|Photo by Annie Mole (http://www.flickr.com/photos/anniemole/2796836220/)|
Really, this is the only list you need. Everything else is details, variations on a theme, and epic jazz hands.
Read- Read a lot. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read classics. Read modern. Read things you wouldn't normally read in genres you don't normally like--just to have a sense of what goes on in the literary world. Read dead white guys even while you object highly to canonizing only dead white guys. Read diverse authors even though you don't normally read diverse authors. Read in sips and read in deep gulps--in moments between the ticks of your life and in hours long sessions next to the cat. Read books. Read blogs. Read articles. Read short stories. Read constantly. Read for hours a day. Read like it's breathing. Don't mistake any other media as being anywhere close to as useful to a writer as reading. With a careful eye (which Chris annoyingly insists on referring to as "Doing shit....as a writer") you can learn things from watching a well made movie or a well-written TV show, but the composition of your art is words and language and happens on the page so nothing can take the place of reading. Words are your brushes and paints, so learn to use them from those who have gone before.
Write- Write a lot. Write daily. Try to write at the same time every day. You might find people who say you don't have to do this, but notice that most successful writers encourage it, and that most of the people you see saying you don't don't have a lot of accolades. (Yes, there are SOME, but assume you're not the exception first, and then fiddle with the knobs later.) Write things you'll never publish. Write for fun. Write on prompts. Write character sketches. Write things you wouldn't normally write just to get practice at different things. Write poetry. Write drama. Write constantly. Play as well as work when you write.
Don't stop- Keep doing both these things. Creativity is a muscle and writing is a skill and either will atrophy if unused. Reading is critical to being able to write well, so don't put down that book either. Don't quit doing either! It might seem like it's a million years before you get good enough to be published or pay a phone bill with fiction, but it'll be a million and one if you take a year long break.
Originally this was "Don't give up." But with the recent attention given to Nanowrimo, it occurs to me that people might stop for reasons other than giving up. (For example, if they think they've won, and that they're done.) Keep going. Whether it's Dec 1st, you gave up on your novel, or you just got the most horrific rejection letter of your life. Keep going. Write something else. Don't stop!
I can't tell you when you'll make it. (That doesn't really even mean anything.) But here's what I can tell you: if you slog on through the pain. If you keep going. If you don't give up. If do these three things deliberately and consciously, you're going to get better. You're going to get a lot better. And eventually something will happen. I wish I could tell you that thing will be a robust career with lots of money and fame. But it might just be a few published short stories and it might only be a lifetime of a quiet, intensely rewarding hobby. But something will happen, and it will be amazing.
We talk about what to read or how to read. We certainly talk about how to write, when to write, what to write, elements of craft, and techniques. We talk about resilience and give a zillion suggestions on how to cultivate it. We talk about Being a Writer, creative reading, the writer's eye. We talk about formal education vs. not. We talk about how to improve. How to get the most bang for your buck. We talk about audiences, trends, literary traditions and more. But at the end of the day, it boils down to something much simpler. Read. Write. Don't stop. That's it. Everything else is jazz hands and extrapolation.
Read. Write. Don't stop.