With the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about the workshop I’ll be teaching there, as well as writing and creativity in general. When younger or newer writers ask me where to start, these are my suggestions:
1. Read extensively.
Read like crazy: everything of quality you can get your hands on, but especially in your genre. Poetry too; it will improve your prose. Stephen King makes it clear: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Similarly, Annie Proulx says, “Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
2. Write extensively, even when you’re not inspired.
What makes someone a writer? He or she writes! As many have noted before, amateurs wait for inspiration; everyone else just gets up and goes to work. You need to put 10,000 hours of practice into something to become an expert. Better get started.
3. Solicit feedback and revise.
Join a writing group or find some beta writers. Better yet, do both. They should be good writers themselves or at least good readers. And do take their advice or at the very least try it out. No one said you have to keep your revisions. Take their feedback, make revisions, and then decide whether to take it or leave it. It goes without saying that all this should be done without putting up a fuss. You need feedback to make your writing sparkle.
4. Learn the craft.
I know that some of the greatest writers had no formal education in it, but as for me? Well, I needed a bachelor’s degree in writing to give me roots and wings. Set aside some money to take a course or attend a writer’s workshop. Read books about craft (my favorites: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby) and the writing life (my favorites: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield). A conference like the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference is a tremendous value at an affordable price.
5. Perseverance and talent are both important in writing; if you want to publish, perseverance is more important than talent.
Maybe that’s a bold thing to say, but I really believe it. Many published writer-friends of mine wrote a terrible-to-semi-awful first manuscript that never was published. After they did that, they set it aside and wrote a second book. A third. A fourth. They didn’t stop after being rejected once or twice, and—say what you will—to spend years on a manuscript that never sees the light of day, then turn around and do that all over again without any guarantees? That’s gutsy. That’s driven. That’s a calling.