The Best Way to Learn How to Write … Is to Write

I do not remember him teaching me a single thing about how to write. Yet it was in that class that I learned how to be a better writer.

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When I took my first creative writing class, I expected it to be like any other English class I had ever taken. Learn some terms, learn some techniques, write a thing for a grade, move on. And then I walked into that class for the first time, and one of the first things my instructor told us to do was open our composition notebooks and write about a specific prompt.

There was no how. There was no list of rules to follow. He just told us to write, and we wrote.

I will be completely honest with you: I took that class three times, three years in a row, and I do not remember him teaching me a single thing about how to write. Yet it was in that class that I learned how to be a better writer.

For me, writing has never been something I learned by taking classes or reading advice from other writers (though I give it now, and am getting better at reading what others have to say as well). Writing, throughout my journey, has been about sitting down and writing whatever comes to mind. I cannot explain how I figured out better ways to write things. Perhaps it is a combination of reading and exploring the world, though the latter I have done very little of compared to the majority of the people I know.

I remember specifically several occasions in which I was writing on my own, stopped in the middle of a paragraph and thought to myself, “No, I don’t want to write that this way, I think it would be better if I started it another way.” Good teachers do not teach you how to do something without letting you try. They force you to do things wrong and then show you ways to do them better. I think, little by little, I picked up on the little things my instructor pointed out to me, and kept writing, and figured out what I was doing right and what I could do better, on my own.

The best advice I have ever given, and may ever give, to new writers is that they need to write. Who cares if it isn’t good? I have notebooks filled with terrible, embarrassing prose that I will never show to anyone. But I have kept them as a symbol to remind me of how far I have come. I never would have stopped writing terribly if I had stopped trying to write better. And the same goes for every single one of you out there. No matter how good of a writer you might be, you can be better. And you will be, as long as you keep writing.

This is not to say taking writing classes is pointless. Actually, my English major made me a much better, more confident writer than my creative writing minor (despite the writing workshops, which were infrequent but amazing – shoutout to the one person I know of from one of those workshops who now has an agent, woo woo!). Every instructor teaches differently and every course has different objectives. I have not completely eliminated the possibility of a master’s in writing someday (though not anytime soon, for many reasons). But as long as you write, even if there is nothing else in addition to that, that is so much better than never writing at all.

Before you seek out advice, if you are in that stage when you want to write but don’t know where to start, write first. Write anything, even if it doesn’t go well. Even if it’s hard. Start with writing. Then figure out how to get better. Trying to seek out advice for something you have never tried, it just has never made sense to me. Try first. Try to improve second. And keep improving, always.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of chriswinterberg.com.

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