Sunday, April 29, 2018

Three Ways I Learn to Be a Better Writer

Pretty excited to see the flyer up for my book signing with Minerva Spencer on July 8 at Page 1 Books in Albuquerque. This is her debut, so I expect it to be a fun party!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: Who do you learn from? (Teachers, mentors, resources for skilling up.)

It's an interesting question because a huge part of growing as a writer - and probably in any self-driven profession - is learning when to trust yourself and when to listen to others. As a newbie writer, we all really need to listen to advice from others. Even when we think we don't need it. Maybe even PARTICULARLY when we think we don't need it.

As with all wisdom, recognizing what you don't know is a great step toward truly improving.

And, as with many endeavors, but especially creative ones, there comes a point where taking classes, getting critique, etc., simply are no substitute for DOING THE WORK. Some people throw around the number "one million words" that you have to write before you've cleared the pipes and can really lay down fresh and clear prose. I don't know about one million, but I'd believe it. It takes a lot of just writing writing writing to get there.

So, once you're a more experienced writer - even one, like me, teaching others how to write - how do I learn?

Three things:

1) First and foremost I study other writers. I read widely in all genres, and I deliberately check out those books that win awards, that people love and talk about, and that sell well. (I think these are three different aspects of a "good" piece of writing. Very rarely does a book hit all three.

2) I have select critique partners. At this point I'm blessed to have a lot of author friends, and I hit them up at various times for various stories. I bet you can guess how I decide. Reference #2 above - I ask those writers who are really good at the thing I'm hoping works or am pretty sure needs to get fixed.

3) I learn from the world. Part of being a creative person is taking in the world around us and giving our answer to it. I try to experience all kinds of storytelling in different media, or different arts altogether - music, movies, painting, architecture, philosophy, nature. I'm a Taoist, so I believe that our lives are a long path of growing and refining ourselves. Writing is just one piece of that for me.


  1. I love that you reference other creative storytelling. When I taught literature, I tried to teach it in context (history + other forms of expression of the time). I felt it made it more approachable and knowable.

    1. With SFWA admitting game writers (and I'm the Board liaison to the game-writing committee) I've really been reevaluating what storytelling is and how we define it. I always remember director Peter Greenaway saying "Film is much too rich a medium to be left to the storytellers." (or something like that)