If you could only give writers one piece of advice, what would it be? I’ve been asked a variation of this question more times than I can count, or bear to answer it. The advice has changed as my writing process has, ranging from “get feedback” to “enjoy the journey.” But more and more this is the only answer worth giving anymore, the missing piece in producing quality, lasting writing.
Learn to love the craft of writing.
By love, I don’t mean “tolerate” and by “craft” I don’t mean the “get the basics down.” I mean learn to get in there like a tiger wrangler and wrestle with your sentences until they yield a meaning you fought for. I mean learn to listen for the musicality of your words, their fluid, changing nature. Understand that plot is not just a series of lego-style block events stacked one on top of the other but a process that relates to your character’s development.
Here are some tips on how to take your love of craft, and thus your writing, up to a standard you may never have even attempted:
- Read voraciously. You don’t need classes if you learn to read with an analytical eye and read everything. Read lots and lots of fiction—quality fiction, literary fiction so rich in imagery it catches in your teeth like threads of meat. Read poetry and philosophy. Choose reading over other forms of entertainment. Read aloud—read to your children and your partner. Listen to books on tape if you can’t read, to keep the ring of language always in your ear.
- Experiment. The best way to learn a craft is by doing it—by trying and “failing.” In truth, if there are no failures, only experiments, only forays down a particular path that do or don’t succeed at your vision. Try on other forms, especially those you think are not your forte, see what happens.
- Re-see. Your writing will never become its most brilliant best if you don’t revise—literally meaning to “re-see” your work deserves second and third and sometimes tenth attempts to close up all the gaps, flesh out all the skinny parts, and bring the language up to its burnished best.
- Be honest. In order to revise honestly you have to be honest with yourself. Admit something isn’t working and see that as an opportunity to write it better. And if you struggle with that, then keep trusted advisors and critique partners on hand who can help keep you honest.
- Don’t Settle. I understand the urge to be done with a project. I know that in this day of self-publishing there’s a demand to get books out there quicker, particularly in a series. If you fall into that category, then try to get your work into as many hands as possible before it goes out. Don’t call it done just because you’re done. Let the work speak for itself.
- Keep One. Even if you’re turning out projects quickly to keep up with reader demand, keep one project for yourself that you do for the love of craft. One book or story that you work harder on than the others, that isn’t a part of that stream of production.