Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Young Writers' Scene

Using School To Enhance Your Writing And Your Career

By Julia Pass

© 2002, Julia Pass

You're trying to write, but there's an annoying little voice that just won't leave you alone. It could be your conscience, telling you that you should do your homework. Or maybe you're trying to write in class and that annoying little voice is your teacher. Either way, you just can't seem to find enough time away from school to work on your blossoming writing career. Perhaps the problem is that you haven't been integrating school into your writing the way you should. There are many different ways you can do this, starting with figuring out what to do with those old papers you've kept for so long.

What to do with all those assignments you still have

There are many different things that you could do with those old school papers you never managed to throw away. Maybe you've still got that A-plus paper from last semester, or that paper on something you've always been interested in. Use them.

For those perfect (or nearly perfect) papers, very little is needed once you've found a market for them. Just do a quick edit of the paper, format it, and then send it off. A good grade in one place could equal publication in another.

For the papers that maybe aren't quite as good, a more detailed rewrite is in order. Make sure that you enjoy the topic before deciding to rewrite a school assignment for another market. There's really no point in rewriting a paper that you didn't do quite as well on if you don't love the topic.

Maybe not all your assignments are in formats that would be easy to submit. A lot of mine aren't, but that doesn't mean that the topics of at least some of my assignments don't intrigue me. For assignments that required research but no paper, it is very easy to just write an article for a specific market based on the research you did for school. This makes your job ten times easier because you don't need to worry about making time for research you've already done.

Some teachers allow you to pick the topic of your assignments. For cases like these, pick a topic that you not only enjoy but also think would be easy to find a market for. Once you've written the paper, follow the same steps that you would for other assignment categories.

School can give you more than just articles to submit. It can also teach you important things that can come in handy when you write or when you critique the writing of others. Some of the core subjects are especially good for this.

English

English is quite possibly the most important class a teenage author can take. It is the study of literature, the very thing that every teen writer hopes to create. Although spending too much time among the literary critics can be hazardous to your word counts, spending a little time is just fine.

One of the most important things that English class does is expose you to different writers and writing styles. I had thought that stream of consciousness had no bearing on my life, but after reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, I realized that stream of consciousness could be a valuable tool. The only shorts I'm willing to send out at this point are stream of consciousness. Had I not paid attention in English class, I would never have found this gem of a writing style.

English class and the books you study in it can also give you more specific examples of themes or symbols you may like to emulate in your own stories. For example, Invisible Man and William Golding's Lord of the Flies both use Freud's concept of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego as basic character types. When I was prewriting for my current novel, I found myself adding bits of these three essences to each of my characters as a way of defining them both in my mind and to the reader.

Let's not forget grammar. Most of us already know how to form coherent sentences, but what the heck is a dangling modifier? And what's so bad about saying “She ran quick” or “I did good on that test”? You get your point across, but the more intelligent readers will be quick to put your book down after a sentence like that, unless you've got a really good reason for it. And most reasons aren't all that good.

The Social Sciences

This conglomerate of subjects, which can include everything from archaeology to Russian history to economics, is also incredibly important. While English is like one big how-to book for writing styles and symbolism, the social sciences can make your worlds real.

Let's start with history. History shows you what has been done, what could have been done, and what can be done. Historical times and places are also great for coming up with story ideas, either historicals or alternate histories. Many fantasy worlds are also based on certain periods in history, mainly the medieval period. Taking good notes in class can make your job easier when it comes time to do more research for your stories.

For those who want to write in their own worlds without a mention of Earth, there are other classes that may be of more use. Many schools have psychology and anthropology courses that can help a writer think about the way humans live and think. Archaeology, which can be part of an anthropology course, is the study of how past societies lived.

Biology

Biology is a more specific subject than just “English” or “Social Sciences,” but it's a huge topic by itself without including the other sciences. Biology determines what you look like, how you move, and who you are.

With a working knowledge of basic biology, you can create creatures that aren't just copies of Earth animals. You can come up with unique ways to make them move and act.

Knowledge of anatomy can also help. Courses in anatomy aren't as common as courses in biology, but if you find one, you should definitely take it. Once you've created your creatures, you've got to have interesting ways to wound them in case they get in a fight. You can also use your knowledge of anatomy to hurt your human characters. 

These courses are hardly the only helpful ones you can take, but they're some of the more important ones. Although everything a writer knows can be story fodder, these courses can be huge helps for the writer just beginning to build a world.

Julia C. Pass is a junior moderator at HollyLisle.com. She currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is hard at work on her fantasy novels.