“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing (1999)
There may not be a shortcut to becoming a great writer, but there certainly isn’t a secret to greatness boxed up with the keys only available to literary elitists, either. If you have the dedication to the craft and you have the proper creative tools (ie. your version of pen/paper and a brain full of ideas), how you use them will propel you from being a good writer to a great one. The simple notion of devotion to your writing is reiterated in big waves from successful novelists, English professors, and journalists, whom in their own interpretations and literary voices reach the same conclusions, all blissfully condensed in this blog post.
Before we begin, answer this: Why do you write? Is it for the pure joy of creating something out of nothing? Is it a sensual outlet for your busy mind? Does it bring clarity and passion to your life, through the grounding of pounding the keys? Or do you just really want to be heard in the world through your thought-provoking ideas and imagination?
Identify Your Writing Bubble
“Just as a good rain clears the air, a good writing day clears the psyche.” – Julia Cameron
Find a place where you can go and shut out the world, and be open and receptive to inspiration as it flows through your fingers onto the page. Is it a cozy old armchair in your basement like Virgina Woolf’s? Or is it at the back of a Laundromat, like Stephen King when he wrote his thriller Carrie? A particular spot you go to curl up to and write can evoke your disciplined mindset even during the most uninspired writing days, simply out of habit and familiarity.
On “Finding” Inspiration
“If I knew where inspiration came from, I would go there more often.” – Leonard Cohen
Julia Cameron, American author and playwright, knows very well that it’s a luxury to be in the mood to write. The best way to find inspiration is to just continue writing day after day until it decides to show up suddenly, elusive and tantalizing – and when it does, listen to it. To write well isn’t to be inspired every time you take out your pen, but to be able to trudge on without it through sheer stubbornness.
“Just as the first caress can lead to a change of heart, the first sentence, however tentative and awkward, can lead to a desire to go just a little further.” ~ Julia Cameron
On Modern Journalism:
“Good, dramatic nonfiction openings have life within them, life that moves, that gets somewhere.” – Ted Cheney
The dynamics of the traditional newsroom and how the news is conveyed has inevitably evolved to keep up with society’s modern expectations of on-demand, in-hand and instantaneous in the settling of social media. But the shift to digital isn’t the only noticeable change to how news is delivered, and despite the click-bait and low-quality fluff that saturates popular online news sources and newsfeeds, there’s a positive to moving away from the traditional method of news reporting. Jack Hart, former managing editor of the Oregonian, writes “the genius of modern narrative nonfiction is that it replaced the conventional journalists’ who/what/where/when with character, plot, scene and chronology”. Rather than focusing on the outcome, digital news outlets are relying on using compelling narratives to emphasize the process and make the readers feel the experience, rather than simply reporting blocks of information. Nonfiction stories offer rewards beyond raw information, the kind that yield meaning by recreating life as it is lived.
“The art exists purely in the arrangement of words. – Philip Gerard
Among applying the linguistic surface that coats any piece of writing – diction, syntax, and metaphorical language – if you want to be a writer, Stephen King suggests we must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.
Recognize Your Unique Voice
It’s been said that there are really only two or three human stories in the world, and yet they continue to repeat themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before. So if you’re fearful of lacking originality, boot that one out the door. A narrative crafted by the stylistic dimensions of your unique voice makes all the difference in great storytelling. As Jack Hart notes, voice “wallows in warmth, concern, compassion, flattery, shared imperfection – all the real stuff, and when missing, makes writing brittle.”
Read The Elements of Style
I never thought I’d be so adamant on following a style guide that was probably drafted with a feathered quill and ink, but The Elements of Style (1920) authored by master of literature William Strunk and his former student, E.B. White (yes, the same one who wrote Charlotte’s Web), is a must-read for all writers. It’s a timeless and elegant little reference book on how to write concisely in the English language, injected with humourous subjective preferences, and filled with explanations of common words misspelled and misused that ring true today. Read it thoroughly and take your writing to the next level.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from the 43-page pocket guide was to omit needless words. Say more with less, and write with vigor. This doesn’t mean shorten your sentences, but to make every word tell. Something tells me Donald Trump didn’t read this book really very well.
Dedicate Yourself to the Craft
“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” ~ Liz Gilbert, Big Magic
This is probably is the hardest one to follow – you’re busy with all of Life’s lemons, and sometimes responsibilities get in the way of your creative time. But here’s the big secret: great writers don’t find time, they make it, dammit! Even if that means dedicating an hour of writing at dawn before the kids wake up to go to school. Procrastination isn’t laziness; it’s fear. Writing claims our world and with it, comes the power to look inwards and critique ourselves harshly, hence the prevailing myth of the “tormented artist” or the stereotype that all writers are self-deprecating alcoholics. But remember, the scariest moment is just before you start. After that, things can only get better.
“Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.” ~ Julia Cameron
Try Morning Pages
The daily practice of Morning Pages, a creative discipline tool put forth in the world by Julia Cameron, allows your thoughts to flow freely on the page before the day begins, getting you into the habit of writing no matter what mood you’re in. This is not high art – you can literally write whatever crosses your mind, with no judgments, from your weekend plans to your dog’s favourite food, in the format of three pages, longform and handwritten. Showing up day after day to write for fifteen minutes will help discipline your dedication to writing, and starting off the day with a creative hum of accomplishment.
Books Every Budding Writer Should Probs Read
Like Stephen King so cleverly stated in his first nonfiction book On Writing, I am not Oprah, and this isn’t my book club, but if you enjoyed the snippets of literary wisdom from these great minds, you should read their inspiring and invaluable books about writing and pursuing a creative life:
- Big Magic by Liz Gilbert
- The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
- On Writing by Stephen King
- StoryCraft by Jack Hart
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B White
I’ll wrap things up with Stephen King’s humble opinion, and I hope this continues to motivate you to write, and excite you each day to live a creative life. Let’s begin this journey together!
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives and those who will read you work, and enriching your own life as well. Getting happy, okay?” ~ On Writing (1999)