Two pieces of advice I hear most often from accomplished authors, when asked by novices like myself how to become a better writer, are 1) read constantly and 2) write something every day.
There is a strong connection between reading and writing. This seems obvious, especially to most writers, as most of us happen to be avid readers as well. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is a pleasure all its own. And I certainly still do that. However, I have also found that doing a close reading of a text yields a wealth of insight that can be added to my tool-set as a writer. Sometimes I will do two readings of a text–one simply as a reader, enjoying a text, immersing myself in the story, loving and hating the characters, etc., and another as a writer. Reading as a writer is something different than reading as a reader. What I mean by “reading as a writer” is reading and paying close attention to the author’s use of style, word-choice, language, themes, pacing, dialog, plot points, tropes, story arcs, imagery and a whole slew of other literary elements and devices–all the “magic tricks” of a good writer, or rather, tools of the trade. We learn these by reading, and paying attention to what we are reading, and then practicing on our own. Close reading is fast becoming a lost art in this digital age of click, click, click, short attention spans, and 140 character limit twitter feeds. Yet it is an art I hope to preserve in my own life.
Writing is a craft, a skill. It can be learned. It can be improved upon. It takes practice. It takes effort. So the second point–to write something every day–also makes a lot of sense to me. I have learned enough humility to honestly assess my skill-level as a writer. I have a long way to go. Yet, I keep at it, keep banging away on this keyboard, building my writer’s muscle, practicing what I find useful from those other writers that I admire, exploring on my own, sharing my work with my peers and allowing them to tear it to shreds so that I may come back to this keyboard and try again, and again, and again.