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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Where I Learned to Write

Originally published on my website on 10/8/10 (www.lisalregan.com)


During my agent search, which gratefully has come to an end (Yay!), I found an agent’s website where they asked querying writers to include in their query “where you learned to write”. As a fiction writer this is pretty interesting to me. Where did I learn to write? The best answer I can come up with is: everywhere.

My father has long had this philosophy about education that goes something like this: "Wherever you go, the education is there. It's up to you to get it." He meant that whether you go to a swanky private school or your neighborhood public school, education is going to be offered but that it's not necessarily up to the school or the teachers to make sure you are absorbing everything they have to offer or to make sure you're getting the most out of what's there--it's up to YOU to make sure you're absorbing it. It's up to YOU to make sure that you are getting the most out of what's offered. When I got to college I really saw this at work because I was a diligent student and so my experience during a semester at Community College of Philadelphia was equally as rewarding as it was during the semester I spent at Bucknell University. I'm not saying some schools aren't better than others and I'm sure that's not what my dad was getting at either. The point he was trying to make was that the quality and quantity of your education depends largely on you and how much you want it.

I never took a writing class but I figured out how to write. Like my dad said, the tools were out there--it was up to me to find them and study them. I learned a few things in school--I had English classes just like everyone else but when I was in high school and really discovered my love of writing it was up to me to hone and develop my skills. It was up to me to find out more about writing well. I approached a couple of teachers over the years, mostly at the insistence of my parents. I had written a few short stories and my folks thought that the teachers at school could help me somehow. But the teachers in high school could not be less interested. I got blown off quite a bit. My dad's words came back to me. It's out there. It's up to you to get it. So I read books about writing. I read the kinds of books that I wanted to write and tried to figure out what made them so good. I subscribed to Writer's Digest.

During high school I lived with my mother and stepfather while school was in session. All of my parents were great champions of me pursuing my writing. In my sophomore year I had written a terrible young adult novel and I was really in the throes of writing crappy young adult novels. My stepfather was away a great deal of that year for work. He usually came home on the weekends but for about 9 months he was in North Carolina on a job site. For my birthday that year, he made a special trip home, driving the 9 hours through the middle of the night so that he could surprise me the morning of my birthday with my gift--an entire SET of books on writing put out by Writer's Digest. There were about 8 of them and he had bought every single one of them. It took me awhile but I read them all.

In college I learned a lot more about writing and I did learn it from my teachers: Dr. Elaine Atkins, Bill Baker, Dr. Glyne Griffith, Dr. Julie Vandivere, Dr. Tina Entzminger, Dr. Ervene Gulley, Dr. Stephen Whitworth and the professor who taught me the most about writing: Dr. Danny Robinson.

Of course now I'm not writing great literary works--I'm writing novels and I'm writing them for fun. I'm not trying to be the next Nathaniel Hawthorne or the next Ralph Ellison. I'm just telling stories. But I learned to tell stories from a number of places and people. Whenever I read a book I am learning something about writing. I like to take my time when I read a book (which is not always easy if the book is a real page-turner) because I like to watch what the author is doing in the book so that I might learn something new about the craft. I hope I never stop learning. I hope all the things I learn will make me a better writer.

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