How To Be A Disciplined Writer

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I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was around three years old. I remember scribbling incomprehensible symbols before I was literate because to me it looked like cursive. The notion got into my head because before my mother became schizophrenic when I was four years old, she was an aspiring children’s author. She’d write and illustrate stories about my brother and me. When my brother was having nightmare, she wrote a story about a curly-haired boy who became a superhero in his dreams to fight all of the monsters of his subconscious.

When I lost my favorite doll, she wrote a story about a pig-tailed girl named Breadball who left her favorite toy at her grandma’s house only to learn a lesson about appreciating that life comes with loss and change. Then she became mentally ill and was never published. Although my mother never pressured me  to vicariously live her dreams, her words and words themselves certainly impacted my decision to pursue writing.

One question I always had was: how in the blue hell do you even get good at it? Today I’ll echo the words of every creative writing teacher I’ve ever had: There isn’t a right or wrong way to write. This isn’t like being a runner, there is no concrete way to track your progress. Anyone can write well. You’ll find that the more you do it, the better you will be at it, whether you can understand why or not. It will happen for you.

I believe anyone can write well, all you have to do is think about what you read. Then write, write, write. I am certainly not the greatest writer in the world but I can say with honesty that I was often “ahead” of my fellow classmates, for a number of reasons; some only wrote as a hobby so they simply wrote less, some simply read less, some were first time writers, however, most of all, I took writing seriously because it was what I wanted to do. This sounds “serious” but if you get pleasure out of writing then it’s fun.

Here is what I began doing my senior year of high school.

Just Write Stories

In high school I loved to write but did not have any real understanding of a story’s structure or of certain rules. I’d go in and out of characters’ heads at random and then write omnisciently on top of that. Stories would be confusing and muddled and all over the place. They weren’t good stories but I enjoyed the hell out of writing them. Creativity should not be tamed. When you just write to tell a story for your own personal enjoyment, you’re not practicing to be published, you’re practicing your own personal creativity and finding your voice. I’d write 50-page stories that are embarrassing to read today but those characters were as close to my heart as some of my friends. The first step to being a writer is falling in love with your ideas. You have to find your vision and know it in order to convey it to other people. Be excited by your thoughts. Your mind is infinite, as Louie C.K. would say, it goes on forever.

Give Yourself A Writing Schedule

My senior year of college I started a very nasty personal blog where I basically talked shit about my college peers. I didn’t mention any of their names or tell anyone about it, so they never found out. At the time I NEEDED TO VENT. Anyway, when writing my blog I made sure to post every other day. My writing became the best it ever was at that point because I was forcing myself to think about the world around me and then discuss it in detail. Maybe you want to write an hour everyday, maybe you want to write once a week, maybe you even feel better looking back at the past few months, whatever your preference carve out time to write.

Give Yourself A Project

It’s hard to be motivated to start and finish a story or article without the context of “homework pressure.” By the time you are regularly writing, you should have found out if you love or hate the process. Giving yourself a project to work on, whether it’s a short story or a novel, it’s important to critically think about writing. What makes this different than the first step is that you are actively considering how a story/article should be constructed. You’ll take the time to story board your narrative or outline your article. You’ll write character bios or research sources.

Let Other People Read Your Work

Feedback is a crucial step however it is the most embarrassing. My freshman year of college, I was so excited for my first creative writing workshop. I wrote a story about two middle school delinquents who find an aborted fetus, while one learns the merits of empathy, the other sees empathy as weakness. My professor loved it. My peers absolutely hated it. In their critiques they said I was a flat out bad writer. I was crushed. Was my teacher just coddling me? Had my peers detected that I just wasn’t good at this? It hurts to get negative or even dismissive feedback but it’s part of the process. After I listened to their criticism, that parts were needlessly disturbing or convoluted, I edited my story. Outside of class, the girl who called me a bad writer apologized to me and said my new version made her understand my point of view. If you intend to have an audience criticism is important. You have all of these ideas in your head and you may think you are being clear about them but you may not be at all. A few minor tweaks from the advice of your readers is invaluable.

Take A Writing Class Or Form A Writing Community

You’d be surprised at how many people love to write. If you can’t afford to take a class, form a group with friends or peers. Meet regularly to discuss writing and each other’s writing. The first article I ever published outside of the school newspaper was an article I wrote for my magazine writing class. A community will give you feedback and make you accountable for any of the projects you set out to complete. If you can’t find anyone and can’t take a class, school newspapers and publications are a great place to start.

Read About Writing 

Read instructive books on how to write. They are helpful and inspiring. Here are some of my favorites.

The Artists Way

The Elements Of Style

Plotto

Burning Down The House

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