Welcome to my advice for the muse-ridden! If you're an aspiring writer, this may be the most valuable part of this website.
Full disclosure: Lenore and I both write, and teach writing at the university level. She has an MFA and I have slightly more years in the business. Individually or together, we've taught or presented at Florida State University, the Cape May Institute, The Naval Academy, George Mason University, Eckerd College, Florida Community College, Old Dominion University, University of Pittsburgh, The New College, and many other venues. If you'd like to invite us to speak at your conference, college, writers' group, library, or festival, please see the Contact Information page.
Over the years, I've built a collection of some of my most popular pieces/talks, written for various venues, on the topics writers seem to want the most advice on. (Sort of an FAQ for writers.) These files range from 3000-9000 words, and are text only. They're copyrighted and are intended for your personal reading only, not for republication or distribution in any form. I've heard back that they were helpful from quite a few visitors since this site first went up, and I hope they work for you. If you'd like a copy, send me a self-addressed, stamped 9x12 envelope, and I will print out the piece and mail it to you. Here are the titles:
Something for Nothing : Three Mistakes, 3 Misconceptions, and 2 Pieces of Advice Beginning Writers Need to Hear
From Inside to Outside , Outside to Inside: Character Development in Fiction
Planning and Writing the Action Adventure Novel
The Second Eye of Woden: An Approach to Ethics through Fiction
In the Wake of Melville and Conrad: Writing the Modern Sea Novel
The Enemy is Us: Ecology, Science, Heroes, and Villains in a Post-Cold-War World
Where Do Ideas Come From? Opening the Wellsprings of Creativity
Agents: A Few Remarks to Those Who Seek One
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Book Marketers: How to Sell Your Manuscript to Publishers in the 21st Century
Bring your Hero Back for More: Designing Sequels and Series Novels
I'll add more presentations as time goes on.
Though writing is a lonely art, it's not good to wall yourself off. You need to hear how others react to your work. To be honest, the best and fastest way to learn to write (and to make the contacts that are so necessary, too) is to attend an accredited creative writing program. This can be helpful even to those who aren't necessarily in the market for a teaching or graduate degree.
Lenore and I teach at Wilkes University, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The MA in Creative Writing there is a 21/24-credit, 18-month low-residency program taught in three one-week residencies, in January and June, and on the Web between the residencies. Other noted writers, screenwriters, and poets teaching in the program are Nina Solomon, Richard Uhlig, Ken Vose, Michael Mailer, Robert May, Juanita Rockwell, Jean Klein, Robert Arthur, Jan Quackenbush, Robert Mooney, Kaylie Jones, Jeff Talarigo, Mike Lennon, Nancy McKinley, Phil Brady, Christine Gelineau, Neil Shepard, Gregory Fletcher, Rashidah Ismaili, Laura Jean Cannady, and many more. Our Director is Dr. Bonnie Culver. Students meet with their teachers and complete their plans during the residencies, then do their area reading, writing projects, and finally their capstone (thesis) project, usually a novel or short story collection, during the semester.
Finally, our outside readers for those thesis projects are not academics, but practicing editors and agents from New York. This well-planned, rigorous program not only trains students to write, but also to plan, organize, refine, and market their work. Which not all programs seem to do, in our experience! For more information about it, check out Wilkes Creative Writing.
There are many other good CW programs, though, and if you're really serious about writing as a career, or plan to teach it, you really should seriously consider an MA or an MFA in the field.
If you decide against a formal degree program, however, I recommend local writers' workshops. Also, go to as many writers' conferences as you can conveniently make. They help educate you in the craft. They give you contacts you'll yearn for come marketing time. And they stoke that fire in the belly we all need. If it's close enough to you, we also can recommend the Ossabaw Island Writer's Retreat, where we also teach from time to time.
Whatever you decide to do, Good luck! Writing has been good to me. May it treat you just as well!