I think we’ve all heard a variant of this anecdote:
The absent-minded maestro was racing up New York’s Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal, when a stranger stopped him. ‘Pardon me,’ the stranger said, ‘can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?’
‘Yes,’ answered the maestro breathlessly. ‘Practice!’
From ‘The Wit Parade’, by E.E. Kenyon, 1955.
How do you get to be a better writer?
Finding your voice, your own personal style, is only found through writing.
You have to write a lot of words to get to the place where you are comfortable.
It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, the style you find most comfortable will only be found through writing. Lots and lots of writing.
You can study as much as you want. Reading ‘how to do it’ is great. There are a lot of useful books and articles out there on how to put words together for different genres.
But ultimately you are going to have to sit down (or not I guess) and start writing.
The time comes when the ideas you have, have to be put down on paper (the screen in most cases).
The self-doubt about whether you are good enough or whether the ideas are good enough is never going to go away. If there’s one thing that all writers agree on, from the most successful to the most obscure, it’s that the self-doubt always remains.
Don’t worry about it. It’s there. Write anyway. A saying that I’m trying to get off the ground (with very little success it has to be said) is, ‘know fear, do it anyway!’
Write stuff down. Get it out. It has value because it comes from you and you want to do it.
Write it down. Get it out. It doesn’t matter how rough it is, how jumbled up it is, how confused and mixed up the tenses are, whether there are spelling and grammatical errors all over the place: all that can be fixed later. Just write.
The more you write the better you’ll get.
The more you write the less shit your first drafts will be, at least for things like spelling and grammar. But the first drafts should always be about ideas, about the theme, the story, getting it out there. Just write!
All the horrible voices inside you telling you ‘there’s no point cos you’re rubbish!’ shut up once you start writing. They come back again as soon as you stop, but screw ‘em! Write anyway!
I have spoken to a lot of writers (a lot!) and have read articles and books by many more, and none of them have ever said that the self-doubt ever completely disappears. But all have said that they feel better when they are writing and that the need to write can only be fed by actually writing. Paraphrased obviously. But you get the gist.
All writers need to write.
The more you write the better you get.
Carry on reading, getting advice, learning from other people in whatever format best suits. But there comes a time when it all comes down to putting the words down. Writing.
Sure, we don’t all want to get to Carnegie Hall (metaphorically speaking, and if you literally do, it’s off East Port in Dunfermline), but we all want to get somewhere with our writing.
And the best way to get there is practice.