The third in my just keep series is in some ways an extension of “just keep reading” because part of “just keep learning the craft” is “just keep reading about writing” (lots of grammar, editing, and how-to books). It also involves experimentation and getting feedback.
This step is how you transition from just a writer to a writer that keeps getting better. This separates the on-their-ways from the wannabes.
The easiest part of this is to incorporate a steady diet of “how to write” content. You don’t want to inhale it, and you don’t have to accept everything you read as gospel, but as you read about writing your brain will start to fill with good techniques and you will think more critically about your writing.
I’ve read a LOT of how-to content. A few writers and how-to’s that are great to start with are:
- Brent Weeks has a blog post about writing that has helped me a lot. Especially the paragraph that starts with “Here’s the thing I do…”
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers” might just make you cry, in a good way. The book started with her blog post about it. It made me cry. You don’t have to be perfect.
- Dean Wesley Smith’s “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” is great. Don’t get distracted by his blunt extremism, his books have helped me in similar ways to Kristine’s and he has a fascinatingly unique perspective on the wiring process.
- Writing Excuses is a fantastic podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Download it all and listen to it all. It’s like getting a degree in fiction writing. They say season 10 is specifically designed for beginners.
- Orson Scott Card’s “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy” (Version 1 is shorter, version 2 has extra fantasy and historical resources) gives some great advice about setting and plot, and his book “Character and Viewpoint”gives great insight into character psychology and POV’s.
- Stephen King’s “On Writing” has some great inspiration on the fires of creativity. Another unique point of view on the process of writing (as he is NOT an outliner like me).
- Donald Maass’s “Writing 21st century Fiction” helps you use the strengths of genre fiction and literary fiction together, since both have something the other needs.
That doesn’t even scratch the surface (my gosh I’ve read so many!). You definitely want to learn the tense and point of view (POV) you’ve picked to write in (if “third-person limited past” doesn’t make sense to you, you better get reading). The point is not to read 100 how to write books and/or make a checklist of things you must read/learn before you can write, the point is to develop a consist habit of learning the craft. Be journey minded, not destination minded (that advice is useful everywhere).
One other great thing is that I reach a point when I’m sick of reading about writing and I scramble to my computer to get out my own words. It builds up until I can’t wait any longer. Others might not get this effect, but I do.
On degrees and classes… I say beware spending money on something that you could get for free. You can learn online for free. And practice is more important than study and that’s free too. Practice is one of the greatest tools to learning, and you can’t throw money at writing and expect to get good without practice. And much that you could learn in college about writing you could learn online.
Degrees are great for creating an external force to make you write, but sheesh that’s some expensive motivation! Maybe you could just work on building a good habit, or join a writing group where you have to turn something in weekly (writing groups are great for this, and I’ll do a post on those soon).
My college experience was not the greatest. Much of what I learned I could have taught myself (I have an English degree). I had one class on grammar that was absolutely revolutionary, but apart from that, yuck.
The most important thing to get from this post is this: consistently read how-to content, experiment with new things often, and read your fiction with a critical eye. Over years, you will find the principles and methods which help you to be a greater writer.
Go forth and have no fear!