READ A LOT, WRITE A LOT
Read a lot, write a lot. This might be the best and most succinct advice I’ve ever heard about the writing process – the E=MC2 equation for the writing world. That advice is from Stephen King’s brilliant book ON WRITING, which is one of the best books about the craft of writing I’ve ever read. Even if you’re not a Stephen King fan or a horror writer, I still believe every writer should read this book.
Reading a lot makes sense to me. I believe if you want to write in a certain genre, then you should be familiar with that genre – you should read a ton of books in that genre, and it should probably be a genre you already love to read. There’s a trend right now called writing to market, and that’s great, but if you’re going to try to write books in a “hot” market and you haven’t read a lot of books in that genre, then those readers and fans of that genre may be able to tell right away. I’m not saying don’t try to write to market, but I think it’s helpful to be as familiar with that genre as you can by reading a lot of books from that genre.
Reading a lot in the genre you write in is absolutely important. But I think it can also be beneficial to read books from other genres. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was a teenager. I mostly read books in the genres I loved: horror, thrillers, and sci-fi. But I also forced myself to read outside of those genres, experimenting with other works, including literary classics. It’s hard for me to imagine a person wanting to write books who doesn’t read a lot and who doesn’t already love to read.
And now to the other half of the equation: write a lot. Writing is a skill. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly so it can get stronger. Even for those lucky ones out there who are natural storytellers, writing is still a skill that needs to be honed. There are many naturals in the world of sports, but it’s the athletes who put in the extra hours of practice and watch the extra hours of film that seem to rise to the very top.
You, as a writer, must never stop honing your skills. You must never stop trying to improve. I wouldn’t advise going long periods of time without writing anything.
The 10,000 hour rule. It’s said that to become a master at any craft, you must put in at least ten thousand hours. That means if you worked at writing for forty hours a week, every week of the year, you would still have to work at your craft for five years before you became an expert at it.
Have you put in your five years yet – your ten thousand hours? If you haven’t, don’t feel discouraged. You still have plenty of time to hone your skill, but you must always be practicing and building those writing muscles.
When I first started writing novels in high school, they were terrible. My short stories were rip-offs from my favorite authors. But I had to push through those years of bad writing. I had to put in the hours, put in the years. It was the same thing when I first started to learn the craft of screenwriting. I had already put in my ten thousand hours of writing by then, but screenwriting was a whole new skill to learn, and I had to put in my hours doing that. My first three screenplays were horrible, but I wrote three more, and then three more. I learned the craft as I practiced, and little by little my screenplays improved enough so that producers were eventually reading them, and then some of those producers were optioning them.
So, keep reading a lot and keep writing a lot. There is so much more to learn about the business and pleasure of writing, but those two things are a great foundation to build from.
Hope this helps someone out there.
Until next time . . .