Want to know how to improve your writing?
Well, I’ll tell you. There are two answers, and they’re both simple.
The short answer: it takes practice. The long answer: it takes practice and time.
It’s as simple as that.
Of course it is a good idea to take writing classes, if you haven’t already. (If you can’t afford to take a class, don’t worry. There are many books at the library and free resources online that can show you the basics.) Learning the basics of grammar and how to structure an essay or short story will greatly improve your writing. But this isn’t my point.
Now, even more important than knowing the skills is using them. You have to practice if you want to get better, and this means actually writing, lots and often.
Initially what you create won’t be to your desired standard. Simply, it won’t be very good. It takes practice and you will get better with each piece you write. The thing to remember is improvement happens over time, a long period of time. Try not to get frustrated. Think of yourself as the body builder of writing.
Body builders don’t start off big. They gain their muscles by doing the the same exercise over and over again, for months and years. It’s hard work. Champion Body Builder Ronnie Coleman said it perfectly, “everybody wants to be a body builder, but nobody wants to lift the weight.” It takes time, effort, and hard work to improve your body. Writing is no different.
In order to increase your muscle mass as a writer you have to constantly produce material. Writing a couple short stories, poems, or essays, a year is about as effective as going for a jog at Christmas then expecting to be able to run the Boston Marathon in April.
Put yourself on a schedule. Write everyday. Start with setting aside just fifteen minutes a day. A journal is good for this. And you can write a lot in fifteen minutes, especially when you’re not worried about your audience – think of it as a letter to yourself.
That said, produce something for others to read every one or two weeks. You can join a writer’s group, post something on your blog (if you’re reading this you probably already have one), or even print something out and distribute it to your friends.
The key is to continually and consistently produce material. Growth comes from time and effort.
Below I have posted a video featuring Ira Glass, the host of the popular radio show This American Life. (Each week 1.8 million listeners and podcasters tune in to his program.) This video is ‘part three’ in a series discussing storytelling. Here he discusses his own learning process, and how long it took him to hone his skills.
The part I liked about the piece is when he talks about how people often get discouraged by the fact that what they are producing isn’t as good as the stuff they like. There is a gap between the quality of their work and the work of their heroes. Using examples from his own career, he shows that the only way to narrow this gap is to keep writing, keep producing. In order to get good you have to put out a lot of crap.
And it’s true. Trust me. I’ve been writing for years, and I’m still no where close to producing material in the calibre of Hunter S. Thompson, George Orwell, or Charles Bukowski. What keeps me going is knowing that they had to put in their time and produce a lot of crap in order to become literary giants.
Anyway, I hope you find the video helpful. Keep writing, and enjoy.