How to Become a Better Writer, Part I

To become a better writer. That’s what we all want. To paint worlds with the sweeping and deliberate brushstrokes of our pens, to render real people that will live on in audiences’ imaginations, to tell the truth but tell it slant. We aspire to lie and lie and be a writer, because we can tell the biggest lies to get to the greatest truths. And getting to tell our truth is our goal.

To this end, we are constantly seeking to improve. Why? Because we live through our work. We are judged by its success or failure, by the content of its pages, by the words and worlds we have built. Published or unpublished, whether from a critique partner, your mom, or the critic from the Times, the fear of what others will say has the power to stagnate you, put you in a crippling stasis and still your pen (and steal your joy).

You cannot allow this. No matter what someone says, no matter how much your dentist knows about writing, you cannot give anyone the power to control your self worth or crush your dream. So what if someone rips your work? Swallow the bile and take a moment or a week and evaluate. If what s/he said was true (and if many people are telling you the same thing, hearken), analyze what went wrong and then you’ll be less likely to make the same mistake again. If it’s just one voice that’s discordant, do the same, but take the comments with that proverbial grain of salt. He may be right. He may be wrong. Decide for yourself. If there’s any chance the motivation might be anything but helping you become a better writer, find a new person to read/critique for you. You need people who will give you hurtful feedback when necessary, but you don’t need destroyers who delight in inflicting pain. You need constructive people. Cultivate them.

Cultivating is hard. It may take some time to build a foundation, but it’s worth it. Good readers are invaluable. They can be your first line of defense against rejection, but they can’t always teach you what you need to know to improve. That lies with you. Craft study can mean the difference between publication and obscurity. Many good books and classes are out there to help tip the scales in your publishing favor. And we all know that practice makes perfect sense. The more you write, the better you understand your chosen medium, the better you can craft a story, the better to hear you with, my dear. And hearing is what it’s all about.

Your voice could be out there. In print. In perpetuity. Let it resonate. Let it ring. Let it rouse up the audience to a frenzy. Make your words count. Craft books and classes can’t teach you everything. They can get you closer, but much of what you need rests on your own shoulders. Get up from in front of the television and put pen to paper or fingers to keys. You must be active in your own destiny. Like I said last time, if you’re not the hero of your own life, something’s wrong. Go, be your own hero. Just lose the spandex.

Helpful resources:

Other writers. Make friends.

Amazon. Search amazon for the best books on craft. Some wonderful books are available. Look to K. M. Weiland, Robert McKee, James Scott Bell, Christopher Vogler, and others.

Web. Visit some of these places.

*I’ve never taken a class, but the following look promising:

What has helped you the most in your writer’s journey? Books, sites, people? We’d love to hear your take.

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5 Responses to How to Become a Better Writer, Part I

  1. Good post, and timely for me, not having made the top 50 in sytycw, like so many of my peers (590, I think). What has been the most helpful to me? Two things: honest critique from people who understand the craft, and encouragement from people who know me. The critique has come from entering contests that give feedback, and by purchasing a couple critiques through the Brenda Novak auction benefiting juvenile diabetes. The encouragement has come from friends and family I expected to be supportive, but also from people I thought would laugh at me or put me down. On the day I got my first “professional” critique, and was semi-devastated, my brother told me not to just roll over and accept what they said. He reminded me it was their opinion. He suggested I mull it over for awhile, then decide whether I agreed with their critiques or not, and if I did change my writing. If I didn’t, let it go. My brother has been less than supportive most of my life. His sage words meant so much to me.

    • Polly,
      I’m glad you found the post helpful. Sometimes we do have to step back and get some perspective. It’s hard to suffer the slings and arrows, but it toughens the skin if we can endure. I think you have the ‘write’ attitude. 🙂 Rooting for you to submit through regular channels. Polish up and send it off.

  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my site! I’m so glad you’ve found it useful.

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