Monday, October 9, 2017

Want To Be A Better Writer? Make A Lot of Pots!

There is a story that makes the rounds from time to time on social media. You can find the full version in The Best Way To Learn Something? Makes Lots of Pots, but I've included a paraphrased version of the story for those who don't like to click exterior links.

One semester, a pottery teacher cut her class in half. She said that students in the first half would be given the entire semester to make a single pot, and that pot would be the entirety of their grade. Students in the second half of the class, though, would be judged purely by how many completed pots they made. The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, reading about method, and studying those who'd come before. They experimented with different techniques, but rarely for very long. The second half of the class, by comparison, got out their clay, and got to work. Good, bad, pretty, ugly, didn't matter to them. The question was whether the pot was done, and if it was, if they had the time and energy to start another one.

Yeah, you pretty much know where this one's going.
Since you are all very intelligent readers (as evidenced by your choice to patronize this blog), you probably guessed that the students who made a great deal of pots were better at the craft than the students who tried forever, laboring over the one, perfect pot.

The lesson, translated for writers, is that you're better off writing a lot, than trying to write perfectly. Even if it's bad. Even if it's ugly. Even if you know you can do better. You're better off learning how to go from A to B, and actually completing something than you are striving for months to do it once, and to do it perfectly.

Practice Makes Permanent

It's an old saw, but it's one that plays the right tune. If you want to be a better writer, you have to write. Yes you need to understand story structure, pacing, character building, world building, evocative language, dialogue, and the thousands of other things, but the best way to get an understanding of all that is to sit down, and bleed all over your keyboard a time or twelve. As I said in If You Write One Story, It May Be Bad. If You Write A Hundred, The Odds Are In Your Favor, the best way to become a better writer is through strain, sweat, and work.

Hello, my old razor. Shall we get started?
There are no shortcuts. Just as there is no magic pill you can swallow, or miracle device you can strap to your stomach to give you 6-pack abs, there is no guide you can read, or technique you can follow, that will make you a better author. The only way you're going to look like an action hero is to get off the couch, eat your protein, and work out like a mad bastard. The only way you're going to become a better writer is if you sit down in front of your device, and start putting words on the page.

Even if they aren't the best words, or you're pretty sure other people could do it better, put them on the page. Keep putting them on the page until you reach the end. Edit it, and when it's complete, set it aside, and start on a new one.

You've got a lot of pots to make.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Second verse same as the first, but what was true the first time is just as true the second time. If you want to keep up on my updates, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help support my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page. If you pledge at least $1 a month, I'll make sure to send some free books your way as a thank you!

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