Monday, July 9, 2012

MMWUC: Top Ten Ways to Become a Good Writer

We were kicking around some thoughts about becoming a writer--the top mistakes beginning writers make, the top mistakes experienced writers make, the top mistakes Rick makes, and so on. It started sounding like a list. I'm an anal-retentive Capricorn of German descent--I like lists. Here's mine. What's yours?

9. Read! Never be caught without something to read--at a stoplight, in a bathroom, between commercial breaks on the television, standing in line, as your significant other recovers from your awesome love-making abilities, on a lunch break, in your sick bed, while fishing, or before you go to bed.

8. Grammar! You need to know the grammar rules so you can bend them responsibly and make us sit up and take notice of what you've done without questioning your ability to malign the language thus allowing us to remain focused on the story.

7. Live! Never miss an opportunity to do something new no matter how insignificant the activity seems. Much writing is about the juxtaposition of opposing ideas. It is nigh impossible to create opposing stimuli in your writing if your life is a clean slate or follows a singular path in the idea forest.

6. Critique! Being able to spot deficiencies in the writing's of others by critiquing responsibly opens your mind to the same problems in your writing. Learn by sharing your opinion about other texts and seeing the opinions of others in yours.

5. Toughen! Get thicker skin. You will write badly. You will be told about your bad writing. It happens to everyone. Learn from what others are saying to you with grace not anger. Don't believe me? Top Ten Ways to Become a Good Writer #5.5: Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King.

4. Understand! Be responsible for your own sins. One of your goals as a writer should be to put the editor out of work. These are your words, and you don't want anyone else to muck with them. (No offense to editors. Love you guys.) Try Manuscript Makeover or Between the Lines or your favorite.

3. Devour! Read at least half of the books from these two all-time lists. You may chose a different list. It doesn't matter. Read great books to see what has worked, works, continues to work, and will always work in telling a tale. Then, write your own literary masterpiece.

2. Be! Surround yourself with people who like to read and write so you live as a writer and think as a writer. Pick their brains for ideas, likes, and dislikes. Immerse yourself in the life of writing. Writers write! Pretenders dream about what it will be like "to have written."

1. Write! Just like a musician jamming with friends, riffing an idea can lead to magical results. Stop crying for an absent muse; stop blaming your life, wife, or emotional strife. If the idea is in your head and not on paper, it's not a story. Writing is the only way to say you have written.

Every writer learns and grows at their own pace. You may be brilliant out of the box--a teenage sensation and perceptive beyond your years. However, more likely, it will take time to master the craft (10,000 hours, a million words, three novels under the bed, whatever). God help you if it takes as long as it's taken me to get a book published, and that might be the tenth way to become a good writer--perseverance.

Finally, check out this interview of Bud Rudesill for an example of being.

Write on, Garth!


Kw mccabe said...

I really like the advice about critiquing. I wish I had found IWW years ago. Would have saved myself all that time of writing badly lol.

Holly said...

Excellent blog Rick

Bud Rudesill said...

This is a really good list! and such lists are good for writers to study. And thank you, Rick, for the comment about me.

Unknown said...

I like your list of valid and valued points. As you know my writing career was purely accidental and I approached it with abandon! After a considerable amount of writing and one novel published I decided that maybe I should read some "how to" books and the first one was "Bird by Bird."
Thanks for the reference to Bud's Interview. We need each other's support, encouragement, critiques, camaraderie, and respect to succeed.

Paul said...

Great, but I'm not buying #8. Reading well wrought fiction will give you all the sense of grammar you need as well as all the permission you need to ignore grammar.

In fact, knowing the "rules" of grammar can be stifling to creative writing. Nothing is more clumsy than writing that was obviously and self consciously done in compliance with the so-called rules. I'd much rather have the free-spirited frolic of Philip Roth let loose with words, or the density of a difficult Faulkner passage, or even the thoughtful comma splices of an Iris Murdoch sentence than "correct" writing of a writer so timid that he/she takes shelter under the rules.

In fact, I think creative writers should study the rules of rhetoric far more than the rules of grammar.

Rick Bylina said...

Thanks for your comments. Here and elsewhere.

Paul...I don't know that we're that far apart. I appreciate grammar bends, but I've read enough weak writing by too many authors whose writing was more compromised by like of knowledge than those who decided to artistically bend the rules.

Understand the rules and bend them like Beckham.