Topic #2: Boost your writing skills.
I’m not a great writer. But I’m getting better. My next novel will be better than the last one, and the one after that will be even better. How do I know this? Because the more time I spend doing something, the better I get at it, whether it’s writing, swimming, or hunting the elusive wild turkey (that’s a topic for another day). Writers often say the best advice is B.I.C. This stands for Butt In Chair. In other words, if you want to be a writer, sit down and write. Write every day, at a scheduled time if possible. William Faulkner said: “I write only when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” What he meant was that he forced himself to write every day, not just when he felt like it.
Those of you who are teachers might say this is misleading. Without a foundation of knowledge, B.I.C. could result in the same bad habits becoming entrenched. You’re right. So I recommend supplementing B.I.C. time with learning activities. Everyone learns differently, but here’s what I have done. First, I have a shelf full of how-to writing books. They were all helpful. You can also take creative writing classes. I took several online classes with Gotham Writers Workshop (http://www.writingclasses.com). But these classes led to what has worked best for me, which is interacting with other writers—having them read and critique my work. What made the classes successful was that the students exchanged critiques every week, one novel chapter at a time. Some of the students from my last class formed a writing group that worked together for years. You can easily form a writers group online or in person. The concept is simple: every week the group reads and provides feedback on the work of two group members. If you have six in your group, then each person must submit a new chapter (or short story) every three weeks to be critiqued. This provides structure and motivation to keep writing. I would trade all my writing books for one year of interaction with a small group of like-minded writers. And you learn just as much from providing feedback as you do from receiving feedback.
Bottom line: Write every day, whether you feel inspired or not. Have others critique your writing. And remember, write what you love to read.