So, you want to be a writer, eh? The ability to write blogs and self-publish means that anyone can be a published author. The problem, though, is that while anyone and everyone can write, not everyone is a Writer.
Effective writing is a combination of natural talent and a craft that needs developing. It’s like painting, but with words. Anyone can throw paint on a canvas, but only an artist can make you look at a painted canvas and go “ah!” So, while someone can take classes to improve their writing skills, lacking some significant internal qualities is a real challenge.
Experts and people with a story to share may not be Writers
Many people who have a particular expertise feel that they have to write articles, papers, books, etc. It’s the “publish or perish” thing. Or, my peers have published books, so I need one too, in order to keep up.
Other people have this wonderful idea for a story. Or maybe they want to write a memoir or publish some poetry. There are so many reasons people have for wanting to write. And besides, it’s now trendy to write.
Most people write something every day, whether it’s a memo, an email, a letter, even a shopping list. Unfortunately, the writing skills required for these short pieces are not the same as those needed for longer, well-thought-out works.
And there are people who think that write is nothing more than sitting down in front of a keyboard and start hitting the keys. Wrong! Writing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. First of all, no matter what you write, there’s some level of research required. Even if you think you know your subject, there’s probably information that you’ll need to fill in. There may be background you need to create. Not everyone has the patience for this tough part of being a Writer.
The potential author may have the motivation, but they often can’t write well. That is, the execution doesn’t match the motivation. This shows up as lengthy sentences, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, poor flow, confusing sentences, poor choice of words, and a general inability to communicate with their target audience (which also may be unclear). And whether someone is writing fiction or non-fiction, there needs to be continuity in the plot or the narrative, respectively.
And maybe the most important quality of a Writer is the ability to tell a story. This is true of non-fiction as well as fiction. Whether you’re sharing 25 “how-to’s” or the opening or the Wild West, you need to carry your readers along for the ride.
There’s a saying that goes, “It’s hard to make a great first impression the second time around.” Or, “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” If your readers think your content is riddled with errors or uses language of an inappropriate level, what might they potentially think about your content? Or will they just give up?
Time for a “road test”
None of the above should necessarily stop you from writing. Go ahead. Create a first draft. But, get some people to read your work, people who will give you honest feedback. This may mean eliminating family and friends, even colleagues. You want someone who will be honest and will share the problems in this early draft, whether they’re structural, grammar, storyline, flow, tone of voice, etc.
Remember, the true measure of whether a piece of writing is any good is the impact it has on its intended audience. Did your work engage them? Did it move them? Did it change them in any way?
So, then it’s time to write a second draft, or maybe even a third. Then what?
Hone those skills
Take a writing class (in person or online). This can provide you with basics (e.g., spelling, and how to use a dictionary and thesaurus), grammar (including punctuation), effective practices, and other education in the fundamentals of writing. There will also likely be discussions about learning to identify your audience (who you’re writing for). These courses also may offer guidance, in the form of support groups.
The most important way to hone your skills, of course, is to write, write, write. This is a craft that, with education and critiquing, gets better with practice. As Ernest Hemmingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
But, the big question is, will any of these skill improvements make someone a good writer? Maybe yes, but sadly, maybe not. However, you can certainly become a better writer.
Of course, the above applies mostly if you’re planning to write at some level of professionalism. If you’re writing a personal diary or some other work for your own eyes, the rules are different.
What does it really take?
There are several qualities that of good writers that cannot be taught. These include:
- Passion—This may be the most important quality. It’s a love of storytelling, a desire to communicate, how to use language at its best. Passion and drive are essential traits that can and will get you through non-productive periods, occasional writer’s block, and those darn rejection notices.
- Imagination and Curiosity—This is partly being a dreamer—imagining what might be, and then making it a reality. It’s about asking questions—and then researching or creating the answers. This trait allows you to present your material in a new and possibly unique way. For non-fiction, you can present material, even older material, with a fresh perspective. For fiction, you can create vivid settings, unusual characters, and timeframes not of the present.
- Empathy—This is being able to put yourself in the mind of your reader or your characters. For non-fiction, this is the ability to read your work from the eye of someone who’s going to learn something, smoothly, easily, and yes, even enjoyably. Two of Albert Einstein’s books were written for non-scientists. For fiction, this is the ability to jump into the skin of each characters, to make him or her as real as possible for your readers.
- Tenacity—This is the willingness to write a bunch of words, look at it, scrap it, and write another bunch of words. It’s the ability to stick to it until the page in front of you reflects what you had in mind in the first place. You have write, read, and write some more.
It’s time to create a writing support team. The team may consist of a writing coach, an editor, a book designer, a cover designer, and someone who knows how to get your book article or book published. These may each be individuals or several functions may be combined in one person. Good writers value and use trusted team members.
Being a good writer certainly includes honing writing skills. But even more, being a good writer means becoming someone worth listening to, someone with bold ideas to spread, and new stories to tell. And someone who attracts readers.
Are you there yet?
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