May 25, 2015

How to Become a Better Writer in Less than 500 Words

You've probably read these two words in more than one place: "Write more." People like to tout them as the secret to becoming a better writer.

They're not wrong, but... Quantity alone is not enough. You can teach a horse to sit on a piano keyboard, but you won't get Chopin out of that. So, besides quantity, what else do you need to improve your writing?

1. A point of view.

You care about certain things, while others don't matter at all. By definition, a creative writer is someone with things to say, even if those things aren't apparent to the writer.

Take Robert E. Howard's Conan, for example. Howard systematically pits Conan against foes that lack his vitality and straightforwardness — sorcerers that have forfeit their humanity, aristocrats that wield deceit instead of a sword, or brutes that lack Conan's faculty for reasoning, such as giant snakes and albino apes.

Through Conan, Howard expressed a longing for heroism and enchantment in his day and age, and a desire for confrontation with transmundane forces. To affirm the human he contrasted it with the non-human. Howard did not preach, he told stories that conveyed his personal values. Regardless of how you feel about those values now, Howard had points to make. So had George Eliot when she wrote Silas Marner; Margaret Atwood with The Handmaid's Tale; the same applies to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin.

Take a look at your life and figure out what matters to you. What you can't live without. The lines you will not cross. If it's love, write about finding and losing love. Maybe it is justice? Write about it.

Set Your Heart Free
by Christian Schloe

2. Voice and style.

Style. You will never be able to write like someone you admire, but copying as a learning strategy just works. It's like learning to draw or play an instrument! By copying, you learn forms and structures. You learn rules and how to break them.

Now, here's where quantity helps: The more you write, the more you learn what works for you and what doesn't. You develop style by reading and incorporating lessons from your favorite authors. Wait, what am I saying? Even authors you don't like have things to teach you.

Voice. Voice is developed by writing with sincerity. That means being true to yourself and what you want to say. It means you will not try to make your writing pretty and you won't let ornaments become more important than the story you want to tell.

To wrap things up, a Portuguese proverb: Ninguém nasce ensinado. "Nobody is born a learned person." Congratulate yourself for learning. Enjoy your progress.


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