A Book About Writing VS An Online Course. Which Teaches Best?

By accident, I’ve started to read On Writing by Stephen King at the same time I’ve started to watch a new MasterClass about fiction writing by N.K. Jemisin, but then as I was progressing I found it interesting to see which one help me more with my writing. Definitely two different approaches to writing, not only as a matter of format but also as a matter of techniques.

King’s book is not your usual writing manual, but a combination of memoir with a how-to writing book. I’ve loved that he was personal and sincere, sharing exactly how he fell in love with writing, what he learned from others and what is his process. He is direct and short, and provides examples of a first draft from his books and then how he actually edited everything, which I think is really valuable. For him writing is a state that you get into by practicing a lot, and the words usually come easier and easier without too much planning as you write more and more. He is not a fan of plotting, but rather he mitigates for going with the flow and then revising and seeing what is the actual plot. He refers to the toolbox that you need to become a writer and compares the writer’s toolbox with his uncle’s actual toolbox, a heavy thing with three levels, that was in the family for a long time. However, King advises that for a writer there are at least 4 levels in his toolbox (you can add up to these as well), and they are:

  • Vocabulary + Grammar — this doesn’t mean you need t put in a sentence all the fancy words you know, but use the right words for your sentence in the correct way.
  • Elements of style — Such as don’t use too many adverbs or too much passive voice
  • Writing the story
  • Editing — The formula King learned from an editor is that your 2nd draft after the edits should be: 1st draft-10%

I resonate with King’s way of seeing the process of writing and it made me understand how important is to keep writing in any situation and to get your work out there.

The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin’s class claims to teach you how to develop your fantasy & science fiction writing craft.

Jemisin’s online class approaches writing from a more technical point of view. She talks about world-building which was really valuable, as I never thought before to create the world of the story before the actual story. In a way, she seems to be inclined to do the plot first, which in some situations, such as completely new fantasy worlds is necessary.

She gets into the specifics and explains how trying to draw your new world as a planet will help. You need a bit of geography knowledge to make it seem real, you need to reference what your readers know about how the world works in order for them to be able to grasp your new world. Meaning that if you have mountains, sea, winds your climate needs to be in accordance with those, they don’t have to reflect the reality exactly, but if your world is frozen, with high mountains, and only snow, you won’t have torrid summer days, only if something happens to cause that. You get the point. I think it’s fascinating to build your world from scratch, but I have to say that I still prefer to start with my story and characters (maybe because I am still a beginner, how knows).

She also points out the importance of diversity, stereotypes, and cultural appropriation. I liked that she touches on this, as even in fiction we need to be aware of how we portray certain cultures and why we do it, and not a lot of writing teachers touch on that (in my experience).

Overall, they both offered my valuable advice and there is that one advice we keep hearing that they both highlighted a lot:

Write a lot and read a lot, a lot meaning everyday.

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