Last week, I was contacted by a company known as Webucator, which is celebrating Computer Education Month by asking various bloggers to write about teaching their craft. It’s a project known as Teach Your Talent. I’ve been thinking about it for several days, and I’ve reached one conclusion.
There’s no real way to teach writing. There’s no real way to measure if you’ve learned how to write or not. What’s the measurement? How do you know if you’re experienced or still learning?
If you’re learning how to use C++, wouldn’t you know if you’ve learned it if you write a program that actually works? If you’re learning the piano, you can measure your achievements by the difficulty of the song you’re playing.
But with writing? What’s the goal?
Is it writing that first novel? Publishing a short story? Getting your first rejection? Publishing anything? Seeing your book in the front window of a bookstore? Getting on the bestseller’s list? Having your book adapted into a movie?
I know of several bestsellers that others have criticized as poor writers. Their prose is torn apart and their stories reduced to mockery. It’s a very subjective field. Nothing ever stays the same. Different genres bounce in and out of popularity, readers that once loved a certain writing style now hate them.
So if I were to give advice to a new writer, here’s what I would say:
1. Don’t focus on the end result. Writing is going to be hard. Just because you write one good novel, it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be hunky-dory. J.K. Rowling wrote a series that send the entire world into a frenzy, and when she tried to publish under a pseudonym, she barely made a ripple. Along the same lines, DON’T write for trends. By the time you write and publish, the trend will have moved on. Write what interests you.
2. If you really want to improve, give and receive critiques. I can’t even stress how important this is. I spent years working on my craft. I’d edited, revised and rewritten my novel five or six times and I was convinced that I’d gotten it as perfect as it was going to get. My first beta partner tore apart the first chapter and left me in tears. There’s two things you can do at that point. Either give up, or prove them wrong. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that her words, though harsh, made me want to try again. I rewrote the chapter and was astounded by the change. Same thing with giving critiques. I’ve had people tell me something in a critique (ex: less telling, more showing) but it didn’t make any sense until I read someone else’s piece and realized what it meant. Seeing someone else’s work will help you realize what your own is missing – either in a good way or the bad.
3. Find some good writing buddies. Writing is so much more rewarding when you have a writing group. Whether you meet in person, online or anything in-between, knowing that you’re not alone will always pull you forward. If someone in your group succeeds, you’ll see that it’s possible. If someone fails, they have a natural net to buoy them up. Next month is NaNoWriMo, and each region meets in person to celebrate and write together. Go sign up!
4. Write every day. Like anything else, if you don’t practice, you will lose it. That’s not a threat, it’s just the truth. The best way to improve and learn how to write is to write.
How about the rest of you? Any good advice for someone thinking about picking up that pen for the first time?