It's a simple cliche, but you'd be surprised how few people do it. When I was growing up, I'd scour the non-fiction section of my library and come out laden with how-to books on writing. I'd read The Elements of Style and Writer's Inc. from cover to cover and daydream about how wonderfully I'd write, as soon as I got that next great idea. I'd discover 50 fixes for my fiction and 40 ways to plan a plot. I'd attempt to create vivid characters by filling out questionnaires with everything from my character's blood type to her favorite childhood memory (regardless of whether such things played a part in my tale, of course). I'd read reams of manuals on how to make that manuscript stand out when it reaches a publisher's desk.
While I'm sure such pursuits were valuable to a point, I discovered I couldn't substitute reading about writing for the real thing. It's like driving a car: you can read endlessly about how to start the car, how to follow traffic laws, how to be a safe driver. You can watch videos in driver's ed and even sit in the passenger seat and observe a veteran navigate traffic. But until you get behind the wheel yourself, you won't know how driving feels. You won't know practical things, like how to judge the distance between cars or how far you have to turn the wheel on a right turn without taking a curb. While you might benefit from your theoretical knowledge, you won't be a good driver until you practice.
If you want to be a good writer, write. Don't be discouraged if your plots form holes the size of Saturn or your characters sound as stilted as the actors in a B movie. You're a new driver; you're going to take a few curbs your first time out. But do write consistently.
To write consistently, you need somewhere to collect all your ideas. Good writers are "pack rats." They save most everything they write, even if it seems like garbage. Who knows, even if something is badly written, you could come back to it in a couple years and rework the idea into something worth reading. One of the benefits of living in the 21st century is that you can be a digital pack rat-- it's a lot less messy, and your parents and siblings will appreciate being able to see your bedroom floor (we hope).
Start a writer's folder on your computer that you can fill with all your half-baked ideas and random ramblings. Or, if you want more accountability, start a blog. There are a number of free blogging platforms out there: Blogspot.com, Wordpress.com, and Tumblr.com, just to name a few. The benefits to blogging are numerous:
- The satisfaction of instant publication.
- The opportunity to cultivate a unique audience. Because anyone can start a blog, the best content is bound to rise to the top. If you post quality writing consistently, you'll begin to develop a group of faithful readers over time.
- The ability to keep track of just how often you're writing. With Wordpress's "Calendar" widget, for example, you can see how many days you've posted each month.
Discipline yourself to write a blog post or something to stick in your folder at least once a week. The more you write, the better you'll get at writing. Like most good things in life (an education, physical fitness, or your relationship with Christ), there are no shortcuts to becoming a better writer.
This year, if you want to be a better writer, you've got to put in time and good, old-fashioned hard work. But that's one resolution that will be worth keeping.