The path to becoming a good writer is scattered with uncomfortable truths. One of those truths is that there are no shortcuts. Improving your craft takes work. And discipline. And patience, and time, and all that awful stuff none of us would do unless we absolutely had to. The good news is that it’s not hopeless. You can be a better writer. One of the first steps to doing that is by studying the works of authors better than you.
When I say that, I don’t mean you should just be a voracious reader. Yes, reading a lot is important, and if you aren’t reading at least one book every month, you’re probably not reading enough. But beyond merely reading and enjoying books by your favorite authors, you should be making it a point to also take notes.
Dissection is a proven method for understanding how and why something works. You should be doing this with other people’s books.
In my experience as a book editor, far too many authors take this to mean you should swipe phrases used by others and incorporate them into your work. Lots of authors do this. Too many.
If you don’t agree, ask yourself how many times you’ve seen writers use tired, boring phrases like “she turned on her heel and left” or “he sat bolt upright in bed” or “suddenly, without warning...”
If my guess is right, you’ve been guilty of this yourself. It happens all the time, and it drives readers (and editors) crazy. But you don’t have to be this way. You can be better.
The trick? Well, there isn’t one. You simply have to work on your craft. You’ve also got to give yourself the opportunity to improve your writing. This means not assuming you’re finished when you’re done writing your story. Quite the contrary (see? Even I rely on tried and true phrases!), now’s the time to go over your book with a fine-toothed comb (I did it again!) and make it better.
How do you make your book better? Through revisions. By taking it one paragraph at a time—improving what’s in front of you and infusing it with splashes of light and pops of color.
Here’s a perfect example. Take this sentence from On the Road by Jack Kerouac:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Now imagine if Kerouac had been lazy and settled for saying:
“I really like hanging around with exciting people.”
Not quite the same, is it?
So finally, here we are at the point of this blog: If you want to be a successful writer, you have to be a damn good writer. And if you want to be a damn good writer, you can’t be a damn lazy writer.
Easier said than done, I know. But writing isn’t for everyone, and neither is success. If you want a near-guaranteed method of becoming a successful author, it’s this: Be so good that no one can ignore your talent.
Being “so good” takes a lot of work, but it’s nothing you can’t do if you put your energy, heart, and mind to it.