I was asked by a colleague today about advice for improving one’s writing, which is lovely even though it makes me feel a tad old. (That latter bit could be because I just got a haircut and all the gray is standing out now. All. The. Gray.) Anyway, the person doing the asking had a rough time with writing in college, thanks to a horribly demeaning professor, but really wanted to improve her writing regardless.
First off, props to her for taking another stab at it. It’s not easy.
I keep a binder in my office with the very first draft of The Daedalus Incident inside it, the text covered in red-pen edits. This draft, as seen here, represents maybe 60% of the concepts that ultimately became the finished product, but perhaps only 20% of the words, tops.
Why? Because that first draft was bad, man. So very not good. It had all the hubris that pushed me to write a novel, but very little of the craft that I developed over the course of multiple revisions, and none of the lessons learned from my agent and editor.
I keep it on the shelf to remind me that I’ve come a long way as a novelist, and also to keep me humble and striving to do better with each successive work. And I showed it to my colleague as a case study in how one can suck at first, and improve.
The key to improvement? Write. Write more. Then write a bunch more. Revise. Write again. And write some more. Go get some coffee. Then finally, write another thing. And revise it.
Yes, of course, classes and workshopping and reading all can contribute to improvement. But all that learning still has to be applied. And you do that by writing.
That said, I did recommend that my colleague go get her Master’s degree from her mother’s house, frame it, and keep it handy to remind her that, yes, she’s already written something truly worthy of accolade. (Heck, I don’t have a Master’s degree! That takes work!) It’s good to remember the good with the bad. Many of us tend to emphasize the criticism and minimize the success — try really hard not to do that if you can.
It’s hard if you’ve been told that your writing stinks. Getting over something like that takes guts. And even when you’ve had success, your writing will still have its critics. But the only way through that is…straight through it. Sit down, open a Word file, and go to town.
You totally got this.