Three Essential Ingredients to Make the Most of Your Writing Talent
Daily practice, trust in the creative process, and the exercise of rigorous judgment are key factors required to produce original, believable, vivid prose.
What makes for good writing? There are a thousand ways to go about answering this question. One might offer examples—Shakespeare, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf. These are all writers who have produced good writing. But listing them doesn’t get at why they are good. And it offers no help to the writer who is wondering how to produce something striking, original, and moving.
A better approach is to turn the question around: What are the things that, if missing, make a piece of writing not good? Three essentials jump out right away. These are: practice, trust, and judgment.
In a recent interview, the Australian writer Helen Garner said: “…you’ve got to practice every day. It’s like practicing an instrument if you’re a musician or keeping your tools sharpened. After many years of daily practice… you actually build up a competence.”
More laconically, Cormac McCarthy put it : “If you’re going to be a writer, then writing is what you have to do.”
These successful authors are on to something. Daily writing is the place to innovate, experiment, try on other voices. It’s exercise, not unlike jogging, swimming laps or working out at a gym, that keeps you fit, trim, well-trained.
Be disciplined: set a goal—one hour, so many words—and do it everyday. A lack of daily practice will show in a piece of writing.
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