The conventional advice is that if you want to learn to write, write. While that’s very good advice, I consider that akin to telling someone, if you want to get to New York City, drive. You still need a direction, possibly a map or a GPS. Just driving isn’t going to get you where you want to go.
And just writing won’t make you a writer–at least not a publishable one.
Writing and reading the works of others are excellent training grounds for learning to write, but if you’re really serious about writing publishable fiction, you’ll need to make a study of the craft of writing. In my opinion, there are no shortcuts here.
I began to seriously study the craft of writing soon after my son was born. Instead of napping like a sensible new mom, I stole quiet moments to study and write. I signed up for a course from Writer’s Online Workshops, from Writer’s Digest. While that’s not a necessary step–there are tons of writing books out there and self-study is always an option–for me it worked wonders. The course forced me to work through the creative exercises contained in the textbook–something I know I wouldn’t have done all on my own. Plus, it immediately gave me feedback from other students in the course and the instructor, something I think is really important when first trying one’s hand at fiction. It’s the best cure for self-doubt. After that course, I began to call myself a writer, and I began to carry a real hope of one day being published.
But if you can’t afford the price tag on a fancy course, it’s still possible to give yourself that kind of accountability. Find a writing partner–someone who will commit to producing a certain word count per day, or finishing a number of writing exercises with you. And then critique each other’s work. But do so based on principles you are learning about how to write well.
Where can you find those? Why books, of course. Books on the craft of writing abound. So let me tell you about a few of my absolute favorites:
- Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively – It would be hard, in my estimation, to say enough good things about this book. It was the one on which I cut my writing teeth. The book itself is beautifully written, and the writer points to numerous mentor texts as models of the writing principles she suggests incorporating into one’s writing.
- On Writing by Stephen King – As books on the craft of writing go, you won’t find more of a classic than this one. Even if you haven’t liked a thing the man has written, you’ll enjoy this read. There is so much practical advice. And you can’t shake a stick at a man who can pump out 2,000 words per day consistently!
- How to Read Literature Like a Professor – If you want to stick to the course that reading is the best way to learn the craft, use this book as your guide. It shows what makes fiction tick.
And once you have your map in hand, or your GPS, write, write, write. Some say you need to write 100,000 words before you can call yourself a writer. I don’t know if that’s a hard-and-fast rule, but it is true that you can’t call yourself a writer unless you write, so get busy!