When I first started writing, I puked unfiltered imagination onto the page. I would read through my words and marvel at my own creative genius. I sent stories to publishers, and surprisingly, the originality of the work garnered me quite a few personal rejections. “This one was close, but we’ve decided to pass.” Inevitably, rejections piled up due to my non-existent understanding of story structure and terrible, terrible prose.
I figured if I was going to make it as a writer, I would need to learn how to effectively tell the stories I wanted to tell. I read everything I could on writing. I studied grammar and syntax, plot points and story structure. I even began outlining. I built stories like a contractor builds a house, one brick at a time. Unfortunately, my well-written, solid stories were about as interesting as a bucket of white paint.
I had lost my imagination puke.
And this is where the resentment kicked in. I read published stories and mumbled under my breath about passive voice or inciting incidents not landing at precisely the 25% mark. Why was this drivel being published while my “well-written work” was not? I hated successful writers whose stories were published based what they wrote rather than how well they wrote it. That’s right. Fuck you, J.K. Rowling.
But as much as I wanted to hate Harry Potter for its adverbs, I found myself swept away by its Nimbus 2000’s. As much as I want there to be a secret list of ingredients that created the perfect story, deep down, I knew no such list could exist (not that this prevented me from single-handedly supporting the “How to Write” genre for the last ten years). Too much structure crushed my creativity and created cardboard cutout plots and my stories became boring to even the most rigid conformists.
As I developed as a writer, however, I found that like with most things, there needs to be a balance. I don’t pretend I’ve figured it all out. I’m still learning new things every day about writing, but I’ve found a modicum of moderation. Sometimes I still drink the whole bottle of whiskey, but at least I now know I shouldn’t.
<h2>Top Two Things That Will Make You a Better Writer:</h2>
So, I’m going to give you the most ubiquitous writing advice possible… Read a lot and write a lot.
“Really? No shit?”
Obviously, there is more to being a successful writer than reading and writing, otherwise anyone that loved books and scribbled a few words would hit the bestsellers lists. These two things <em>will</em> improve your writing more than anything else, but only if you practice correctly. It doesn’t do any good to practice the backstroke all day if you don’t know that you shouldn’t splay your fingers and flop around in the pool.
Yes, read as much as possible, but ask yourself questions while you’re doing it. What do you enjoy about what you’re reading? What do you hate? Why? How is the writer delivering exposition? Does it feel natural or bog the story down? How could it be done better? How is this writer revealing character? What makes this story engaging? Why? Why? Why? How? How? How? And on and on with everything you read.
Write all the time, but when you’re doing it, forget all about the craft garbage you’ve crammed into your head. Find a story that you’d love to read, but hasn’t been written yet, and splatter it all over the page in whatever random forms your imagination takes. Let it sit for a few days or weeks or however long it takes you to forget what you wrote (some of us forget more effectively than others). Then when you are rewriting or editing, ask yourself all the questions you asked while you were reading the other peoples work. Only this time, when you ask yourself, “How could this be done better?” Do it.
And there you have it, my first post on becoming a better writer. I’m not even close to mastering all of this crap, but I’d like to think I’m heading in the right direction.
Questions or comments? I’d love to read your thoughts.