Hello and welcome back to the blog! For those that read last week’s post, yes, I have managed to stay motivated with my current work in progress. However, a new problem has surfaced, because doesn’t it always? I have started to question my decision making regarding the series I am writing. I would tell you about those problems, but it involves spoilers. Of course, that would mean publishing the series at some point, which I am still unsure of. Anyway, enough blabbing. To the docket we go! Today’s post is about whether it is possible to improve your writing. If you have read my post on the 10 Truths About Writing, you already know the answer.
I’ll get the answer out of the way right up front. Yes, you can improve your writing. A blog post like this would be a waste of time if the answer were anything different. Heck, this entire blog would be a waste of time as well. This blog started out as a way for me to share my writing journey as I am still traveling along it. Several of you have flattered me with comments regarding my views and insights on writing. To know that I am helping other writers with what little knowledge I have accumulated over my years of meandering along this path has been a humbling and rewarding experience. At some point along the way it became more about helping other writers with my story, than just telling my story. Sixteen years of failure has got to be good for something, right? (Editing note: That last sentence is sad. True, but sad.)
Stephen King’s On Writing is a book that every writer should read, in my opinion at least. He’s a straight shooter that doesn’t have time for BS and I respect that. Take this quote, “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” Maybe it has to do with King being my favorite writer or that I first read this book as a young man, but I agree. I’ll cover bad writers in a minute. By a “competent writer” I think King is referring to writers who understand the basics of writing such as grammar, punctuation, voice, style, vocabulary, etc. I agree with his statement that it is possible for a competent writer to get better for one simple reason. It happened to me.
If you want an in-depth look at how my writing has improved over the years, then I invite you to read my post “How Self-Awareness Helped Me”, I’ll provide an overview for the rest. Having gone back through and read some of my early writing, I think I was a competent but not spectacular writer. I did a lot of reading, even more writing, and editing with a heavy hand. Throughout those early years I was submitting short stories to magazines, most of which were rejected. Few magazines offered a critique of the submitted work, but I did receive one that wasn’t flattering. I tossed it aside and went about my writing. At some point down the line, maybe a year, possibly two, I had a revelation regarding my work. I tended to slip out of past tense and into present tense at any given moment. Once seen I couldn’t unsee it. Had I listened earlier, I would have saved myself some time and aggravation. Several other mistakes were realized in those days by reading other writers or while editing. It took time with me and it will with you.
Let’s go back to that quote from Stephen King for a moment. You know that part about it being impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer? I believe that to be true as well. Bad writers either don’t understand or disregard the basics of writing. Of course, some are aware of the basics, but are hopeless at putting them to use. If you’re a bad writer there’s probably no hope for you. However, in my experience most bad writers aren’t aware of their own abilities or lack thereof. Since you’re reading my blog, I’m going to assume you don’t fall into this category.
This is the paragraph where I give you some advice on how to improve your own writing. While preparing for this post I did some research to see what other writers were saying about improving your writing. Honestly, most of it isn’t worth reading. It was a mixture of common sense that every writer worth his/her salt should know to downright lies. Here’s all I have on the subject and what worked for me. Read a lot. Reading both good and bad books gives you examples of what to do and what to avoid. Write a lot. They say that practice makes perfect and they’re right. Edit with an open mind and fresh eyes. After the first draft is finished, I set every story aside for at least two weeks, and up to a month. I work on something else during that time, so when I return, I am further removed from the story. Having a fresh eye is important to the edit, and the edit is crucial if you want to improve your writing. When you get a critique, listen. Lastly, and most importantly remember the story is king. Writers think too much. You’re a conduit for the story. DO YOUR JOB.
There is no quick fix to becoming a better writer, at least that I’ve found. If you’re looking for one, exit now. It’s a long and lonely road. It takes work, but if you’re like me, it’s an obsession, a compulsion, something that I can’t imagine not doing. If that’s you, cool, stick around, let’s talk writing.
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Stephen Michael Roth