What Makes a Writer Better?

Better writers stop reading posts like this…

Seriously, I can’t count how many posts, videos and books I’ve read on the craft of writing, the inspiration of writing, the writing of writing, the writings of writers who are doing more writing than you are because you’re reading a book on writing instead of actually doing it…

Think about that.

Now, I’m not saying reading books on the craft of writing is a bad thing. Actually, everybody should do that. Even though some don’t…but they REALLY need to(hint, hint).

            The craft itself is essential. You might think, ‘Hey I’m so artistic and creative I don’t need to learn the craft. I can just write as bad as I want because it’s ART and in ART I do what I want like capitalize ART whenever I WANT. Screw punctuation!’

            Truly I tell you, this is the quickest way to remain unpublished and most likely piss some people off in the process. Since I’m now at UNT, which has a fantastic Creative Writing program, and since I’ve met a few (only a few, mind you) writers whose egos are so large they threaten to create a sinkhole in the middle of Denton, I will give you both tips I’ve read and personal experiences on how we all can become a better writers.

(Note: I did not say tips on making a good writer great. We all know great writers: Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, pretty much every author of the classics you were forced to read in school, and so on. But I’m not at the point to judge who is and is not a ‘great’ writer. Besides, I don’t know if doing these things will make you a ‘great’ writer. ‘Great’ is subjective.)

What you SHOULD do:

  • Read a lot, write a lot. Bam. Straight from the mouth of the great Stephen King. Perhaps the sagest of his sagely advice. You want to write better? Read the good the bad and the ugly and learn from all three. Jamming more literature into your brain can only help you, unless you start copying the bad writers…

And then write. A lot. Every day if you can. I’m a little at odds with this part of Mr. King’s advice only because in his book, On Writing, he says you have to write every day, no exceptions. That’s fine and all if you’re a multi-million dollar author who writes for a living. Obviously, not all of us can do this until we’re also famous and writing is our only job. So I’ve revised his rule a bit: write when you can, BUT make a HUGE effort to try write every day.

You SHOULD…

  • Read books on the craft, and then stop reading books on the craft. I don’t mean stop completely, but there has to be a point, as my dear mother put it,

To stop reading books on the thing you’re doing and actually do it. But clean up your room first because I can’t even walk in there without nearly tripping and breaking my neck’.

I may have embellished that last part. But she’s right. As in sports, you’re not going to get any better at playing soccer by reading about playing soccer. Your muscles and mind won’t be any stronger if you only think about it.

Yoda

Do or do not, there is no try.

You SHOULD…

  • Listen to Criticism: This is perhaps the hardest for some people, and I often struggle with it too.

 You want to build your writing? Get it torn down first so you can build it better the next time. This is, without a doubt, the biggest roadblock for those with the egos at UNT.

And I’ll admit, getting critiqued sucks. What sicko wants to see their pride and joy ripped to pieces? There should be a side note, too, because this depends on who’s doing the criticism. If it’s somebody who knows what they’re talking about, great. If not…ignore them.

If you’re going to get better you have to go through the fire first. Find yourself a good group of writers or somebody you trust to give you honest criticism. Honest criticism is the most important part; it must be somebody who won’t fluff their analysis of your work. They won’t help you if they only say ‘oh, it’s fantastic!’ or ‘This is the greatest thing since (insert any work of Literary Merit here)’, most likely because one of both of those things are not true. I’ll have another post on Critique Groups later, but until then be satiated with this.

 

What you should NOT do:

  • Think that your first draft is the greatest literary work on planet earth. Sure, it has potential to be. But it’s not. Not yet. And it won’t get that way unless you start editing, revising, listening to criticism and learn from those who have screwed up before you. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good comes from first drafts, and you have to have them if your story is going anywhere, but it’s not nearly as good as it could be. No ands, ifs, buts about it.

 

I’m not a great writer. I’m a great rewriter.”

                                                                        —Paddy Chayefsky

 

Great writers DON’T…

  • …Have the ego the size of Mount Everest. Trust me, this isn’t helping anyone, yourself included. An ego acts as a barrier between like-minded people as well as anything and everything that could help you.

I don’t need to listen to this,’ egotistical writers scoff at the (screen, other person trying to help us, random stranger in the coffee shop), ‘I’m already a much better writer than any of (the people in your writing group, people at your school, writers in the world).

NEWS FLASH! YOU’RE NOT!

And even if you are (YOU’RE NOT!) there’s always something you can improve on. I mean, just think about it: how boring would it be to have mastered everything there is about the craft. Really freaking boring, that’s for sure. Tame that egotistical beast and let the critics come in. Learn from some, disregard others who do nothing but gripe and don’t help.

 Besides, nobody likes an egotistical celebrity, which is what you’re going to be once you get famous writing.

Great writers DON’T…

  • …Eat their cake before baking it, or count your chickens before they’ve hatched, or whatever other analogy you use to describe thinking or acting like you’re successful before you are. Of course we all see those writers in YouTube videos or writing conferences and all we see is the RESULT of all their hard work and none of their actual…hard work.

True, there are a very, very small amount who are famous and nobody really knows why, but almost all of them put in some serious late nights, missed paychecks, indecision and straight up blood, sweat and tears to get where they are.

So do you. Every person who wants to get published has to want it so, SO bad that they are willing to make that effort and do everything they can to get it done. That has to be you.

 

These are just a few things from both ends of the spectrum. There are plenty more but these I think are the most important. Put them into practice, or take them out if they’re bad.

Think there are some more indispensable tips I should put up here? Add them in the comments.

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