How to Learn to Write – You Must…


Look, it comes down to this: the only real way to learn how to write is to actually sit down and write.

You can take all the classes in the world, study all the writing-related information on the net, read every book you find on the subject, study thesaurii (wouldn’t that be what they are in plural?) and dictionaries and read every writer you deem ‘great’ to try to learn what they do right and read all the bad ones to learn what they do wrong…

… but when it comes right down to it, the only way you will ever be able to learn how to write is by sitting down and writing.

It’s sort of like driving a car. When you go to driver’s education, they make you study the handbook, read all about driving, and even take a written test to show you can regurgitate that information, but you don’t get to driver’s license until you drive a real car by yourself, and to do that, you have to actually sit behind the wheel with an instructor and learn how to drive. You learn how to drive by driving, driving some more, putting yourself into situations you would be in when you are driving on your own–such as driving on the highway, stop signs, stop lights, right turns, left turns, merging, using blinkers…You learn how to write by writing more, putting it in front of a readership and letting them tear it apart, slam on the second ‘special’ break, or scream at you that you’re going to get us all killed if you don’t, for God’s sake, slow down!

Well, my analogy is wearing a little thin, but the point is: until you actual start writing, you won’t know how to write, no matter how much you read or study writing. There is a world of difference between reading about it in a book and sitting down and doing it. A lot of folks have a dream of one day writing a novel, but the reality of writing a novel and the fantasy of it are two very different things. Millions dream of writing a book one day; fewer will actually ever sit down and start writing, in earnest; even fewer will ever finish that book or even come close to finishing it; fewer still will ever get the book in any kind of shape worthy of publishing. Only the very elite or insane will ever make it to the ranks of ‘published’.

And yet, writing a novel isn’t hard! It’s very simple, in fact! It’s all the other stuff that goes along with writing a novel that’s hard. Like, oh, I don’t know… your family laughing at you because you’re sitting at the keyboard with tears streaming down your face. Or when you snap at your son to be quiet or he’s going to tip off the man lurking in the shadows outside. Or when, on a dark and stormy night, you terrify yourself with your own writing so much so that when the lightning flashes and the lights go out, you’re too afraid of what lurks in the shadows to go outside and flip the breaker switches. Or you can’t sleep, because you left someone dangling from a metaphorical cliff and you feel bad for leaving them in a bad place, so you write a resolution really quickly that you know you won’t lose, just so they don’t have to be in pain and jeopardy while you’re resting peacefully.

Or when you go out to dinner with your best friend to celebrate completing a novel, and she offers to take you to a Thai restaurant, and you sigh wistfully and fight back tears, saying, “Jackie loved Thai food. I miss her.” And you’re so overwhelmed with grief that you have to turn around and go home. (Right, like the death of someone I love will keep me from good Thai food someone else pays for!) Of course, Jackie is the lead female character you had to kill off in your story.

Or when you’re talking to your mother about something Brent said to you and she asked, “I’ve never heard of Brent before. Is he a new friend?”

And you have to answer. “Uhm, no. He’s a character in my latest novel.”

“Oh,” she says. “You’re strange.”

I can only nod. I guess I am–strange, that is. No, I know I am. After all, I am a writer.

Are you? If so, you’d better be writing!

Write on,