Kelly, one of my readers, left a comment asking me if I had any writing advice. I realized that giving any writing advice would take more than what I could fit into a reply box to a comment, so I decided to do a quick post talking about some of the resources that are out there to help you learn to write.
First off, I’m not sure how many of my readers are also aspiring writers. If you are, let me know and I can post more about writing in the future.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember – probably about as long as I have been reading. I love reading a story that sucks me in and transports me to another world. To me there is something magical in that connection between a writer and a reader. I wanted to take the ideas that I had and turn them into stories that allowed the reader to experience them. Not just SEE them, but EXPERIENCE them. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, but for pure immersion in a story, a good book is hard to beat.
When I got to High School I started writing stories – as best I could. Looking back, they were pretty bad. I once heard a quote that said something to the effect that everyone has a million word of garbage in them. The sooner you can get them out, the sooner you can write something worth reading. I don’t know that I agree with that 100%, but I do know that – especially at the beginning – you need to just write and get the words on the page and not worry if they aren’t perfect. Because the truth is, they probably won’t be in the beginning.
This is why a lot of aspiring writers give up.
They think because they can type, spell words, and form coherent sentences that they should be able to write a good story. After all they write school papers, emails, letters, etc. Isn’t it the same thing – writing? Then, when they try to write a story and it doesn’t turn out the way they want, they decide that they don’t have any talent and give up.
Well, that view of writing is fundamentally flawed. Let’s look at an analogy to illustrate the problem. I can run, dribble a basketball, and make a layup, but I can’t play professionally. Having the basic skills isn’t enough. I would need to know about reading the defense, learn to shoot with my off hand, improve my quickness and jumping, and a thousand other skills that a basketball player has to master before being able to play at a professional level.
It’s the same thing with writing. Being able to write the words is just the basic foundation to writing a novel. There are really dozens (or hundreds depending upon how you break it down) of things you need to keep in mind as you write a story – plot structure, techniques for characterization, heightening the conflict, making promises to your reader, foreshadowing, POV and tense, magic rules or how your world works, pacing, scenes vs. narrative summary, character arcs, story arcs, how and where to end chapters, using evocative language, avoiding clichés, getting into your characters head (thoughts, fears, wants, emotions), etc.
You simply cannot expect to master it all at once. Every once in a while there will be an exception where someone writes a breakout bestseller on their first try. But typically when you look a little deeper, the bestseller wasn’t their first book. It was the first book they attempted to have published. BIG difference.
So, practice is the key to eventual writing success. Write, write, and write some more. Don’t worry if it isn’t great at the beginning. It doesn’t have to be. What you are doing is the equivalent of a basketball player shooting baskets in the gym or dribbling around cones. The more you practice the skills, the more ingrained they become and the more natural they will feel.
So, how do you learn what those skills are you should be practicing? Well, I have three books on writing that I really loved and wish I had when I first started writing. Here they are:
This book is by Orson Scott Card and helps explain what makes for a good story and the techniques you need to master to write compelling stories. If you only pick one of the books I recommend, it should be this one. I took a class from OSC and he really is a master of the craft of writing.
This is also an OSC book, but it is focused on the specific challenges of writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you have any desire to write in these genres, I highly recommend this book.
This book was very helpful in strengthening up my books on a sentence and paragraph level. It talks about how to write dialogue and use beats in your prose. It also shows you commonly used weak sentence and paragraph structures and shows examples of how to rewrite them. This is a book that every beginning writer should read.
Writing a good story takes skill, but that skill can be developed. It requires constantly seeking to learn new techniques and practicing them until they become second nature to you. If you do this enough times and keep writing, eventually you will write something that you look at and feel proud of. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while. Persistence is the key to becoming a great writer.