Friday, February 18, 2011

Three Ways to Become a Better Writer

For some people, like my husband for example, the act of writing is about as enjoyable as cleaning the bathroom toilet, yet for others it exhilarates - it's the very breath of their life.  Ever present thoughts of writing invade their head at convenient and inconvenient times alike.  But the question is, how do great writers do it?  How do they become successful?  Do they possess a secret that's only revealed to a chosen few, or are they simply born with the talent?  Over the years, I have learned a few pointers that have helped me improve my craft.

The first thing is to remember, especially for those who are just starting out, that writing doesn't always come easy.  It's a common misconception to think that the great writers of our time, and even those of our past, simply put pen to paper and wrote great pieces of literature.  This isn't so.

Yes, occasionally ideas will pop into your head and it all flows from there.  More often an idea will come, but finding the right words is done with great difficulty.  Yet at other times you find yourself staring at a blank screen or piece of paper with no ideas or anything. 

Good writing takes time, practice and hard work - sometimes many hours of hard work.  You can guarantee that a nicely crafted article or book has spent its fair share of time in the revision bin.   

Another way to improve your writing may almost seem too good to be true - if you like reading that is.  With the fast-paced life that many of us live, it may be hard to carve out extra time for reading, but if you can neither you nor your writing skills will regret it.

Reading goes beyond the obvious learning that you obtain from studying the latest self-help book.  What happens is an interesting transformation that can be likened to moving to a new region.  When a Northerner moves down South, he takes his own accent and dialect with him.  After living down there for a while he begins to take on the Southerner's drawl - without even realizing it. 

Reading books helps you absorb styles, ideas that you might not have thought of prior to, and even vocabulary in much the same way as the Northerner absorbs his changes in speech. 

In her book Bird By Bird, Anne Lammott says of reading, "What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die."

It's these very worlds that she speaks of that broaden our horizons, that give us new insights and perspectives - new understandings to the human emotion, and even ideas for our own stories.  Just consider it grist for the  mill.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, one of the best pieces of advice I could give is to write, write, and write some more.  The most productive times in my life as a writer have always been when I was writing a lot.  Ideas actually were popping into my head out of nowhere.  Articles were coming together and writing felt as though it was coming from my heart, not just something I had to do. 

The more you write, the better you get, the more passionate you feel.  The more passionate you feel, the more you want to write.  It's a cycle that breeds not only productivity, but also the kind of practice that makes an excellent writer.  

Writing can be many good things to many people.  But remember, it is hard work, there's always more to learn, and practice does make perfect.  Keep those points in mind and if writing is the desire of your heart, you are sure to be destined for greatness!


Betsy said...

Thanks for this post, Lisa. I love that you encouraged me to write, write, write and gave me permission to read, read, read -- to reach my goal of improved writing!

Lisa Vella said...

Betsy, you encouraged me more than you know today! I'm excited about our new goals!