I’m on a writing retreat with my younger sister and family this weekend, and we’re editing, writing, and working on several projects (from crochet to design to catching up on other unfinished ideas). We were sitting by the ocean, bantering about writing and editing. She shared four “writing mantras,” from one of her favorite teachers, as rules to remember to become a great writer. I loved them and I thought I’d share. More on the writing retreat soon!
If you can’t read well, you can’t write well. The most important thing you can do to be a better writer is read. I recently listed a years’ worth of my favorite books, and I’m already embedded in at least half a dozen new novels, historical accounts, and business books this month alone. Immersing yourself in good quality writing is the best teacher.
There is no good writing, there is only good re-writing. When I work with new writers, I often tell them to expect the first page to be “full of shit, with a few gems hidden in there somewhere.” It takes time, patience, and a whole bunch of red-lines to work with words on a page. It also takes the courage to put words down on paper without initial judgment or concern. Just do it, and let yourself write. Don’t let your judgment of yourself preclude you from starting in the first place. Trust that it can continue to get better with editing, time, and practice.
The goal is not complex words and simple ideas, but simple words and complex ideas. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Writing does not need to be complicated, pretentious, confusing, or full of jargon. To me, writing is a process for building understanding for yourself, and others. For myself, I often copy notes, explore ideas, and re-work words on a page just to tango with an idea until it makes sense in my mind. If I can’t explain it to people, then I’m not well-versed enough in the concept. Writing is a tool for communication (externally) as well as understanding (internally). Often, much of my writing is just about my words, rants, ideas, and explorations–before any of it gets shared with anyone else.
What you take out is just as important as what you leave in. Getting to a clear, simple essay or point is not straightforward. Often, I have to write 5-6 pages just to get to a distillation of one great paragraph. It’s part of the process.
What are your writing dreams and goals? Are you upping the ante with your writing? I’ve recently received multiple messages from people who want to be writing more. My advice? Do it, and do it as often as possible. A little is a lot. Everyone can write 1000 words a day (hat tip to Chris Guillebeau for that advice), and in the process, you’ll find some good stuff that you can then re-work and share with the world.
My goal for March: to write 1000 words every day, a short story or ramblings, first thing in the morning.