Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Three Pillars

When I first started the journey into this crazy path (being a writer), I read advice in an effort to become a better writer. I subscribed to every newsletter I could get my hands on and read every article. I grabbed onto them and tried to do what they said. But I was neglecting two parts of the three most important aspects of becoming a writer (as I found them to be).

Firstly, I want to say that The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass has been invaluable for my writing (as I’m sure you know by now), as well as The Story Book by David Baboulene more recently. They can tell us how to get started with certain techniques and how and when to utilise them. I thoroughly believe that writing books should be a staple to all writers. Read as many as time allows and soak up the information on the internet. Your brain will safely store all this information and keep it mind in the future. Everything you do can be affected by what you know. The more you know, the better you can create (even if it’s bad advice, because then you can know what not to do). This also includes learning your language. Grammar, sentence structure. Without it, you are on a pool of ice with no skates.

Secondly, humans are hard-wired to learn by example. From the early age of zero, we watch what other people do and adjust our movement and behaviour to fit those of the other people in order to achieve the same. Also, we don’t always need to do things to learn them. If we see someone falling off a roof and breaking a whole lot of bones, we’re going to learn that falling off a roof is a no-no (and possibly develop an irrational fear of roofs, but that’s another story). Basically, we learn from other people’s successes and mistakes. Read everything you can that fits in the same genre as yours. Also read in genres that are not yours.

Thirdly, with some things, you can’t rely on just the theory (and examples). Scrap that. You can’t rely solely on theory for anything. I remember there was an episode of the TV series, Monk, in which it was revealed that Monk had taken a course on swimming over the post. Needless to say, when he needed to swim, it didn’t go so well. Theory and practice go hand in hand. Even so, I’d rather someone rely entirely on practice than entirely on theory. You have to stop all your theory once in a while (read: daily) and actually sit down and write. No matter how bad it stinks.

Those are the three learning pillars of writing (among other things). Theory, example and practice (in ascending order of importance). Learn from professionals, ergo, learn your craft. Read and learn from other authors’ books. Read, read and read some more. Ergo, study your craft.

Finally, write. Write as much as you possibly can. Write every day. Writing is the single most important thing you can do to become a writer – as the name suggests. Everything you write is a lesson that teaches you (even if it is subconscious). This is why NaNoWriMo is such a great project to do. It forces you to write a whole lot of words, each a lesson in writing better ones.


Ergo, craft your craft.


  1. I'd agree with that. There's no substitute for doing the actual writing, and always completing the story, even when you feel dissatisfied with what's appearing on the page.

    First drafts are meant to be terrible and too many aspiring writers make the rookie mistake of thinking it best to abandon their wip and go for a project reboot.

    Moody Writing

  2. Indeed. Can't say I've never been there (scrapping a project, I mean). But now I know that sometimes you just have to push through it.