The Self-taught Writer
To begin, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Morgan Clasper, I'm soon to turn 19, and I was homeschooled/unschooled for the vast majority of my school years. I’ve lived in New Zealand for the past 10+ years (plus one year in Australia), and on top of that I’ve moved more times than I can count. (But that’s not because of the homeschooling!)
Over the last four years or so I’ve been dabbling quite extensively in multiple different areas of what some might call “creative expression”.
For example, I’ve just finished writing a massive 114k word fantasy novel, and that’s right on the back of two years composing orchestral music. Before that I ran a blog for one and a half years about religion, science, and philosophy.
My music has been used in countless YouTube videos, including gaming content (one of which with 100k views), a cooking video (50k views from a channel with 300k subscribers), several compilations, and even a motivational MMA video with 200k views. My music has also been used in a promotional video for the AGSE, a European scouting organization.
While blogging, I published over 250 posts and I was bringing in 100 visitors a month purely from search results.
All of this was done without any formal training or tutoring.
The reason I’m telling you all this (it’s not to brag, honest!) is because, as I said a second ago, I’m almost completely self-taught. All of my writing, composing, and everything else I do I learnt directly from either my own research or experimentation. There was no tutoring, and certainly no schools involved.
Furthermore, I would say that had I not been homeschooled, I would be in a very different place than I am now.
To begin, a bit of background. I’ll be focusing on writing here, because it’s the area I have the most experience in.
My earliest forms of English studies came in the form of workbooks which were designed to cover all the stuff taught in each school year. I never got very far with them. And, ironically, I absolutely detested every single one of the creative writing assignments.
I could never just make up a story on the spot, especially one with pre-assigned characters or events which I couldn’t care less about. And as for the grammar and stuff – I regret to admit that I still don’t really know the difference between an adverb and a conjunction.
Then came along Khan Academy. It’s a brilliant free online website which I absolutely recommend, there’s only one slight thing – they don’t (at least when I was there) have anything on English.
And so, for the vast majority of my school years, I made little progress in that area.
A few years later I enrolled in Te Kura in order to get some “official” qualifications. Of course, one of the required topics is English, and one of the assignments was for creative writing. I submitted an opening chapter to a possible book, and guess what?
It passed with excellence. The highest grade.
So I went from absolutely no formal education in English to passing with flying colours.
So how did it happen?
Almost everything that I know about writing comes from reading other people’s books and picking up on what they do. Most of this is subconscious – just getting a “feel” for how fiction is written and structured, and the likes. It helps that I’ve been messing around in the written word since I was eleven, but that was only ever a hobby which I never took seriously. All my knowledge comes from picking up on the tricks and techniques used by the authors of the books I read. (as in, past tense.)
How do chapters usually end? (suspense) How are character dialogues usually shown? (who says what, what order does the name usually appear in relation to the speech, etc.) How are environments and different scenes usually described? How does the writer communicate a sense of urgency or fear? What makes a good plot twist?
It’s in this way that I picked up on a lot of the things I take for granted now.
And as for grammar, you can find everything you need to know by reading through the Chicago (or Oxford) manual of style. All the technical rules required to construct sentences that people can actually understand are laid out right there.
If you practice and take notes of what works, you can learn to write.
This approach has even worked for publishing. Everything I needed to know about turning my manuscript into a fully fleshed out and published book was just a few clicks away.
- Typesetting and formatting, like what size and type of font to use, the sizes of margins and indents, page size, pagination, sections, hyphenation, and tables of contents in word, etc.
- Branding, like what makes a good cover or a good blurb.
- ISBN numbers and taking the leap from formatted document to registered book.
- Uploading and distributing eBooks using online stores.
What I hope to demonstrate with all this is that you don’t need to rely on any schools or institutions to teach you how to write – or do anything creative, really. It is absolutely possible to learn everything you need to either directly from the internet, or indirectly from observing other people.
I believe I’m living proof of that.
furthermore, it is perhaps more beneficial to have an extensive portfolio over a fancy piece of paper. Who would you hire to compose a track for a film, or to write a novel? Someone with a piece of paper saying they can do it, or someone with real examples to show for themselves? What’s more important? What gives you greater confidence in someone’s abilities?
I would also say that homeschooling/unschooling has been massively beneficial for me. Without a strict and rigid system of education I was free to explore my interests and do work that was relevant to me. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t homeschooled.
As I said before, my writing began when I was eleven. It was largely inspired by a couple of video games – namely Paraworld, an old RTS game. And when I started composing it was a spur-of-the-moment thing using an old piano I had at the time. All of this I just started because I felt like it, and being tied down by a school curriculum would have hindered me greatly.
Of course, all of this means nothing without any examples. I’ve got an excerpt here from my free teen/young adult fantasy novella, Assassin’s Apprentice: The Cursed One.
What began as a mist turned into a drizzle. A drizzle climbed to a shower. A shower climbed to a downpour. And in minutes a downpour had turned into a torrent.
Marc sat back and looked through the fire as the water poured down outside. In a frighteningly short time the rain had turned from nothing to a mighty cascade as the water pounded the rocks and assaulted the trees.
The wind outside screamed through the valley, whipping around and around like a mad beast trapped in a prison of stone. Flashes of white light lit up the sky again and again, cracking and clapping, erupting from the behemoth above to smite the mountaintops in their fury. The sun was long gone by now.
It had been a couple of hours, at least. Marc had managed to keep the fire going, burning with an orange light and defying the smothering darkness outside. But he couldn’t ever get to sleep. The hunger and the thirst kept him up. So did the painfully hard rock underneath him. He had to be content just staring into the fire as it danced and weaved, steadily consuming what limited fuel he had with him.
He’d always been intrigued by storms. Enthralled, even. The pure strength they had. The ability to tear down cliffs and rip trees from the ground. But he didn’t much care for this storm. It was by far the strongest he’d ever seen.
It was actually quite terrifying.
But it would be over tomorrow, he thought. Or rather, he hoped. If it stayed for days, like the storms in the heart of the bitterest winters, he’d be done for. He couldn’t go out and forage in this weather, and the rocks would be too wet and slippery to climb.
He tried to push the thoughts out of his mind, but with every flash of lightning, every roar of thunder, he was drawn back to it. It wasn’t as if he had anything else to think about. He couldn’t bring himself to face what he’d seen back at Blackridge, he couldn’t bear the crushing reality of what had happened. He could only suppress it. Bury it away and never think about it again.
At least until he himself was safe.
He idly tossed another branch onto the fire. The pile wouldn’t last all night, not by a long shot, but it would burn for at least a few hours more. After that he would just have the lightning to watch.
A hint of movement up on the cave ceiling caught his attention. It was a large black spider, with twig-like arms splaying out and a mottled white circular body. It slowly crawled along the stone, prodding and probing carefully before each step.
Marc smiled. At least he had company.
Outside, the storm bellowed. It sounded odd, incredibly odd. That wasn’t a rumble or a roar. It was a bellow. Storms don’t bellow.
He listened closely, looking out into the inky blackness and up at the rolling sky. It sounded again. There was no lightning. A chill ran down his back as the eerie sound invaded the cave and threw itself against his eardrums. It was a mournful noise, almost. Laced with anger and madness.
Storms definitely don’t make that noise.
Marc shuffled back, away from the entrance but also away from the fire. He felt exposed, exposed and trapped. Every slight movement outside caught his attention. The drip of rain falling from the mouth of the cave. The split-second lights which illuminated the heaving clouds above. The branches of the trees as they swayed and flailed violently.
The sound came again. It was impossible to tell how far away it was, but it was close. Closer than he would have liked. His mind flew back to his escape from Blackridge. It was that same noise then – the sound of nightmares.
And this was no nightmare.
The storm had picked up even more. The wind was louder, the rain was heavier. Lighting poured from the sky and leapt through the clouds. Branches cracked and creaked as they were flung about by invisible hands. All the while Marc was frozen.
The minutes ticked by agonizingly slowly. The only sound he could hear was the crackling of the fire. The storm continued to rage on outside, but it had been dulled. Drowned out, even. No more bellows echoed through the hills. No more unnatural wails.
But he steadily became aware of a shape. A silhouette, just darker than the surrounding environment. It stood on the ledge, just out of the fire’s flickering reach.
The sound of breathing met Marc’s ears. Strained, deep breathing. It was almost too faint to hear, and the shape almost too slight to see, but it was there.
His breath caught in his throat. A bolt of lightning flew downwards towards the valley, striking a tree and exploding in a shaft of red light. It illuminated the shape for a split second. It was enough.
You can get this novella for free if you want – all you have to do is tell me where to send it.
If you have any questions, simply use the contact page on this website:
or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org