Most writers know two simple ways to get better at writing. They are the basic tips of any professional writing program or class. Stephen King summed it up quite well in his great treatise of the craft On Writing, suggesting “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
The writing part is obvious. As with any skill, you get better the more you do it. Reading is less intuitive, but still relatively straight forward–getting better at language requires exposure to language, becoming a better storyteller requires exposure to stories. King goes on to suggest that “reading is the creative center of a writer’s life,” meaning the place you decide what you want to create. He even claims to read 70-80 books a year.
But there is a third thing you can do to help you become a better writer. In addition to reading and writing, writing about writing is extremely helpful in improving your skills. This is much the same as when professional athletes and coaches watch other teams play, examining their strengths and weaknesses. By identifying someone else’s strengths, you can adopt them and make them your own.
Much of what I do with this blog is writing about writing. And to be perfectly honest, I do it mostly for myself. I don’t really have enough followers to honestly believe that I have a large effect on the public. But I don’t need to. Every piece I write, every analysis I do, helps to make me a better writer. That’s why I do it.
I often share stories and articles I like, but I also add my own analysis or point of view. By interacting with other authors’ work, I can tease out what I like–or don’t like–and examine what makes it so. Then I can utilize the skills I like, and avoid the habits I don’t.
Also, discussing writing techniques reinforces them in your own mind. We all forget the basics from time to time. Taking them out of your head, or away from the story, allows you to focus on them more clearly.
You do not need to be a language or writing major to do this sort of textual analysis. All it requires is focus enough to decide what parts you like or dislike, and a little effort to examine why. If you like a piece of writing, there is certainly a technical reason for it. The better you grasp that reason, the better you can emulate it. And in the end, writing is mostly emulation.
I started this blog several months ago, intending primarily to post my own short stories here. Over time, I started sharing other writers’ work and articles on writing techniques. Once I started sharing other authors’ work and doing some analysis, I found myself becoming much better. Even in the few months, I can look back at my first stories and see how far I have come (Go on, compare “The Adventures of Iric” volume 1 to volume 12 and try to tell me I’m not the slightest bit better). I am sure that writing about writing has contributed to that significantly.
Becoming a better writer takes time and investment. King is pretty rough on the point when he suggests “If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhards on CNN while you exercise…it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer….Reading takes time and the glass teat takes too much of it.” It’s harsh, but true. You need to devote time and effort to improving your craft, otherwise you won’t.
In the end, it comes down to three basic methods: reading, writing, and writing about writing. The more you do those, the better you will become.