Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 48: The only way to learn to write is to write.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It’s pretty hard to argue with that. But how do you learn to write? Or to write better?
I’ve heard tell the only way to do it is to write. And write some more.
It certainly can’t hurt. But there’s that old saying that says if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. In other words, if you just keep writing, you could keep making the same mistakes over and over again. That won’t help.
You could take a course. Go to a writers conference. Enroll in a writing program. All of which will most likely do you some good.
But there’s an easier way: read.
You can learn to be a better writer by reading good writing. At least it seems to have helped me, as I have never learned anything about creative writing (which my journalism degree did not cover) anywhere but in books. I love to read. I do a lot of it. And when I find a writer or a book that I especially like, I will read it again, and sometimes again and again. Once you’ve read a book enough that you don’t get caught up in the story, you start noticing how the author does things—how he chooses words, how she builds phrases, how he makes sentences, how she moves the story along, or pauses to let you catch your breath.
All those things, and many more, get embedded in your mind and when you sit down to write, they affect how—and how well—you do it.
And when it comes right down to it, reading is a lot more enjoyable way to spend time than sitting around in a classroom talking about writing.


  1. Rod, that's some of the best writing advice I've seen in a while.

  2. Rod, your thinking has been codified in a book whose title I cannot recall, but was written by a gentleman named Christensen. He analyzed the sentence structure of great writers as diverse as Hemingway and Faulkner. In any case, I have used his guidance for over thirty years of -- I trust -- good success with student groups as different as the PEO Sisterhood of Greenwood County, Kansas to the Aryan Brotherhood and Black Gangster Disciples, this last group of writers imprisoned at Richard Donovan Maximum Security Correctional Facility just across the border from Mexico. Give a look for the book, buddy, and if you have no luck, give me a shout. Take care, cowboy. JB

  3. Totally true. When I speak at conferences, I tell would-be writers to do precisely that, and also to avoid too many writers' groups. Writers groups mostly waste time. And then I urge people to read really good books.