Section 4: How to Improve
The best advice you’ll ever get about writing comes from the single mother on the bench, or the tired man in the business suit, or the waitress who’s stressed out.
We’re almost done with the writing course now. One more lesson after this.
I do hope you can find some helpful tools in this course, and that you’ve learned a lot. I know I’ve learned some just by my research and by laying everything out on paper. If you’ve enjoyed the course, found it helpful, or have any other thoughts please let me know in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So before we begin, I’m announcing a short novella I’ve been working on that hopefully will be a good example of all the points I’ve mentioned in this course. To find out more about that novella and when it will be coming out, subscribe to my newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bPgy4n. I’ll also keep you informed on my blog here. (If you’re reading this in 2017 and beyond, it’s probably out already. Look on Amazon under the best sellers. Ha kidding!)
Now, for the actual lesson…
How to Improve
Everybody wants to improve their writing. This is a given.
Why? Because if you stand still and you don’t improve, you’ll end up stale and uninspired. You’ll write the same story over and over again, losing your tough on good fiction. No matter how big your name is, or how well-know or rich you are, you have to keep improving.
One author who comes to mind, and who many people think has become “stale” is Stephen King. Whether you agree or not, the point is that even big-time authors can be seen as uninspired and their work as not improving. (Now, of course every author has critics, but that’s a lesson for a different day.)
So how do you keep your momentum going? And how do you start it in the first place? Well, that’s where a couple points come to mind.
Reading is one of the most important things for an author to do. It gives you ideas, it gives you encouragement and guidance, and ultimately makes up a lot of who you are.
The best authors are the best readers, most of the time. Don’t try to be an exception. Just follow the proven path, and read. If you don’t like reading, then find a book that interests you. Anybody can find one, I promise. I’m in a bunch of classes with teenage boys (not very academic-driven ones) at the moment, and even they can find books that interest them. So I’m certain you can too.
I was originally going to put “write” for this one, but anybody can write. I realized it’s not the act so much as the purpose that affects how it turns out. Let me explain.
If you want to get better, if you have a deep desire to get better, then you will. If you give it everything and you write challenging stories that are meant to increase your author-superpowers, then they will help. So when you write, purposely think about doing better. And you will. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a world around you, full of people and places and things and emotions and ideas and events and drama. And that world is what you’re basing your book off of. Even if it’s Fantasy or Sci-Fi or something “out of this world,” it’s really not.
Let me prove it. What language are you writing in? Is that an earth-language? Yeah, it is. You’re writing about this world, in one way or another. So study this world.
Listen to the world, watch the world, read about the world, be in the world. The best advice you’ll ever get about writing comes from the single mother on the bench, or the tired man in the business suit, or the waitress who’s stressed out. Because they’re real, and you need your characters to be.
Pretty Words: An Essay On Bad Writing
Pretty words are bad words. To be honest. Beautiful words confuse readers. To be honest. Words are lines on paper; meaning is carried behind them. And if your words are too pretty, they act as a barrier to that meaning. Don’t make the reader dig through tons of “beautiful writing” to get to the meaning. The meaning will be beautiful, or it won’t. That’s what you change. Let the words be words- simple and easy to read.
Here’s an article on the matter by Lisa Cron. It’s pretty dang good, and I think you should read it, but if not I’ll paraphrase below.
This is a story about how “writing ugly” is better. You could write the most beautiful words and amazing sentences, but the story could be bland. Writing is about relating to people, not amazing people with your prose.
“It’s not about the words, it’s about the story they’re giving voice to – which is why often ‘bad’ writing has the power to captivate us: it’s the story that has us by the throat, not a bunch of million dollar metaphors. Without an actual story, ‘beautiful’ words are empty, devoid of meaning.”
“It’s the story that spawns the beautiful words, not the other way around. And ironically, when you have dug deeply into your story, expressing it in the simplest words is what often conveys the most meaning.”
“As proof, the next time you’re lost in a novel that has you up long past your bedtime because you just have to know what happens next, ask yourself: am I ever thinking, ‘I can’t wait to find out what exquisitely beautiful sentence this wordsmith will serve up next!’ or ‘I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for a glimpse of the next lovely, luscious metaphor. Be still my heart!’”
“Writing pretty comes last. Creating a story comes first.”
Next time around, I got one more lesson for you. One more. It’s a bunch of resources for you to use, on topics that are very broad. I’ve tried to get some of the best places for you to get answers, both in the forms of books and online articles. Trust me, it’s good. You’re gonna wanna check some out.
So now, we’re done. You’ve completed this course, and I really hope you’ve learned some things. Do your best to follow these tips, and you’ll become a much better writer than me.
The best part about writing isn’t the money, or the pride you take in your work, or the amazing hobby it turns out to be (and possibly even a job). No, that’s not it. The best part about writing is that you’re changing the world. That people will read your work, and you will put thoughts in their heads. You’re making a difference, and you’re having fun doing it.
And the first time someone pays money, sits down, dedicates hours of their time to read your book… Well, that’s the best feeling in the world. I really hope you get it soon.
Email me at email@example.com. I’d love to get to know you, and help you with any specific questions you have. I look forward to the next generation of amazing writers. Let’s just all agree to be great, you know?