- Read a lot
- Enjoy what you’re writing
- Write for yourself first
Read A Lot
Reading a lot is really quite simple. Read frequently.
Each of us gravitates toward a particular genre, or several genres, and the books we enjoy consume part of our waking hours, if not a great majority of them.
I’ve fallen under the hook and convenience of audio books. The time I spend driving, or at my morning job, is filled with the words of authors familiar and unfamiliar. This is important.
I’ve found that if I only take the time reading or listening to books from authors I like, I miss the opportunity to discover others who may spark my imagination in ways my favorite writers haven’t.
I also discover writers who do a really poor job at writing. This causes me both to shake my head at the publishing world, as well as help inspire me that, “Well, if THIS person can get an audience, then anyone can.”
Many of you have come across these authors, and not a few have become best-selling authors. I am reminded of chunks of a novel someone put up for others to read; they, too, were stunned at what passes through a publisher’s hands. In this particular case, the writing also appeared to have completely bypassed the editorial department as well.
An editor and first readers who provide accurate feedback without worrying about hurting your feelings is important to your growth. It is important to what you put out to the world.
Read good authors’ works. Even better, read great authors’ works. The constant feedback of reading helps shape your perceptions about what good writing is. And if you’re lucky, or intensely persistent, it will slip into your own writing.
Enjoy What You’re Writing
If you hate what you’re writing, or just dislike it very much, you will not write long. Pure and simple.
If you are given a project to do with strict content guidelines—and you hate the content—try to find a different way of approaching the content so that you will enjoy, or at least tolerate, the writing of it.
For instance: You have to write something comparing insurance policies between insurance companies.
Truth is, I had a hard time trying to find something boring or “hated” for this example and had to get my close friend to come up with ideas. She said, “But you can make anything interesting.” Finally, she came up with the insurance policies thing.
Most any writing, unless it has to be rigidly technical, such as found in an instruction manual (though those can also be bumped up to interesting with the right amount of tickling) can be improved with a little personality. This not only helps the reader retain what is in the instruction manual, but also makes it likely you will enjoy the process of writing the dreaded thing.
If you have little or no personality, you’ll need to borrow someone’s, or else there will be nothing you can to do to make the writing better.
Back to the insurance policy…
A comparison of insurance policies from insurance companies can be summed up in how each affects a person’s life. In the end, you are writing about human beings and how these policies affect them—so include them in the comparison. Attach a representative human being to the policies, a person with feelings, a dating life, perhaps that may be affected by each policy, etc. Personalize the comparisons with a mock human—even going so far as to make it humorous by using extreme examples: the person has to sell a leg with policy #1 and only a finger with policy #2.
The things that move human beings, our emotional context, allows for easier connection to the reading of the material. It also ups our retention of it.
I once started writing a story, finishing three pages of it, only to find I disliked what I was writing. The writing didn’t flow well, did not keep me involved, and I found myself wanting to be anywhere else other than typing the thing.
It wasn’t the story part I disliked, that was wonderful, but it was how I was telling it. I got to the end of three pages, frustrated to beat the band and scrapped it—trashing those three pages without so much as a hint of remorse—and approached the telling from another person’s intimate perspective. I fell into the character, and the story unwound in a way that my initial writing didn’t allow, as it should have.
And I finished the story enjoying the process all the way to the end.
If you don’t like what you’ve written, it’s okay to scrap it and write anew. Your readers, and more importantly—you—will appreciate that you did.
Write For Yourself First
This is important. First, you should write for yourself; that’s a given. If you have a need for the expression of writing, then you are the first and the only person you need to please.
If you spend time worrying about what someone else will think, how they will interpret your story, like or dislike it, then you will find yourself impeding your own voice. That means the honesty of your creative expression—and your story—will suffer.
If someone likes a particular story a particular way, then let them write their own to that effect. Your story is your voice. It must be free to flourish or fail under your own directive. Once you’ve written it, and you wish to give it to a wide audience, then you may find the need for that first reader. Someone else for whom you may have written the story.
The someone else in your life for whom you write is probably already in your mind: a friend, a lover, a spouse, a president or prisoner. That someone with whom you share your finished, delicate early writing is also the first person to give you feedback. If you have chosen the person properly, they will also be honest and encouraging.
Stephen King does a wonderful job describing his first reader in his book, On Writing—a book (as well as two others) I will blog about next week—so I won’t add too much to it here other than to say how it works for me.
I don’t think about my first reader until I get her feedback, usually in the form of how well she liked something, was moved to an emotional response, or found something very difficult to understand or read. This is what I need from her, and she comes through with flying colors every time.
I am moved by her responses, both in how clear, or not, the writing is and by her intense desire to see what’s coming next.
Her responses give me that added boost not only to finish the writing (and finish it well), but to do so knowing she is hanging on the line for my next chapter. I don’t want to leave her just hanging, so I write more; I have a fire lit under me to be consistent in the work of writing. Day after day. Until it is finished.
Know your work. Enjoy your work. Finish your work. Share your work.