The Writer magazine has been running a feature called “Writers on Writing” in which they ask a well-known author this question: What is the single most useful thing you’ve learned about writing, and how has it helped you as a writer?
So I’ve been thinking a lot about that and wondering if I could distill all I’ve learned about writing into one meaningful statement. I can, but not without breaking it down. My bit of wisdom comes from Jack M. Bickham’s book, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them):
Consistent, persistent, even dogged work, day in and day out, is the professional’s way.
I’d break this down as follows:
Learn your craft:
Again from Bickham’s book: “But as you learn each bit of the craft, paying for your knowledge in hard work and the passage of time, I guarantee that you’ll grow more excited about the pursuit . . .more awed by the beauty and logic of how fiction works.”
Be open to criticism. Not easy, but essential.
Brace yourself for rejection, because it’s inevitable.
Which takes us back to the original quote. Pull yourself out of your misery and get back to work. Bang your head into the wall, curse the writing gods, vow you’re packing it in…but get back to work.
There are multiple ways to learn to write well–read widely, attend conferences, find a critique group, write daily, etc.–but this post isn’t really about craft. I like that Bickham mentions “hard work and the passage of time,” because that’s exactly what’s involved. You can’t speed it up; you can only work at it every day, or, if that’s not possible, as much as your life will allow. Knowing that it takes “dogged work” has helped me to keep on when I wanted to give up. Knowing it’s the same for everyone who writes.
What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned about writing?
You are so right…persistence won’t make you a great writer, but without it, you won’t be a writer at all!
Exactly! And usually, with persistence, one becomes a better writer, too.
For me, one of the hardest lessons has been “It’s not about me.” Writing is so deeply personal that I want to hang on too tight to my ideas and say “he just doesn’t get me,” when I get that criticism. I often have to remind myself that if he doesn’t get me, I haven’t done my job well enough. It’s not the reader’s duty to get me, it’s my job to make my point “gettable.”
Thanks for chiming in, Jeannie. I know just what you mean. We’re so tied to our stories, it’s really difficult when, in our view, a reader totally misses the point. Something to be open to during a critique!