To Grow as a Writer

Originally published Monday, 13 March 2017.

The past few years, I've rather unexpectedly found myself speaking about writing; I've led a few conference workshops for writers and have even spoken to college classes on the subject. I often receive emails from aspiring writers with questions about all aspects of writing. And as a freelance editor, I find myself mentoring writers.  

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I have learned a few things about growing as a writer as I've gone through my own writing journey. I use the phrase "growing as a writer" intentionally because I don't think it's something we master. Writing is something that even gifted writers can continue to grow in, develop, and improve. There's always something new to try, a different story to tell, and further development of one's voice. Like all areas of life, we can always improve in our writing. 

If you are curious about writing and what you can do to improve and grow, here are few thoughts to get you started:

1. Seek to Learn: While we all learned the basics of writing a sentence and how to develop paragraphs in school, there is much we've probably forgotten. Or never paid attention to. Revisiting the foundations of sentence structure, punctuation usage, and paragraph building is always helpful to a writer. Go to the library or bookstore and pick up a few books on writing.

Another way to learn and grow as a writer is to attend writer's workshops or conferences. There you can learn how to write articles, queries, and proposals. You'll also learn about the process of publication, whether for a periodical or book publishing. I attended a writer's conference about five years ago and still look back at what I learned there to help me in my writing today. I've also participated in virtual writer's workshops, listened to interviews with seasoned writers, and read more books and articles than I can count on various facets of writing.  

2. Ask Editors, Fellow Writers, and Friends: When I first started writing—beyond my personal blog—I joined a writer's critique group. It was helpful for me to have other people read my work and critique it for content, grammar, and understanding. They helped me see my bad habits and even showed me holes in my content where someone could misread and misunderstand what I intended to say. Editors are also an invaluable and often overlooked source of help. If you submit your writing to other websites or publications, ask your editors there what you can do to improve. What would make your writing better? Read through their edits and take note of the things they change. Especially when they change the same things each time. For example, I found a few editors trimming my pieces back, which revealed to me that I tend to be too wordy. In the last book I wrote, I had several friends read it for content, grammar, and understanding. They pointed out to me things I missed in my own editing and in our discussions about the book, I realized things about my writing I needed to change.

3. Read: Writers are readers. Read good writing. Read poetry, classics, and other quality work. What you read shapes your own writing. Circle new words you haven't heard before and look up their meanings. Keep a list of words and phrases you've read that you like and experiment with using them in your own writing. Evaluate writing that you particularly like. What do you like about it? What stands out to you? Is it the words the writer uses, their voice, the way they unpack a difficult concept and make it understandable? Practice writing using various techniques you've seen authors use. Play around with different ways to communicate the same message. Which way do you like best? Which feels the most natural to you?

4. Practice: A writer only improves with practice. As I said in a recent workshop I led: "In the end, a writer is not someone who thinks or talks about writing, but one who actually does it." Make a commitment to write a certain number of words a day or week. Use a writer's app or carry a journal with you wherever you go and jot down thoughts, phrases, and ideas for writing. Blogging is a great way to get regular practice. If you don't have a blog, write for someone else's blog. Write for your church's newsletter. Write wherever you have opportunity. Just do it often. 

What about you? Do you love to write?