There are many purposes for writing, a myriad of audiences, and an entire pocketful of definitions of success. But I'm going out on a limb here and guessing that the majority of you who actively engage in this blog (or lurk in the background) either 1) are writing something you want to see published in the nearby future or 2) wish you were writing something that could be published.
I say this as a caveat, of course. I'm staving off those who feel a laundry list rotated 30 degrees mango is the pinnacle of life's work. (And I do gently suggest that if you're writing the same novel these past 23 years, maybe it's time to move on.)
Read: That being said, I want to explore the tools of the writing trade. We all know that we should read what we want to write. It makes no sense to dismiss the foundational authors in the field nor the up and coming competition. In fact, the more we read, the more we know, the more we can add to the conversation, push the envelope, and strengthen the genre.
Research: And to counter the argument (that I've made myself in times past) that if I read it I may subconsciously steal it -- and thus I shouldn't read at all...Pashaw! I must tell you that I have crafted the most complex and delightful plots all by myself, winked at image in mirror because they were so witty and engaging, only to find that such plot (or character) exists full-fledged and very published some twenty years previous. It's my job to know my canon. And it's a bloody waste of time if I don't.
Beyond reading and research, what can the writer do? MFAs and writing workshops are expensive options but certainly doable, if one has the inclination. Conferences build a wider but more shallow knowledge base in a shorter amount of time, but they too tend to be rather spendy.
Three Tools of the Trade that I use:
1. Trade Magazines: I subscribe to Writer's Digest. I find it chock full of surface bits, nothing really deep, but it keeps me in the game and aware of what's going on out there. I also am tentatively subscribed to Realms of Fantasy (I say tentatively because they sent my check back, saying they were ceasing publication back in April. The latest news, however, is that they've been bought out by Tir Na Nog Press and won't close). These two magazines cover the two areas I'm interested in: publication and fantasy.
2. Podcasts: Like any native of the 21st century, I find I must multi-task or go crazy. Although I've cut my commute down from two hours a day to twenty minutes, I still have plenty of time to engage the internal while the external is waiting in line at the post office or sweating at the gym. So I listen to podcosts. My two favorite are from Odyssey, the Fantasy Writing Workshop, and Writing Excuses. Both aim their podcast length at about 15 minutes.
3. Social Networking: I find inspiration, news, and encouragement via my social network. I'm not on every single day, but when I do jump on, I feel engaged and welcomed. That's what counts, right? Well, that and the fact that it is pretty amazing to find out what's going on in agent and editor minds across the land. So I blog here and over at Alex Moore. You can find me at Twitter and Facebook, though I'm just easing in to the latter. Do be-friend me there, since I'm just dipping my toes in! Oh wait. I don't know how to tell you where I'm at on Facebook. *le sigh*
I am looking for other tools, however, and hope that you'll toss them my way, if you have any that work for you. I'm especially looking for podcasts and trade magazines that you've found invaluable. Yes, my focus is science fiction and fantasy, but I'm open to anything that improves writing. After all, that's what we do!