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How to be a great writer

Updated on December 27, 2016
Stephen Austen profile image

S.P. Austen (1960- 2020) was an independent author writing on a diversity of subjects and genres. He passed away on June 30, 2020

Many people have asked what it takes to make a great writer. Many writers like to define it. There are so many good writers on the market and a lot of poor ones. But there are a few outstanding principles which make a good writer into a great writer. I outline them as follows:

1) Write for pleasure. Enjoy the process of writing itself. I know of several people who claim that they want to be writers but who don't actually enjoy the process of writing. They tell me that they like the idea of being a writer but not the actual process of writing itself.

Some people say that writing is hard. That it's meant to be; that if it's hard, then you must be doing a good job of it. They wear their 'writer's block' as a badge of honour. We need to forget all that if we are ever to write well. It's nonsense. Good writing, or even great writing, is extremely enjoyable. You do not have to shed blood instead of ink (or burn blisters into your fingertips on your keyboard) to make the point that you are a writer.

Skilled writing, that tells a story, for example, or teaches well, comes from the pleasure of putting the richness of language together and shaping characters, giving birth to people who never even existed, and putting over your concepts with energy and readability. Writing is NOT torture folks, so those of you who claim it is should stop it this instance. It's a craft, it's a pleasure, like music or art. It is of course one of the high arts and should be treated as such.

So enjoy it enthusiastically. Treat it as fun, as an outlet for emotion, or whatever reason you use it for, but do it with gusto, flair and enjoyment. If you do that, whatever the subject, it will come through in the quality of the words you use. It really is that simple. Let's stop pretending that it's anything more complex.

2) Commitment; yes, people, I know that you are groaning, I can hear it through the ethers. But if you don't commit to giving a certain amount of time to your writing several times per week then you will get nowhere. Zilch. Squat. Zero. Nada. Could I be any clearer? A great Yogi once said that if you stay in your room and do nothing...then nothing will happen!

Winston Churchill used to commit to around 3,000 words per day when he was writing his voluminous books. Not a bad target. But most of us don't have servants cooking and cleaning for us so that might be difficult to attain. Most of us have work commitments, families to deal with, etc, etc, so we have to come to a compromise. How many hours can you commit to? If, like me, you can only write every second evening and squeeze in one or two hours, then by God do it, or you'll still be sitting there staring at chapter one and it's first few lines from now till Doomsday. Get on with it!

3) Write what you like. I know it's been said that you should write what you know about, but I don't agree. None of us have been into Space, yet there are a million sci-fi writers. I say, write what you LIKE about. Find a subject or subjects that you like, research it, and have a go at writing about it. But please, no more Vampire stories! I think that Bram Stoker and Anne Rice have already done this better than most, so can we now see something original?

If you write about something that you like, then this will most likely rub off onto the reader, as the writing itself will be contagious. The best writing comes from enthusiasm for the subject, not because the writer thinks 'oh, well, everyone else is writing about vampires so here goes...' That is the road to hell that ends in disaster. I repeat, write what YOU like and make it your own.

The worse case scenario is this; you will have enjoyed it, and written because you like writing, not because you wanted to earn a fortune and get a Pulitzer. If the stuff remains in the attic until your grandkids open it up and read it, at least they'll most likely enjoy it and appreciate its originality.

In conclusion, even if these tips do not make you a great writer, you will become a better writer, because, as Shakespeare's Hamlet says, you will have been "to thine own Self be true."

5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of How to be a great Writer

© 2016 S P Austen


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