This isn’t a post about homonyms, it’s about the rite of passage we all must take in order to become better writers, to write right. Contrary to popular opinion, people aren’t born great writers. Anyone can become a talented and successful writer so long as they possess the following traits:
- The passion for reading and telling stories
- The creativity to come up with those stories
- The dedication, patience, and persistence to write, edit, and market those stories
- The willingness to read, practice, and learn the craft
- The humility to learn from your mistakes and accept criticism and feedback
If you are reading this, then you will likely agree that these last two traits are crucial to any writer who wants to improve. In the beginning, most writers are blinded by their own accomplishment, that act of putting so many words down on the page, that they fail to see their own deficiencies. OMG, they say, I am doing what all those authors in bookstores are doing, I am writing a novel. Once I finish, my book will be right up there with theirs. It is not their fault; they simply don’t realize how difficult it is to become a successful author, and their friends and family all insist it’s a work of art. They don’t know that they have just embarked on a life-long journey of self-improvement. Who knew that writing was considered an entire craft? How hard can it be? They’re just words, right?
If only it were that simple. Pretty soon these fledgling writers will leap from the cozy nest they were born in and try to soar to the starry heights of the literary skies. Unfortunately, many of them will plummet to the ground, their little wings incapable of bearing them up. Those that do rise will find that a cruel tempest lies between them and their goal. Once the reality sinks in, many writers will give up and lock their stories away where they can no longer embarrass them.
It takes a lot of courage to face your inadequacies as a writer and choose to stay in it for the long haul. And it won’t be easy. Today’s authors are encouraged to find their own unique voice and original story lines, yet produce writing that meets the standards of the industry. It is a narrow path to walk. If you stray too far from the norm, you will be criticized or ignored entirely, but if you adhere too firmly to the standards of the genre, you will be accused of chasing trends and your work will be viewed as derivative. Today’s author must stretch the limits of the genre’s boundary in order to find their niche.
The quickest way to learn the craft, is to do your research and seek writing advice. At one time or another, most writers will join writers’ groups or participate in online writing websites and forums, or follow blogs (cough…this one… cough). There they can absorb the hard-won wisdom of writers who have already been through the process. All writing advice is subjective, however, since it comes from an author with their own unique voice and target audience. What will work for one person may not work for another. The advice may still be useful, as it has already gone through the extensive process of trial and error. Learning what advice to accept and which to disregard is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a writer.
You can read all the advice in the world, but it won’t make you a better writer without practice. It takes time and effort to produce quality writing. Consequently, many writers consign their first novel to the bin, proclaiming it their ‘learning or practice novel.’ Like most rites of passage, this one is particularly discouraging and painful, but is often necessary in order for writers to improve their writing. In a recent newsletter, one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, admitted to having written ‘numerous books,’ many of which were ‘very weak,’ before he sold his first novel.
Someone once told me that writing is a practice in shoveling a mountain of ‘crap’ (she didn’t say crap), and that every time you write you decrease the height of the pile. Only when the pile is gone, will the writing be free of ‘crap’. However, there will always be writers who do plenty of writing but are incapable of facing their inadequacies, who won’t listen to advice, strive to improve, read books, or learn about the craft. They will continue to churn out undeveloped stories and poor writing, and accuse the world of not understanding them. These unfortunate writers, don’t see the mountain of ‘crap’ they are standing on, and instead produce more of it in order to look down on the world from an even greater and loftier height.
Have you ever recalled a memory, but rather than experiencing it through your own point of view, you look upon your actions as if from third person? I am no psychologist, but I like to think this happens because, subconsciously, you can no longer identify with your former self. Something in your values, your mentality, your self-image has changed. You should strive for this feeling with your writing. If you can look back on something you wrote 5 years ago and see no way to improve it, then you are not doing it right. Writing as a hobby or as a career, requires continuous learning. Read more about the craft, learn more about what your audience wants, read over your reviews or go in search of critiques. There are always ways to improve, and as writers, we should use every opportunity to produce quality and enjoyable writing for our readers.