I’m going to say this as clearly as possible. The best way to “learn” to write is to just do it. You know, like the Nike slogan? Well, they have a really good point. Who can dunk a basketball unless they are out there, on the court, running and jumping around? Not the guy in the stands, that’s for sure!
We can think about doing things, we can plan to do things, we can dream of doing things – but until we begin, nothing at all is going to get done. It’s no different with writing.
As an editor, I work with a lot of “young” writers which is my term for inexperienced and often untrained writers. Has nothing to do with their physical age. Many of them come to me fired up, passionate and so totally in love with their projects that all those qualities are reflected in their writing as surely as my reflection is in the mirror over the bathroom sink.
Do they often need stronger grammar and punctuation knowledge? Sure. Can they usually benefit from stronger sentence structure, better word choices and some trimming here and there? Every writer falls into that category. Is their scene and sequence mixed up now and then and their GMC unclear at times? You bet – and I see that with experienced writers, too.
The one thing I’m afraid of is that they’ll fall victim to the “ruleigator” – a beast that will kill their passion and power with writing “rules.” Should they attend every class on how to write powerfully? I hope they don’t – they already do a damned good job of that. Can they learn punctuation and spelling, some basic grammar? Sure, those are good things for non-writers to know, too.
So, having said all of this, are there some things that I think will help writers to learn the craft of writing? Maybe just a few…
Learn from the best: Not everyone who presents themselves as an expert is one. Not everyone who has written a book or even sold a book is one, either. But, there are some notable expert writers in the world who have done wonderfully in their careers and have taken the time to share some of the lessons and pitfalls with the rest of us. So doing research in books like Stephen King’s ON WRITING might be a good thing. And, the Strunk and White book, The Elements of Style is another that’s a great tool to have. While I don’t necessarily think more is better, one of my personal favorites, and one I think totally helped my writing improve, is Making a Good Script Great, by Linda Seger. Yes, it’s about screenwriting, but it helped my fiction writing tremendously. So, if you’re going to READ about the craft of writing, read the stuff written by the people making good money at writing. And remember – the better you know the “rules” – the further you can bend them to make your work shine!
Be an avid reader: I hope you are just about as avid a reader as you are passionate about your writing. Read the genre you love and note what makes each novel really work for you. But don’t stop there – be willing to read outside your genre and notice what things draw you in. Pay attention to characterization, dialog, suspense building, world building, whatever. My mentors, among them editor and writer Anne Walradt, stressed this a lot when I was starting out. It took me a while to understand how I could read and observe simultaneously, but now I do it quite effortlessly. Sometimes I’m reading now and think, “Jeesh, I would not have done that….”
Write daily: And now, back to where we began. You won’t ever be a writer unless you write. So write as often and as much as you can! My friend and sometime co-author Michael Ray King often uses a website named 750words.com to keep himself growing in his writing. He makes the commitment and the site helps him keep his word. Over time, he learned that he was writing more than the 750 words every day and in as little as 4 years, wrote more than 6 completed works while raising kids and growing his own business. Today he teaches people to write their rough draft in 30 days – and most DO IT!
You want to learn to write? JUST DO IT!
Keep reading and writing!! Nancy Q.