Want to Be a Better Writer? Write.

Want to Be a Better Writer? Write.

Every-time someone asks how they can improve their writing, I see the same answers: Join a critique group, read “writing how-to” books, find a writing buddy, join an online writing community. The problem is that most of these are investments into social groups, and the people that I see most involved in social groups are the ones who spend the least amount of time actually honing their craft. I see so many writers involved in local communities that want an easy fix, a quick guide, for someone to tell them the answers, to eschew their own research, to find the “right” way to write. You won’t get that from anyone, and the work you produce under formula will be, well, formulaic. Nobody else can give you these answers you seek in such a way that you can understand them without you going through your own work to integrate and process it into your being.

I’ve received helpful critique before, but nothing that has so fundamentally shattered and reconfigured my writing to the point that I felt it altered the foundation of my sense of craft. And I have been to writing groups but mostly I wish I had stayed home and actually written that evening. There has been one person who has changed my writing, fundamentally altered it, but it didn’t have much to do with them actually -looking- at my writing (although they did, and were helpful), and more about how I processed and integrated the ways that they lived their life and saw the world.

I have read many “how-to” books, but they have no real context unless you ACTUALLY read the stuff that you yourself want to write. (And no, movies are not a replacement.) Nearly everyone I’ve heard talk about creative fiction MFAs talks about how they don’t learn much, but it “gives them discipline.” I can get my own damn discipline for a lot less cheap. I’m not a fresh-faced kid who’s never worked a day in her life and needs someone to help me knuckle down.

So how do you really improve your writing?

Read more, write more, go inside yourself more. The answers will come.

Read 100 fiction books for every “how-to” guide and you’ll begin to get an actual sense of how prose works and why it matters. There’s no quiz you can take to find your prose style. That comes after hundreds and hundreds of hours of trying to figure out exactly who the hell you are, what you want to say, and how you want to say it. That comes from becoming so comfortable with the page and the words that you’ve placed on it that you know how to navigate sentences like you’re flying upside down through an asteroid belt.

And most importantly, understand why you want to write. What books inspire you? What are you hoping to get out of it? What do you want to write, and what do you want to say? I started writing at a very young age, because reading inspired in me so much joy. It felt like pure magic. It was the joy that propelled me, and the joy that kept me going through the frustration. Find the books that you think capture the feelings and words that you want to express, or the closest you can find. Find the people saying the things that resonate with you, and ask yourself why. Read what you want to emulate, and also what you don’t, and use that as a guide to understand your surroundings enough to forge your own path.

Simply writing ‘Just because’ isn’t enough. Writing for fame, or for prestige, is also often not a great motivator. It won’t suffice to fuel you for the long hours you will have to work alone . The recognition I get for my work is nice, but the buzz of acknowledgment is fleeting and doesn’t make up for the solitude. But luckily, I don’t write for recognition. I write primarily for myself.

Easy, right?

Except, it’s not. The answer to lose weight is to take in less calories than you use – but the dieting business makes a ton of money off of supposed fast solutions like cleanses, diet teas, waist trainers, diet pills. You don’t actually need to spend money to lose weight. Simply move more, and eat less. But people are constantly looking for the magic bullet, the quick fix, because the reality in its simplicity can also be terrifying. You own all the power and capability to change. It is inside of your control.

So many people want to join a critique group and give them all the answers, but it doesn’t work like that. They can help you edit, tighten your words, point out characters that don’t make sense. But they can’t make you a great writer. They don’t know the composition of your soul – why you write, what you want to express, what will resonate with you and what will fall flat. They don’t know the things that you carry around inside you waiting to burst. They don’t know the topography of late nights and despair, what makes you sad, what brings you joy, what experiences have filled the canon that comprises your being.

The answers are all inside of you.

So think about staying home tonight. Reading a book. Writing another page. Only you can push yourself forward on the path to your own desires.

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