easy.

No, it isn't. First off, the manuscript was a complete mess. Luckily, the publisher looked beyond and offered a contract on the story itself. J.K Rowling is not the most skilled of writers, but by God, the lady can spin a tale. I am not comparing myself with JK, (far from it) but remember its the story that grabs an acquisitions editor, not if you've eliminated all dangling participles. (though that's important in its own right) Always pass in as clean as manuscript as you can. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. And I am still learning.

I'm not a success story. I submitted to different publishers, ones I thought would further my writing. Like climbing a ladder. I learned as I went, with each new manuscript, with each new edit, good or bad (and I've had both). My writing became longer in length, with more complicated plots and characters. I'm still learning.

In four years I went from a small digital publisher to a New York publisher's digital line. (not the Big 5, but hey. Still a publisher with offices and everything!) Is that an achievement? To me, damn right it is.
I never expected it.
I had taken an early retirement, decided to try writing again after decades away from it. Living in a small town, there wasn't much else for me to do. Gaming began to bore me. So writing became a new hobby. In 2011, I submitted the manuscript with no expectations of acceptance. In fact, when I got the acceptance email, I thought it was a joke.

I've since found out that writing and publishing is no joke and it is not a hobby. I take it seriously, but on my terms. What comes next, I have no idea.

But if a middle-aged woman with grade twelve business courses under her arm can be taken seriously by an associate editor in a New York publishing office, then anything is possible.

Further education is great, but if you don't have it, it doesn't have to be a roadblock. If you yearn to write, DO IT. Being a storyteller is 3/4 of it. If you can spin a yarn and tell it well, you can learn the rest as you go. And that's what editors are for, because no one person can do it all. Hey, there's nothing wrong with on-the-job training.



  1. Well done, Karyn. And, yes, you are absolutely right about teaching yourself to write. And, by the way, you say you're not a success story? Really? Look at how far you've come, and at all the books you've written. Sounds pretty successful to me.

  2. Aww, thanks Arlene. I meant success in terms of sales, lol. As far as writing goals success, I am pleased. I've got further along than I could have hoped.


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