“You see, I believe that you cannot be taught to ‘write.’ You can be taught grammar and punctuation, but you cannot be taught to be a writer. That has to come from within.”
― Robert J. Randisi
That attention-grabbing headline (Learn to write in three steps) sounds like some online “Risk free” (it’s going to cost you) writing courses. They “guarantee” their writing “experts” can teach you all you need to know to become a successful writer and make boatloads of money (“or your money back,” of course). After the heading sometimes you’ll see a tag line that reads something like,
Let the blogger beware. Online writing courses can’t teach the skills and discipline and perseverance it takes to become the kind of writer you want to be. They may offer some suggestions, and common text book techniques and grammar and style and punctuation rules about how to do and say certain things. They may share some examples and practice exercises.
But they can not teach you how to write.
We learn how to write in the trenches of failure. We learn how to write by making mistakes. We learn to write by rewriting and slashing useless words, and rewriting and slashing useless words, and rewriting and slashing useless words. We learn how to write in the crucible of rejection. We learn how to write at the right hand of successful, seasoned writers.
Three legitimate steps
That flamboyant promise in the headline offers a smidgen of truth though. If you’ll do three things, you’ll see an improvement in your ability to write and enjoy writing.
If you scout around you’ll discover that many professional and business writers are avaricious readers. For many, you’ll find reading is their hobby.
If you’re a travel writer, read books an magazines on travel. If you’re a fashion writer, read books and search fashion websites on line. If you’re a sports fan, bone up on what’s current in the sport(s) you love. Read what you like, then take a stab at writing in a similar style. I write a devotionals blog. Guess what I read every day. Half a dozen or so devotion blogs. Sometimes more. I get some of my best ideas for blog posts from other devotional blog writers.
Can you learn to write better if you don’t read?
Write. Write more. Then write some more. Keep writing. Write bad. Write fast. Write sloppy. Write letters. Write emails. Write recipes. Write sports stories and game reports. Write weather reports. Write greeting cards. Write editorials. Write comments on blog posts. Write a story on a subject you absolutely abhor. Spruce it up. See if you can write a version of the topic you like. Choose a controversial topic and write an editorial from the viewpoint that is opposite from your own. Write notes to teachers. Write posts on Facebook. Tweet. Write letters to the editor. Write notes to yourself.
3. Edit. Edit. Edit. Writing happens in the editing process. When I write a post, I edit as I write. I usually write six or eight drafts before I hit publish. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, “Writing is easy,” Twain said. “All you have to do is cut out all the wrong words.” I end up cutting about 20 percent of my content before I publish a post.
We’ll talk more about editing in future On Target Tips.
Three steps. If you want to make your writing better, you’ll do all three steps over and over, as long as your writing career and your determination to be a good writer last.