It’s really too bad that we don’t have a Quality Control Department for the written word. And Amazon Reviews, sadly, aren’t enough.
Writing is cheap — anyone can type out a sentence — and because of this cheapness, many people may not think that it’s worth much. Anyone and their dog can publish a book, so the general public can easily accept shoddy workmanship. Perhaps because I can, with a click of button, download hundreds of free books, I may have lost my respect for the carefully crafted story.
Easy accessibility does not encourage the practice of good craftsmanship.
Craftsmanship is never helped when stupid phrases like “there are no rules to writing” get thrown around like last night’s empty pizza boxes. This tells new writers that discipline and skill and craftsmanship are not necessary to succeed. Show me a writer who quotes that repeatedly, and I’ll show you a lazy writer. Craftsmanship is also never helped when badly written tripe will have made it to a best seller list somewhere. Any motivation for new writers to be excellent goes the way of the dinosaur and the diagrammed sentence.
I’d like to suggest that those of you who want to be serious novelists, put away (at least for a while) all aspirations of being published immediately. Instead focus solely on your craft.
Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish
You need to grow in confidence. Your brain, your imagination and your fingers need to have obtained that muscle memory that comes with constant creative work. You will see that in some ways writing will be much easier and you will be confident in your work as you keep at it. Writing will always be hard at times, but through practice, you will have faith in yourself to keep going when the crafting of your novel is difficult.
You need to grow in the rules. Yes, there ARE rules, and if you’re using that as an excuse not to follow them, then you need to go back and practice them inside and out. Don’t even think about breaking them until you can generally master grammar, punctuation, and spelling. After you’ve conquered those big three, then move on the elements of good storytelling, like plot, characterization and structure. These are your tools and blueprint. Only a foolish writer neglects mastery of these. Do you want to look like an idiot, then forget the rules.
You need to train your mind to think like a writer. You need to think logically, looking for causes and effects. You need to be comfortable with language and communication. You need to feel at ease with words. You need to know how to organize thoughts. Writing begins in the mind and your mind needs practice to think like a writer.
You need to train your mind to think like a story teller (this is not the same thing). A story is more than the logical progression of parts. It is soulful, artistic and passionate. If you are to be a writer and a story teller, then you need to know all of the elements of story inside and out. You need to understand plots. You should be able to recognize the three act structure in the movie you watched last night on Netflix. How do you do this? You read books on writing and great works of literature. Show me a successful writer and I’ll show you someone who has at least one book that they’re in the middle of.
You need to train your mind to observe. You need to watch people. You need to be able to describe things. You need to take in details of a setting. Details matter in your stories and if you are trained to observe details and put them in your prose, your writing will be strengthened.
You need to read more. Did I mention that you need to read? Read! Have a balanced reading diet. That means read books from your genre, but also read the greats of the last century, read current best sellers and read non-fiction books on writing or subjects that will show up in your writing. You will never read too much. But if you read too little, your writing will show.
You need to write regularly. This may mean finding ten minutes here or there. It may mean having a specific daily word count. It may mean having someone hold you accountable. Whatever it means, you must do it! There isn’t a professional musician alive who hasn’t spent hours every day of their life practicing. There isn’t an artist in any museum or gallery who hasn’t gone through painstaking exercises. And don’t even get me started on world class athletes. If you want to succeed like the big names, you start by putting your butt in your chair and your hands on your keyboard daily or it is never, ever, ever going to happen.
You need to familiar yourself with greatness. Every week or so, pull out a book you read in high school The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter or Great Expectations and write out a few random paragraphs. See if you can continue in that voice or style. Look at the way that the sentences are structured. Pay attention to the noun and verb choice. You can learn from the greats if you take the time to pay attention. And then read them. Again.
You need to know specifically how to improve. Without question, a good community is vital for the success of any writer for many reasons. If you want to be better, ask your community for help and then brace yourself. You don’t have to agree with every suggestion they make, you do have to be teachable and humble. A good community will gently encourage you to be better. Take their advice. Rewrite your stuff. Take the time to learn from writers around you.
You may need to take a class. You may have local resources at adult educations centers, community colleges, local libraries. You can also find writing courses online. This link has 19 free online writing instruction opportunities. If you are serious about your writing, then invest in yourself and sign up for a class, in a class situation, you can everything I listed above and see your writing improve.
It takes almost no effort to write a functional story. It takes a little more effort to write a decent story. It takes even more effort, more time, more BST (blood, sweat & tears), more passion, more determination and more character to write an excellent story.
Love Your Art. Do it right.