What is a recommended initial self-study route for becoming a professional writer in the fiction genre?This is for someone who already has two master's degrees in fields other than history,...

What is a recommended initial self-study route for becoming a professional writer in the fiction genre?

This is for someone who already has two master's degrees in fields other than history, english, philosophy or psychology.  My earlier degrees are in engineering, computer science, finance, marketing and decision sciences. Any gudance you can provide will be very much appreciated. Thank you.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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One recommendation for self-study to become a fiction writer has three parts to it:

  • Do much critical analysis of classical and other literature.
  • Write non-stop for 2 to 3 years.
  • Recognize what to write is as important as how to write.

Critical literary analysis--especially with the detailed examination non-American students focus on--will teach you the tools of fiction writing in context with how these tools are used well, brilliantly, or poorly. Critical analysis of classical literature will give you a broad exposure to these tools and a depth of understanding of aesthetic theory. [Reading through the eNotes Literature Topics is a good way to be introduced to critical analysis.] A few who must not be neglected are:

  • Aristotle
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Edmund Spenser
  • Jane Austen
  • Anton Chekhov

Critical analysis of contemporary literature, like Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, will show you how literary tools are employed in today's well-written literature. Critical analysis of cultural literature, from American cultural novels like The Outsiders to Haitian cultural novels like The Farming of Bones, will expose you to current issues and contemporary critical discussions. Critical analysis of genre literature will familiarize you with the current trends in genre markets you might be interested in and help you avoid some of the others' mistakes. This analysis will give you the foundations for understanding fiction writing in its contemporary contexts and styles.

Writing non-stop for two to three years is critical to establish your voice, your facility with language, and to get you past the nervous preoccupations with "perfection" "right" "how" and "what" "good" etc. After about 3 years of working at something new, one gets past the "learning" phase and heads into the "applying" and "thinking for yourself" phases. Write for a public audience for a clear perspective on your professionalism. I'd advise not focusing on writing fiction but on writing anything. If all you do while learning fiction techniques is write fiction, you embed inadequacies and inability, then try to polish inadequacy and inability up. You want to learn adequacy and ability, then apply it, then polish that up.

These days, writing for the public is easy to do: start a professional blog, write for a contributor content site like YahooVoices or Examiner.com. Just be 100 percent sure to use your best writing style and best grammar, not colloquially casual writing: if you practice a high prestige style, you can always adopt a lower style when needed or wanted, but the ability to convert from an entrenched low prestige style to a high prestige style cannot be assumed after having focused on casual colloquial.

With the best seller lists dominated, as they've been in recent decades, by doctors, military officers, and lawyers turned fiction authors, it must be recognized that what to write in fiction is as important as how to write fiction, and how to write is very important. With the background you describe, you have the fodder of all manner of things to write. Note how Michael Crichton--regardless of stylistic weaknesses--composes compelling stories by combining things like archaeology with quantum physics and the ideas of time travel and tele-transportation. In your writing-practice years, write about the topics you are an expert in (maybe from press releases) that will provide the "what" to the stories you will develop along the lines of what you learn from critical literary analysis.

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