by Robert Gray
If you want to be a fiction writer you need to write every day. Go to a bookstore and open up any book on writing and you’ll find that piece of advice. Hell, do a search for the term “Write Every Day” in Google and you’ll get a cool 475, 000 results. There are plenty of reasons why this is good advice, but perhaps the most widely agreed upon is that it keeps your writing muscles strong. Because writing fiction isn’t like riding a bike. If you stop doing it, you’re gonna forget the intricacies of the craft.
But if you’re repeatedly making the same mistakes, then writing every day isn’t going to help you much. Need I remind you of the Jack Torrance bestseller ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY?
Quick story: When I was a kid I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I saved my coins until I was able to get a cheap Gibson Epiphone and a small amp. Reading music or even learning the notes didn’t interest me. I wanted to play Heavy Metal. That stuff was edgy. It took chances. At the time I was sure all my favorite guitarists were self-taught, because they were doing all sorts of amazing things with a guitar that couldn’t be learned in a classroom. I picked up some tablature books (back then we had no internets) and taught myself how to play my favorite songs. And I practiced a lot. Hours per day. Until my fingers literally bled. A few years later I decided to take a lesson, just to gauge how truly gifted I was. Within ten minutes my ego had deflated to the size of a raisin. Not only was my finger placement all screwed up, but I was even holding the pick wrong. Sure, you can argue that a note is a note no matter how you hit it, but once I adapted to the correct way of playing, I improved much faster.
The point is while writing every day is important, if you’re doing it wrong, then you’re wasting time. With writing there is a lot you can – and should – learn on your own, but there comes a point when you need constructive criticism to let you know what you’re doing wrong. In other words, you might be hitting the notes, but chances are you’re holding the pick the wrong way.
While I’m not suggesting you run out and apply for an overpriced MFA, I would suggest you consider attending a workshop that will analyze your writing and help you pinpoint areas where you might need some guidance. The key here is to find a workshop that helps you improve, because many of them are useless. Believe me, I’ve been to plenty, especially in college. You know the ones: where the rest of the students are just trying to get their three credits and your poet professor thinks that writing in the horror genre is the equivalent to acting in the porn genre.
If possible, try to find a workshop that is taught by a writer you know and respect. Many professional writers are out there teaching courses to supplement their incomes, so take advantage of their knowledge. These guys and gals don’t eat if they don’t sell stories. Keep that in mind. They take writing seriously, and they know what they’re talking about.
If you can’t attend one of these workshops, either because of cost or location (though many are offered online these days), try to attach yourself to a group of like-minded writers that are better than you, or at least equal. Sure, critiquing young writers is helpful because it reaffirms your own knowledge, but it doesn’t benefit you if everyone in your group is praising your work, because it is beyond their ability to properly analyze it. If you find yourself in that situation, then it’s time to move on to a different group, one where you can get some real advice.
You can’t teach someone how to write well. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they’re trying to profit from your insecurities as a writer. Each writer needs to develop a unique style, a fingerprint, and that only comes with lots of practice. But what a workshop can do is make sure you’re staying in the boundaries of good writing. It’s also a safe zone where you can let your creativity fly, because you know there’s a net below to catch you. And most important, it gets you writing every day. The right way.
For a list of workshops, check out: Predators & Editors
Also, I highly recommend: The Cult Writers Workshop