Over the course of the writing and research of Write Now!: The Guide to Making it in Freelance Writing, I spent considerable time thinking about life as a writer: the successes, the hardships, the odd hours, and the opportunities I’ve been afforded. But nothing occupied my brain more than what it takes to be a writer. Then, in a moment of serenpidity, I came across a passage in Zadie Smith’s latest volume of essays, Feel Free.
…the anxiety comes from knowing I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist. I’m employed in an MFA program, but have no MFA myself, and no PhD.
Anyone who has read Zadie Smith will certainly argue that she is sure as heck is qualified to write about anything. If she wants to write a book about tree bark, she’d certainly be able to do so with dexterity and aplomb, beauty and intellect. Millions of folks would buy it.
Education begins when traditional schooling ends, honestly. You learn from great writers and you learn from great teachers; You learned from the discovery of new perspectives and the experiences we have. And so I put together a list of what I call “The Nine Ways to Make Yourself a Better Writer,” which is available in a PDF that included much more information and writing (details on how to get it are below). Here is a taste:
- Be a good reader: Read great writers. Learn from them. Pay attention to the words they choose. Spend some time considering why they chose to begin a story at a certain point rather than elsewhere.
- Age & Experience: Some things we just learn as we get older. We experience love, broken hearts, and a taste of success; We get married and have children; We lose people close to us by circumstance or death. We find ways to respond to these adversities, to embrace these challenges, and we learn to move on. Those of us who are writers find ourselves in these moments and make us better writers.
- Nature & Nurture: Some people naturally have the ability to write and use their language to tell a story; Others work their asses off. They spend time around books. They learn to love them. They take workshops. They interact with other writers. Their environment helps dictate who they become in the writing world.
- Writing Makes You a Better Writer: File this under, “Duh,” but hear me out. Repetition breeds familiarity and familiarity leads to proficiency. Think of it like running. You tie on your shoes and hit the concrete. You’re going to stink at it. You’re going to be huffing and puffing 400 yards into the run. Eventually, you do it over and over again and you get better. The same goes for anything. You have to work at it. You can’t just read great writers or hit the open road and “experience” shit. You have to write!
- Look Around You: Speaking of experience, look around every once in a while. Spend time outside your comfort zone. Spend time walking the neighborhood or driving around. Travel. See what the world has to offer you from a scenic standpoint. It could be a humorous sign outside a bodega or a spectacular view at the Rocky Mountain National Park. Go check it out.
- Preparation: If you’re going to write, you have to be prepared and I don’t just mean in the “Do I have a laptop? Yup, okay let’s go” way. It means research. It means to report. Even if you’re writing fiction, write from a place of expertise.
- Accept Feedback (and Learn from it): We all know our prose is perfect, but too often, we get feedback in return and we think, “I will die on the hill that this paragraph is the best paragraph ever written!” Often, it’s not. Find someone you trust. Then trust them with your work. A good editor is a writer’s best friend.
- Understand that Ego is the Enemy (or, overcome irrational fears): This is a big one. Don’t let irrational fears dictate the course of your work and your life as a writer. What are you worried about? That one of your idiot friends is going to bust your chops on Twitter? That you might get bad reviews? You did the work. You’re doing the work. What’s the goal? Books? Then go after your goals. Don’t let people who have different dreams than you dictate yours.
- Invest in yourself: If this is what you want to do, invest in the time and resources to make it happen. Make an author page. Join a writers group. Make time every day to write. Be part of the community. Make yourself better.
There’s so much more to these nine components to making yourself a great writer and I have it all laid out in a 10,000 word PDF entitled “The Nine Ways to Make Yourself a Better Writer.”
If you pre-order the book now, dear readers, I will send you an advanced copy of that PDF before it goes public. All you have to do is shoot me a screenshot of your pre-order to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t wait for you to read it.