You write the way you write. Right?
It’s a part of you and who you are. It’s how you express yourself. It comes from somewhere deep inside, almost as if by magic, and you don’t have a lot of control over that process.
You write the way you’ve always written or how you were taught. It’s almost like an extension of yourself, an appendage. It’s not possible to write any other way because this is you.
If someone doesn’t like the way you write, too bad. Right?
Someone will discover you, eventually. Your blog posts will go viral as soon as people catch on to how great you really are.
An agent will snap up that brilliant novel, and you’ll have a best seller on your hands in no time.
You just know in your heart of hearts that you’re a writer, you were meant to be a writer, and you’re going to be famous someday because your ideas are truly deep. Profound, even. Or at least smart.
And you keep writing. And writing. And writing. And you’re earned a few bucks or you have a manuscript or two on a shelf somewhere.
A few friends have offered suggestions for improvement. Or maybe an editor rejected something because it was too this or not enough that. And you felt defensive and tuned it out. Or you were devastated. Crushed. And it was months before you wrote anything again.
Maybe you’ve read some advice about writing, but you didn’t think it applied to you or it was just plain stupid.
This is how you write. It’s you. You don’t want to be dishonest, do you?
Your writing is a victim of your attitude.
If this is how you think, you’re stuck. And you’ll probably quit writing before too long.
Think about it. All successful writers—fiction or non-fiction—go through stages. Their writing sucks at first. Finally, they manage to get published in some small, local publications or on websites. They start small and get bigger and better as time goes by.
Some writers are lucky, and they write a best selling novel without publishing a thing before it. That doesn’t mean they’re beginners. It doesn’t mean they weren’t practicing and improving along the way. And it definitely doesn’t mean they didn’t have some help; editors and proofreaders are always lurking behind the scenes.
Writers become good writers through conscious effort.
They’re willing to examine their writing, set their egos aside, and make improvements.
Good writers open their minds and believe any advice or suggestion might apply to their writing. They question their judgment and their writing ruthlessly, and they evaluate their writing for flaws at every step of the way.
Do you play a musical instrument? If not, have you ever heard a young child play the piano? What about a teenager in the neighborhood learning to play drums or saxophone? Crash, boom, bang, screech. It sounds awful.
Nobody knows how to play an instrument without learning a few skills and practicing over and over again until it’s just right.
And the same applies to writing.
It’s all about attitude.
You can adopt an attitude of an eager student, and your writing will become more melodic with richer harmonies.
You’ll hit every key just right, and when you’ve mastered one level, you’ll progress to the next by trying on new skills and techniques. And you’ll get better and better as time goes by.
Or you can remain where you are with your ego in control.
This is me, this is how I write, and someone will discover my brilliance some day. I don’t need or want to change it. That’s arrogance. And underneath it is fear.
What if I’m not really a writer after all? What if I try some new stuff and never get any better? Won’t learning new skills just ruin the creative process or interfere with my genius ideas?
Yes, you’re a writer. Yes, you’ll get better. And no, taking conscious steps toward improving your writing won’t interfere with your creativity; it’s just the opposite.
Opening up to learning and improvement will only make your brilliance brighter and let your creativity flow.
All writers experience fear. The difference between good or great writers and those who quit is attitude.
Take a look at these 5 tips.
1. Realize your writing is not you or an extension of you.
Sure, your ideas and your writing are a part of you. But writing is a method of communication just like playing an instrument. Musicians express themselves through their music, but they know it’s a skill, and they know it needs to be learned, practiced, and improved.
Writing is very much the same. Just let it go. Write and know you’re not the greatest—nobody is. Realize you’re making mistakes and you can improve. And look for ways to get better.
2. Understand that writing is a skill that requires practice.
The more you write, the better you get—if (and only if) you add some awareness and conscious decision-making to the equation.
You can’t just write the way you’ve always written over and over again and expect to get better. That won’t make your writing improve. You’ve got to judge without mercy and evaluate your writing at every step and apply the improvements it needs.
3. Believe you can improve your writing skills just like anything else.
What other forms of expression require specific skills as playing a musical instrument does? Painting is one. Photography is another. Sculpting, carving, acting, dancing (such as ballet), figure skating, gymnastics, and graphic design are just a few.
Think about it. Mastery requires an open, eager mind, the mind of a student. To maintain a learner’s mindset even when you’ve become a master is what makes you the master, not the reverse.
4. Examine your writing objectively to decide what improvements it needs.
Don’t know where to start? Take a good look at writing you admire and apply some specific aspect of it to your own. Read or listen to advice from other writers and try it with your own writing. Copy another writer’s style just for practice. Resolve to cut word count by 20% on all articles or beef up by 20%. Try editing and proofreading tips you haven’t used before. Take a quiz.
All writers can improve their writing, and sometimes it’s just a matter of setting higher goals. Do you have the guts to do that?
5. Improve your writing one new skill at a time.
If you’ve studied piano, you know the first lesson, right? Scales. Over and over again, up and down and up and down until you’re bored silly. I want to play real songs, you moaned. But it doesn’t work that way because you’ve got to build skills one at a time.
And the same is true of writing. You’re probably like most writers—you didn’t learn how to write in clearly discernible stages. But you can improve your skills by taking it one step at a time. Have grammar issues? Focus on your key trouble spots. Is your writing too academic or formal? Identify five words or expressions you often use and learn alternatives. When you’ve mastered those, pick a few more. And so on.
It’s all about attitude.
Great writers aren’t born that way; they learned to write just as you’re learning. As I’m learning. And as we continue to learn.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Every writer struggles; every writer learns. And continues to learn.
Don’t let your writing become a victim of your attitude. Let it blossom and grow with the right attitude, a learner’s attitude. It’s the only way any great writer learns to write.
How’s your attitude? Share your story or tips in the comments.