I’m in my mid-forties, so I’m a little old school. While I listen to podcasts, watch YouTube channels on writing, follow people on Instagram, like them on Facebook and review them on Goodreads, I’ve still found no better advice. It goes back to the dawn of story, and it boils down to this:
Read copiously. Read as many books inside and outside your genre you can get your hands on. Read a variety of forms, don’t just stick to novels. Read, flash, short story, novelette, novella, plays, and poetry collections. Read perfectly edited books. Read terrible constructions full of errors and poor expression and dialogue – so you learn to identify what NOT to do from other people’s mistakes. Read books from different centuries so you can see how style and expression changes through time. Read books on craft from authors, editors, copywriters. Read style guides and books on punctuation. Read books on how to self-edit so you can send your editor the cleanest manuscript possible. Read books on subjects that interest you for research and inspiration. Read, even if your cat tries to stop you.
Write. I don’t care what it is, a journal, a short story, a list of interesting words, brainstorming notes, snippets of dialogue, an outline, free writing, poetry, flash fiction from writing prompts, exercises from books on craft you have read, a blog post…anything. The more you write, the better you will get. Remember, no one has to see what you have written, you don’t have to show them even if they ask. Feel free to simply express yourself. Write in the morning, evening, lying in bed, sitting on the loo, on your lunch break, on the bus or train. Dictate notes into your phone or recorder while cooking dinner (yes, that does count as writing). Just write, even if your cat gets in the way.
It takes time, but every so often a little light bulb will come on and you’ll realise you’ve made a leap forward. You will discover you genre, your style, your voice. Your dialogue will become smooth and natural. Your vocabulary will widen. Characters will live, not just exist. You’ll discover inspiration everywhere: an overheard conversation, the door with peeling paint at the back of the coffee shop, that person next to you in the supermarket queue, an old bike missing its chain left in the alleyway beside the pawn shop, three seconds of an almost remembered dream. Everything becomes a what if? scenario, and it is splendid.
So read, write, and become who you know you can be.
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