A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of people about what it’s like being an author. Of course, most people will ask for advice on how to become a writer and my level of advice may vary based on where that person is in their life (i.e. college: think about taking creative writing courses or pursuing the literary agent track as a career option; mid-level, recommendations on some great Facebook groups to join for ongoing education, etc.).
No matter what, though, my biggest advice goes back to two main principles:
I know this sounds simple so it’s easy just to disregard them as, “yeah, yeah, yeah…” but the question is, are you really doing them? I mean, really?
I’ve spent about 30 of my 36 years being an avid reader and knowing I want to write. Books have been my entire life. They’re the way to my heart and everyone in my life knows this.
However, it wasn’t until the past year especially that I’ve seen the impact of what reading and writing truly means to my writing career. And I realized I wasn’t doing it enough, which was shocking for me, a book lover who has always known what she wanted to do in life.
If you want to be a successful writer, every day should be spent with SOME reading AND writing. It’s true. It’s the only way you’ll get better.
Let’s start with how Reading looks in this new light.
Reading is the single best education for writing as long as you pay attention to the elements. In the past I would pick up a book whenever I could or wanted to unwind and relax. I thought I read a pretty decent amount, but it was all very leisurely.
After I read Stephen King’s On Writing, it finally sunk in how crucial reading is once I looked at his recommended books list and was blown away by the variety of authors. I realized I needed to elevate my game and get a little more serious about reading. Not only did I need to take it in the story as I always did (that’s once all I focused on), but also pay more attention to the craft of writing itself and note the author’s voice, perspective, story development, etc. From this, I became more intentional with my reading, which is what it’s all about.
Stephen King also made a comment about how he finds time to read in his day no matter what, even if that means at the dinner table. How could I find extra time to read daily? First of all, the most productive swap, I began reading instead of picking up my phone to scroll social media. Easy, right? A conscious decision of what’s more important even with just ten free minutes while I eat breakfast. I now always make sure to have a book nearby, whether physical or electronic, and also learned to branch into audiobooks at different times (like when I’m working out). There’s always a chance to read if you look at the different mediums available and are willing to adjust based on what works for your lifestyle and time availability.
I also started challenging myself to branch out into different genres. For example, I don’t particularly love reading thrillers, but I make sure I read them in regular rotation because it’s great for me to learn from the authors who have excelled in that genre, and it expands the ideas of what I can do within my own stories.
Although reading a variety of genres is important, so is reading with the specific genre that you want to write in, especially if this is your first time launching a book into the world. It helps to have a thorough understanding of the elements that have worked for your targeted audience and genre like tropes.
Now let’s talk about how writing looks in this new light:
I’ll be very frank on one thing. My writing gets better every time I go through a big reading spurt. As mentioned above, when I’m reading, I’m learning, so it’s simply putting what I learn into motion even when I’m not consciously aware that’s what I’m doing.
How do I know I become better? Because I write almost every single day, so there’s daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly comparisons. It also helps to have a completed manuscript that gets raked over multiple times because you can witness your writing improving when going back to read previous drafts.
Writing is a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it weakens. When you put it into regular practice, it strengths. It’s a very simple concept.
Some people are able to use their writing time to work on their book every single day, and that’s great too if you have a project you’re focused on. But sometimes my imagination has been tapped out for the day, so I’ll switch into more article-based writing (like this) or other things along the same line. No matter what though, I write in some fashion or another and spend a good amount of time doing it. If I’m not disciplined, I’ll end up going through long periods where I put it off, and it’s just like gaining muscle and then losing it when you’re not working out. You don’t want to waste what’s been gained.
The more you write, the more your voice develops. Sometimes it’s easy to slip into any creative venture with the mentality of “this is how things SHOULD be,” and I was guilty of that for far too long. The more you write, the more comfortable you get in your own voice which will help in your longterm writing success.
Finally, writing finishes stories. Another blatantly obvious statement, right? But sometimes it’s a good reminder to hear. It’s easy for writers to have a thousand ideas in their minds, but the challenge is actually getting it from your mind onto paper. Remember, first drafts aren’t very pretty. Get the idea out from your mind, develop it in whatever process best works for you, and perfect it later; but you have to start writing to finish it.
It’s the start of the new year still, so if you haven’t yet, try setting specific reading and writing goals. For reading, using the Goodreads annual challenge is my favorite way of staying motivated since it lets you know when you’re on track or behind your goal (paced for the entire year). For writing, no one will keep you accountable better than yourself, but if you need extra help, enlist an equally (or more) motivated buddy that wants to see you succeed.