Whether you’re a beginner or are simply honing your craft, we’re all seeking to get better. What, then, is the best, most efficient, way to improve?
First, here’s some advice that gets tossed around a lot that I find dubious:
• Read – That’s usually the first thing that people tell you to do if you want to become a better writer. I read. I read a lot, 8 books finished this month. I’m not sure, however, how much any of that reading is doing to improve my writing. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I simply don’t learn much about writing by reading fiction.
• Write – That’s the second piece of advice you’re going to get if you ask, “How do I become a better writer?” I wrote a quarter of a million words before I got serious about learning to write, and I’m not sure that the last sentence that I wrote was much better than the first.
• Start with Short Stories – While there is value in starting something that is easier to finish, if you want to write a novel, you’ll learn more by writing that first novel than by writing a hundred short stories. There are a lot of differences between the two forms.
I’m not saying that there’s no value in the above advice. It’s just that I didn’t find any of it particularly useful or efficient.
If I could go back to myself when I started my casual study of writing almost two decades ago, I’d tell myself to do the following:
Step 1 – Accept that, no matter how good I think my writing is, the first stuff that I produce is going to be crap not worthy of being read. By anyone. Learning to write is not an easy or quick process. Maybe some are born with an innate gift, but I wouldn’t count on you being one of them.
Step 2 – Read about writing. Find books and blogs that offer tips and advice. Don’t devote all your time to this or let it interfere with actual writing, but definitely make this a part of your life. Never stop reading about writing and trying to improve your craft. You never know where that tidbit will come from that takes your craft to the next level. (And I’m not just saying this because I both blog about writing and plan to write a book about it.)
Step 3 – Write. Whether a short story or a chapter of a novel, create a finished piece (again, think a whole chapter, not a whole novel).
Step 4 – Revise what you wrote. Make it the absolute best you can make it. Pour your heart, soul, and time into it.
Step 5- Once the piece is perfect, get feedback. I’ll post Monday on how to get feedback, but this step is key. Having someone who knows more than you tear to shreds a piece you thought was good is the fastest, best way to learn (once you get past the emotional devastation, anyway).
Step 6 – Go back to Step 2 and repeat until you’re getting mostly positive feedback from people whose opinions on writing you trust and respect.
Step 7 – Keep learning. Keep writing. Actively search for new knowledge. Seek out feedback and see what you can learn from that feedback.