[edited re-post from my former blog]
I know from my own experience that you cannot become a good writer in a day. Or a week. Or month. Or even a year. It takes time.
Lots of time.
Not time thinking about writing, about waiting until you’re good enough to write, but time spent writing. Hundreds upon thousands of words. I've heard it said that you can't write anything worth publishing until you've written at least 1,000,000 words. I don't know how much truth there is to that statement, but it sure does take a lot of hard work. It's a constant learning experience!
If you want to write, no matter what you want to write about, you must practice. You must be dedicated. You must be willing to spend hours pouring over a single page, the ideas refusing to come and your fingers itching to type, yet…having maybe one word force itself out every five minutes or so. Try different topics, different styles. Experiment with poetry and non-fiction, dabble in journalistic-style accounts of things that happened in your town, write short stories, and eek out longer pieces of work. There’s an entire world of writing to discover, and work to find what your style is and where you fit in that wide, wide world.
You must be willing to let your early work, your first drafts, be, well, bad. This, too, I have learned from experience. I had to re-write the first chapter of Called somewhere between eight and ten times.
Another thing that a writer should be willing to accept is...a lot of criticism. Sure, you can hide your brain-child away in a computer file or in a closet. You can never share your writing with anyone and never request an honest opinion.
But if you do that, you’ll never improve. If you want to be a writer, you have to develop thick skin.
Find someone who wants you to become a better writer and ask them to tear your manuscript apart piece by piece.
It can hurt, believe me. There have been times I have wanted to pull my hair out over a good, solid critique. Deep down, though, I’m glad. I’m glad for every comment, and yes, for every single “was”, “had”, or “has been” that a friend of mine so loves to highlight in lime green.
Good, honest critics find the awkward sentences, and bad dialogue. They make note of gaps in the plot and the logic flaws; things that make sense to you because you know more about your story-world than anybody else, yet are confusing to those outside of your brain. They pick up on inconsistencies in your book-people: in one scene, Jack has black hair and five chapters later he’s a blond. Or in Chapter One, Liz suffers from arachnophobia, but eighty pages later, without being given motive to change, she doesn’t even flinch when a spider brushes past her arm.
Taking that said criticism with an open mind and applying it can be really hard! Edit. Revise. Learn from the mistakes you made, and also from the things that you did right. Keep pressing forward and don’t get discouraged.
It’ll take time, sweat, tears, and times when you want to give up. But don’t give up. Even if your writing is horrible, you are writing, and you will improve.
Trust me on that! In my own writing-journey, I can look back and see improvements from what I wrote just this spring to what I'm writing now (I still have a long way to go).
Quality takes time to develop, just like it takes time for an apple to ripen, or for the sun to rise. It doesn’t happen in an instant, but good things are worth waiting for.
One last thing…
To be a good writer, you must also be a good reader. That's something I have been told, and have read, time and time again. Read, read, read. And don’t just read whatever. Find the excellent books, the good books, the noteworthy, well-written books and read those. Devour them. Learn from them.