If you want to be a successful writer, you need to make sure you are doing two things that are so detrimental to your career, you should consider them your duty. Without these two things, you will never be able to progress your skill, and you will be hard-pressed to expand your ideas. What are these two things, you ask? They are writing and reading. Every day.
Writing Every Day
In order to improve your skills as a writer, you should write every day. The old saying “Practice makes perfect” is a mantra that is applicable to every aspect of life, including writing. There are several ways that writing every day helps you build your skill level, and I can testify to them:
- Writing every day helps you figure out how you can improve. If you write every day, you’ll quickly learn the strengths and weaknesses of your abilities. You might be a pro at writing dialogue, but you can see that your imagery usage is sub-par. You can work on being more descriptive if your writing. Do you find yourself drawn to only one type of character so that your story seems flat? Now that you’ve identified a weakness, you can strive to make it stronger. Learn how to make diverse characters, and use them. Have you noticed that you have a common theme in everything that you write? Good! Central themes in writing can help give you the drive to write by giving you ideas of what should happen in your stories, so why not trying to expand that theme? Did you realize that your word usage is very mediocre? Amp up your internal thesaurus and use powerful verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Don’t settle! There is a very big difference between “Susie caught the ball” and “Susie plucked the ball out of the air” or “Susie snatched the ball just before it hit the ground.” If you write every day, you’ll be able to see what you are doing that is awesome and what you are doing that needs work. Now that you’re able to identify what needs help, you can improve!
- Writing every day helps you overcome writer’s block. Yes! It’s true. The most annoying and life-sapping phenomenon in which aspiring writers are unable to express their ideas can be beaten by a simple task. By giving yourself 20 minutes a day to freely write, your brain will become less inclined to ‘freeze’ when you really need it to run smoothly. There are a few ways you can do this; you can journal, you can blog, you can freewrite, etc. Just as long as you give yourself time to write, you can train your mind away form writer’s block.
- Writing every day helps you focus on your goals. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I plan on letting writing be my main source of income one day. By writing every day, I am reminded of my ultimate goal. I know that every time I pick up a pen (or open a blank page in a program) to get my writing in for the day, I am helping myself towards who and what I want to be.
- Writing every day confirms who you are. We all know of those ‘writers’ who claim that they have hundreds of story ideas and thousands of character designs and aspirations of making it big, yet…they have nothing to show for it. The ones who are willing to tell the world of their current story’s plot, goals, themes, etc. but don’t have hardly anything written down. I’ll admit it. I used to be that person. I used to jot down story ideas, map out the plot, design amazing characters and then blather about it to anyone who was willing to listen. The only problem was that I never wrote anything down. Sure, I wrote the idea and detail stuff down, but I didn’t actually have a manuscript saved to my computer with the story neatly typed up inside it. Most of the time, I didn’t even have anything other than a few scribbled notes inside my binder. I found myself telling people, “I want to be a writer.” By not actually writing, I felt that even though I had all these ideas, I wasn’t a writer yet. And that’s the truth. I wasn’t a writer! I was a talker, a dreamer. To be a writer is to be a person who writes! If you want to be a writer, you have to write! Now that I make sure I write every day, I can honestly tell people, “I am a writer!”
Even though this might seem a little hard to add to your schedule if you’re working a 9-5 job or if you’re in school, or if you have children, just remember that with a minimum of 20 minutes a day, you can reap these benefits. It also helps if you look forward to your own personal writing time. If sitting still with some paper and a pen or a computer seems a little boring to you, make it interesting. For example, since I get distracted easily, I use a leather bound notebook and a dip pen—you know, the old fashioned ones that you actually have to dip into ink. Give yourself some unique, intriguing pizzaz. If you like the outdoors, set up a little writing area on a patio. Not enough? Get a lap desk and lounge under a tree. Pen and paper too old school? Grab a computer or an iPad. Make your writing time fun for you so that you look forward to it every day.
Reading Every Day
Before you jump the gun and declare that reading is a waste of time for a writer or that daily reading negatively impacts your own writing style (yes, some people use these arguments), here is a really important and interesting fact: When you read something that does not have pictures, your mind instantly uses your imagination to envision what is going on. The more you read, the more you utilize your imagination. This is something I learned while reading How to be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play by Barbara Baig. (This book was so influential to me, I added it to my Recommended Readings and Doings page.) When you exercise your imagination daily, it becomes easier to envision and create your own world through detail and description—even if the setting is an area that you made up 100%! So, it is crucial to all writers to read everyday in order to exercise your imagination and enable you to imagine your own stories. I know that this has helped me in several ways:
- I find myself more able to accurately describe action scenes cohesively. There was a time when I read back over some stories I had written in junior high when the flow of the scene went something like this: Samuel glared at Scarlet, his knife gripped in his hand. He made the first move and suddenly, she was on him. He pushed her to the floor and climbed off the table… Yeah. It was that bad. I wasn’t able to envision what was happening, so I tried to throw things together in the hopes that the reader would figure it out. Now, however, I would be more inclined to write something like this: Samuel glared at Scarlet, his knife gripped in his hand. He sprinted forward in the hopes of killing her quickly, but she pushed his weapon aside and flipped him onto a nearby table using his momentum against him. As he struggled to catch his breath, she threw herself on top of him, grabbing at his throat. He pushed her to the floor and climbed off the table… Much better. Now that I am able to imagine the event, I can describe the sequence of it without confusing the reader.
- I am able to describe things that do not exist. What does a city that is underground and made completely out of crystal look like? I can tell you (using a city from an old story of mine) that the city is fashioned like a giant stalagmite. It reaches up to the cavern ceiling as the people who live there continue to build up and out. Firelight flickers everywhere as it is reflected off of the crystal walls and doors. You can tell the wealthy from the poor, because the wealthy have cut and shaped crystal supports that fracture the light into thousands of gleaming rainbows, but the poor are left with the dirty, uncut raw crystal used to initially build their city. See? I can envision this place even though it does not and probably never will exist.
- I am able to incorporate clothing details that I’ve never been able to incorporate before. This one might seem like an odd one, but bear with me. When a person runs in my mind now, I can see not only their form running, but I can see their hair blowing out behind them and their clothing flapping in the wind. I used to only write my characters as running through forests without so much as a scratch. However, now I’m able to see them running and their hair getting caught in bushes and branches. Their clothing catches on the underbrush and tears. Depending on how fast they are going, they will have green wispy lines across their bodies and their faces due the the leaves smashing against them, releasing their chlorophyl.
Hands down, reading every day helps my imagination be more active, which helps me when I write my stories. If this seems tedious to you as well, read things that you enjoy. I find that when I read books the same genre of what I am writing at the time, I get a better understanding of how that particular genre operates. You don’t like that? Read what interests you. Bring out the YA novels or the steamy romance. Crack open an adventure novel or slink into the shadows of a mystery. Make sure you’re reading things you want to read because you enjoy them, and not because it’s just for work or just for writing. I don’t call my reading time my “I-need-to-read-so-I’ll-read-something Time.” I call it “Relaxation with a Book Time.” Read what interests you, and make sure it’s enjoyable. Just be sure that there are no pictures. Don’t cheat your natural ability to imagine what people and places look like by looking at someone else’s representation of it.
That being said, it’s important that a writer both writes and reads every day in order to hone your skills to be the best you can be.
Thanks for reading!
Do you get these two things in a day? How do you write every day? What do you read?