In my last year of high school, I was faced with a monumental decision: what was I going to take in university? Should I be a veterinarian, like I'd planned since I was about five years old? Or should I pursue my love of reading and writing?

Much to my parents' dismay, I chose the latter. Oh, it's not that they thought taking a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature was necessarily a bad idea. It's just that I'd planned for my whole life to be a vet and they worried I was giving up that dream for all the wrong reasons. The fact was, though, that I wasn't five years old anymore. I'd done a co-op term at a veterinarian's office in high school and decided that it just wasn't for me. And, I'll be honest, another ten years of schooling was not something I wanted to sign up for.

So off to university I went. And, as much as I hated it (I'm not a fan of lecture-style learning), over the course of my three-year program, I learned a lot. How to think critically when looking at a short story or a novel. How authors of different time periods have shaped our literature through history. How foreign some of the "English" literature from early periods really is.

Do you need to have a B.A. in English Lit to be a writer? No, not by any means. If you're a high school student thinking about making writing a career, it's a good idea to consider an English Lit degree, or some other kind of communications program, like Journalism. But if you're established in another career and don't like the idea of going back to school, you don't have to. Your classroom is all around you.

I've already expounded on the virtues of reading as a learning tool here and here. Read books on writing. Read books on non-fiction topics that interest you. Most importantly, read books in the genre you want to write in, but read them like a writer. Pay attention to the techniques the authors use, the punctuation, how the book is formatted, and so on.

What's next? If you've never set a pen to paper for creative writing in your life, take a course that introduces you to the basics. Your community college probably offers part-time courses, or there's a ton of online courses you can take, through Writer's Digest, for example. (Before you ask, no, I haven't taken any of their online courses, so I can't attest to their quality. But they are a recognized name in the industry, so take that as you will.)

Another step is to join a writer's association. For example, I'm a member of Romance Writers of America. Members often get access to online courses or other resources not available to the public. To be a member of the RWA, you only need to be pursuing a career as a romance author, you don't need to be published; however, for other organizations, like Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you do need to be published. Check the member requirements.

Finally, after you've taken all these steps and have written a few things, you can seek out a critique group. Online or off, it doesn't really matter. Why do I say this is the last step? Because you need to put the work in before you can expect other people to help you. It will be obvious when you ask for critiques that you're new, and that's okay. But it will also be obvious to the more experienced writers in the group that you've been seriously working at your writing before coming to them. And that always sets the stage for a meaningful, useful relationship.


TOPAZ status: Working on Chapter 31. Only two to three more chapters to go, and they're taking longer than the previous ten!