Being a Better Writer: Practice Makes Perfect

A shorter post today, folks, as I’ve got a time-crunch today. Christmas season is hear, and that means I’ve got shifts at my part-time leading well past midnight pretty much every day this week. It’s a brutal holiday season, ho ho.

One small bit of news: November’s Patreon Supporter Reward will go up tomorrow. It was going to be Saturday, but I ended up getting some writing work done with what free time I had that day (and then the time I would have perhaps had slotted for it was eaten up by an unfortunate flat tire on my bike that left me walking a mile+ back from the store).

With that news out of the way, let’s dive right into today’s topic (like I said, time crunch here): Practice makes perfect.

I hang out in writing channels online. Not all of them, but a few, via Discord or Reddit, and lately I’ve seen a trend occurring once again that seems to rear its head. Young, new writers who hop in looking for advice or feedback on their writing … and then want things to change instantly.

For example (and this is loosely based on one I saw last week) they’ll come in with a passage of writing that’s full of errors and not so hot, prose-wise. They’ll ask for feedback and get it. Fixes, advice, etc. And then comes the magic moment, in one of two common responses.

The first is that they take all this advice, be it on characters, formatting, etc, and then address everyone there with a “Yeah, but how?” The second is similar: They dart off, type for a while, then come back and dejectedly say “Well, I’m still making the same mistakes.” Often this is coupled with (I wish I were kidding here) “Guess I should just give up” or “Did you guys leave something out? I still can’t get this.”

Usually at this point I’ll hop in (if I haven’t already) with the same advice and line of reasoning I’m about to give here: No one expects to be a perfect performer at a sport the first time they try it simply because they’ve watched a lot of that sport on ESPN. Or rather, anyone that does is in for a rude awakening. They’ll go out to shoot a basket or try to ice skate or go for a hole-in-one and swiftly learn why the individual they saw on TV is a paid professional and they themselves are a novice with little to no experience.

Believe me, my life would be a lot easier if all it took for someone to become a great writer was someone else explaining to them the elements of good writing. But, no matter how much one might want to believe to the contrary, that’s not how it works. This is a line I’ve had to repeat over and over to these new writers (and sometimes they don’t even believe it). There’s no silver bullet. There’s no magical word of advice that activates and empowers some part of your brain to place you into the pantheon of authors and writers.

Believe me, if there was, the internet would never stop spamming it at GRRM in hopes that it would get him to actually write something.

No, the truth of the matter is that like everything else, every other job, hobby, or task, there’s only one surefire way to get better.

Practice.

Few like this answer. In fact, more than once I’ve had a new writer say back “Yeah, but what about [insert some writing technique or concept they know the name of here]?”

Practice.

“But what about—?” No, I’ll just stop you there. Practice. Practice, practice, practice. You learn to make good three-point shots by going out and making three-point shots. You learn how to ride a bike by climbing aboard, grabbing the handlebars, and pedaling. You learn how to draw by taking a pencil and making shapes over and over again.

And you learn how to write not just by reading and learning about what makes writing work, but by practicing until those elements are second nature to you. You write, and you write, and you write.

Now, this is hard to take for some young up-and-coming authors. Some aren’t enthused at all to hear this. Some will even protest it (no joke). Around a week ago, one lamented that ‘they might as well not even try then, because that meant that the story they wanted to write was going to come out bad if they had to write until they were good.’

To which I reply “Yeah, that’s how it works.” And at the risk of being extremely blunt, if you only had one story in you worth telling, writing probably isn’t for you. Every author has several graves’ worth of dead stories behind them by the time they publish something (or should, if they know what they’re doing). Amassed often through years of writing practice, as they learned step-by-step and put their knowledge into practice.

Because practice makes perfect. I cannot stress this enough. Would that I could just look at my writing, make the observation “Hey, I need more metaphor sprinkled in” and it magically happened, but it doesn’t. I have to remind myself, check over my work thus far, and repeat this over and over and over again until it becomes a habit as I write.

I’m not unique in this. Nor is any other author. Writing is a craft, a skill that has to be honed just like any other.

Does this mean that early writers are going to produce some real stinkers? Yeah. No point in sugar-coating it. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to make mistakes. Maybe write flat characters or use bad metaphors or … whatever.

Congrats. That’s part of the process of becoming a writer. The next is recognizing those flaws for what they are and trying to do better the next time. And the next. And the next.

And the next.

You want to be a good writer? You go at it. You learn about what makes something good. You practice and find out what you’re good at. What you’re bad at. Then you work on it.

You write a story. And another one. And another one. And, with careful work (and perhaps some goals) you get better each time.

I really can’t say much more on this without beating a dead horse. Like I said: Simple, short topic … but I’m short on time, and need to run.

So good luck.

Now get writing. And don’t stop.

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