There is a lot of bad content for new and struggling writers. You didn’t decide to write so that you could take writing courses and read writing books. Presumably you want people to read your work. Neil Gaiman is fond of reminding us that the only way forward is to write.
How do you do it? You do it.
You finish what you write.
—Neil Gaiman, Advice to Authors
You are not writing when you read or watch learning materials. If you’re going to spend time learning, it needs to pay you back with a drastic improvement in the quality or quanitiy of your writing. I’ve found a simple way to eliminate a lot of the cruft.
Trust teachers, not writers
OK, more specifically trust writers who are also teachers. The best sources of information about writing are teachers. Just because someone can write well doesn’t mean they can teach you to do the same. Teaching and writing are different disciplines.
Famous writers with strong opinions about writing are almost always full of it. In the best-case scenario, they only know what worked for them. Worst case, they are writing a book to boost their own ego by beating down the hopeful with mandates that only the unemployed could pull off. I’ve wasted more time than I care to admit reading the writing books of famous authors. The only decent thing I learned is to distrust narrow, prescriptive writing advice.
Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Learn to distrust words like “genius,” “inspiration,” “flow,” “natural,” and “organic”…They have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with venerating writers.
—Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several short sentences about writing
If you’re going to read one book from this list, make it this one. Verlyn Klinkenborg’s wisdom was cultivated by years of teaching people to write. This book is an unlearning of harmful habits and patterns picked up in school. It takes apart the myth of genius and the mystical ramblings of writers who pretend they have a gift instead of a job. From the outset, it makes sure that you understand that advice is not meant to be taken at face value. It is meant to be tested. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, discard it and move on.
Brandon Sanderson’s YouTube Lectures
Look, you’ve got to train yourself to write. You’ve got to spend ten years, write a bunch of different books, work hard at it, and write consistently. That’s 90% of what you need to do.
Yes, that Brandon Sanderson. The one that broke Kickstarter. For years, he’s been teaching a Science Fiction and Fantasy course at BYU. His years of teaching experience are evident from the beginning. He’s studied how different accomplished authors approach writing. He’s tried to reconsile conflicting writing advice. The result is a plethora of techniques and tools that can help you build a system that works for you.
The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante
Are some people more talented than others? Sure. Does it come easier to some than to others? You bet. But in my years of teaching, I have seen creative breakthroughs time and again that have astounded and humbled me. Perseverance, dedication, and just plain obstinacy count for more than you can possibly imagine.
—Alice LaPlante, The Making of a Story
This guide to the craft of writing is the best I’ve read. Alice LaPlante’s experience as a teacher gives her keen insight into how people learn creative writing. It contains no magic or absolute mandate. It does leave you with practical ways to craft a good story. If you want serious nuts and bolts of writing book this is it.
Notice that I didn’t list five or ten things. That’s because I don’t want you sitting around learning how to write. I want you to get out there and write.
To quote Darius Kazemi’s talk at XOXO 2014, “There are two kinds of advice out there for creatives. One is how to buy more lottery tickets, and the other is how to win the lottery. The first is useful because the more you create, the more likely you are to succeed. The second is nonsense”.