Search the topic and you’ll find countless tips, tricks, and strategies to catapult your writing to the stars. But like you, you’ll find yourself scratching your head wondering which technique, if improved, would have the most effective impact. Let me clear up your confusion right now. If you continue reading this post, you will know without a shadow of a doubt how to become an excellent writer. This is the single, most important principle you need to focus on to step up your writing game. Are you ready for it?
Your craft as a writer is exactly that. It doesn’t matter if you write children’s books, MG, YA, adult literature, poetry, magazine articles, or blog posts. Content is content and great, evergreen content is king, whether on paper or digital. To become the best version of yourself in the literary space you must have laser beam focus a single thing – working on your craft.
That’s right. Working. On. Your. Craft. What’s that mean? Working on your craft as a writer boils down to two foundational pillars. The first is writing. The second is reading.
If you want to develop your skills and abilities as a writer, you must write, write, write! Developing yourself as a writer is, as most things, 20% knowledge and 80% behavior. The Pareto Principal, once again. Consider this, if you are writing books for children, you know enough vocabulary and grammar that is necessary for children’s books by the time you hit Middle School. Knowing more doesn’t make you any better than knowing less. It’s applying what you know and practicing that application over and over that makes you better.
Consider it this way. If you were a publisher and HAD to pick one of two contestants as your next author to be published and you HAD to pay them a standard advance, would you pick A) The author who argues with you about the finer points of subtle literary superiority in their half-hearted attempt at prose or B) the author who spends countless hours writing and re-writing to apply every ounce of gained understanding until it breaths within their pen? It’s rhetorical, obviously.
You get the point. If you want to be a worthwhile author generating incredible content you must write. You must write a lot. You must write on different things. You must write in different ways. You must write quickly. You must write slowly. And you must, most importantly, re-write what you’ve written until you are at the end of your mental rope. Then, you receive advice or critique or blatantly offensive criticism and you take that and you mull it over and rather than throw it in contestant A’s trashcan you assimilate it entirely into your mind and heart and let it fuel your passion to re-write a little more.
The only point at which you stop editing and re-writing your work is when someone or enough people are willing to pay you money to stop. You see, you can put any quantity of garbage out there in the global space but what you’ll find is the majority of people don’t want it. People want to purchase high quality and entertaining or educational material. When you write your first draft of anything, it’s likely garbage. It’s a brain fart. It’s word vomit. The idea may be there, but it’s not high quality yet. What happens though, with editing and re-writing your content, people will begin to notice. You’ll start having people respond to you. They may still not like it enough to pay you for it, but it’s a sign you’re moving in the right direction. Publishers, editors, agents, and critique partners have an uncanny ability to determine whether or not they or someone else would be willing to trade actual money for your content. The moment at which this see-saw rotates is what I call The Golden Egg Moment.
When you birth a new manuscript or some digital content, it’s as if you’re bringing to life a golden goose. From here, you know the rest of the fairy tale details. A golden goose (salable book/content) makes golden eggs (revenue/profits). After you birth your golden goose, it doesn’t start laying golden eggs right away. It takes writing and re-writing. This may be 5 revisions or 50 revisions. It may be 1 month, 1 year, or 10 years. It all depends on how much effort and tenacity you pour into your golden goose. Take this secret with you to the golden bank…the more you re-write your manuscript or digital content, the faster you’ll find a golden egg. Embrace revision. Work on your writing. If someone asks you what you’re doing with your spare time and your answer is anything other than writing, consider how badly you want to grow as a writer.
It’s said you can have the nicest ship in the world, but if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. The same is true in writing. A writer cannot exist by themselves in isolation. Work must be compared against other work. Your manuscript, book, or digital content must be compared against what is already available in the market. Why? Because that is what the reader is going to do. To be a great writer you must be a great reader.
I absolutely love listening to audio books during my commutes and have shared this many times on Twitter @Rhys_Keller. It’s transformed me over many years. I have listened to so many books I have forgotten all that I’ve listened to! But you know what I don’t forget? How other writers use their writing to impact me. One of my favorite books of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, is breathtaking from a literary point of view. Reading that book alone will give you so much to ponder you can’t help but improve your own writing. There are countless others but here’s the big idea. When you read, you must read like a writer.
When you read or listen to books as if you are the author writing them, you’ll notice when they raise the stakes with tension, when they hold back details, or blindside you with an unexpected outcome. You’ll be amazed how beautiful the scenes are painted and how effortlessly you find yourself being dragged along like a paralyzed animal smiling the whole way to the end. You’ll better realize what you enjoy and what comes off stale or flat. This is an even bigger deal with rhyme and poetry.
It’s a natural feeling to think we individuals know everything. But the reality is, within a few minutes of humbly looking at someone else’s work, you’ll learn something new. And here’s where it gets exciting. In writing, an improved skill is not a linear improvement. It’s exponential! What does that mean? It means if you improve yourself in a new way of writing style or understanding of perspective, that will magnify the success potential of every single current and future literary work. It also magnifies the likelihood of a reader, agent, editor, or publisher wanting more of your work (that’s cross-selling).
At the end of the day, you as a writer, a content generator, must find the majority of your attention place on a single actionable task – working on your craft. To work on your craft, write more and read more. It may be hard but it sure is simple.