You want to be a writer. That’s cool. But can you write? Honestly, you may not be able to answer that question accurately. Chances are, if you’ve never had someone seriously critique your work, your writing is somewhere between terrible and nowhere near as good as you think. It’s a tough truth. Deal with it, or become a (insert easy profession of your choice here).
You’re in luck, though. While it is very difficult to become a good writer, I think it is possible for most to do, if the effort and will are there, of course. Think about it this way: some of us just weren’t made to be in the NBA. No matter how much we try, there’s a genetic prerequisite to being a baller. Look at Lebron James. He just scored 51 points last night against the Magic. That guy was born to dribble a ball, or, at least, do something that requires the same skillsets.
There are certain professions that are just out of our reach, and I don’t think writing is one of them. Four feet tall? Who cares! Missing both arms? Surmountable. Failed out of high school? No degree needed. While, granted, writing does have its Lebrons, won’t it be much more satisfying to know you made yourself great, and not some predetermined genetic design?
If you feel that you truly suck as a writer, and are still reading this, then maybe I’ve successfully gotten you to accept my bullshit. That’s good! Because IF it is possible for you to become great, you’ll get nowhere thinking it’s not. And if it’s not possible…well, just keep trying until you die and you’ll never really know. And look at the bright side. No one will think you a fool for trying to perfect your writing like they would a 5’6 40-year-old man with bad feet trying to make it in to the NBA.
So, what are some ways to become a better writer? What I’m about to say isn’t new, and it’s not meant to be. Just like trying to get in to med school, there are no tricks, or shortcuts. Just good ‘ole hardwork.
1) Do your homework. Sure, you might want to be the next Stephenie Meyers (God forbid) or Stephen King, and it could seem pointless to read the classics because, frankly, who writes like that anymore? While there is great value in reading in your current genre of choice and reading widely, you need a good base. Basically, you need to have read some (if not all) of ‘the greatest writing of all time.’ Sure, that’s just a big ‘ole opinion, but there are certain works and genres that most/all serious writers/critics/what-have-you agree to be the best of the best. Read them. Take what you can from them. Chances are, some of these authors and novels influenced your favorite authors and novels. So, but out the middle man…for a little while, at least. Oh, and, needless to say, just read a shitload in general.
2) Brush up on your grammar/vocabulary skills. One of the things an editor opened my eyes to was that my grammar sucked! Maybe not sucked, but it sure felt like it from the amount of red marks on my paper. Reading frequently and widely should also help you develop a grasp of what’s acceptable and what’s not, but doing a little homework can’t hurt. Here are some sites suggested to me:
Also, get a dictionary/thesaurus! When editing, it will help you ensure that you used the right word, or, if needbe, help you find the right word to use.
3) Write everyday. This is the golden rule, really. Practice makes perfect. But, even more, perfect practice makes perfect. And this is to say that you shouldn’t just write and write and write day after day without actively making sure that you’re improving and implementing whatever you’ve learned. Because then you’d just be getting better at churning out the same shitty work, right? Right. This is why #1 and #2 are so important, so that you can have something to relate to as you grow and progress.
4) Come out of your bubble. If you never let others read your work, you will fail! Fail miserably. Unless, of course, you’re completely writing for your own enjoyment and never planned for another soul to read your stuff anyway. Then, by all means, ignore this whole list, because if you’re happy with your writing, then that’s all that matters. Otherwise, get some kind of feedback, someway, somehow. Join a writing group and see what other beginners have to say about your work. Get professional editing to see how your stuff would be received if you were to seek publication. And then you can’t ignore the good old-fashioned reader. He might not know a gerund from a simile, but he knows when something holds his attention or not. And no amount of technical grace alone can achieve engagement.
5) Look at the world through a writer’s lens. A lot less complicated/flowery than it sounds. Simply: encapsulate your life experiences, cherish them, and ask yourself how they can lend themselves to your writing. I’m sure someone who has lived in a glass box his whole life would not be a particularly good story teller. At the same time if you let your experiences pass you by without taking note of what you’ve learned/gained from them, then you might as well be in a box, or something along those lines.
6) Develop a drinking habit.
7) Don’t listen to #6. I was just joking!
Please add your own tricks of the trade, as I am sure I’m missing something.