The Secret to Your Success as a Writer Is Easier Than You Think
How you can get good at anything.
First off, I said good, not great. I am a good writer. Some have said I am a great writer. They are wrong. I could be, but I’m not. And I’m happy with that.
Good takes a lot of work. Great takes total commitment. I only have a total commitment to one thing. And she’s waiting for me to finish this, so I can take her to lunch. So, let’s move it along, shall we?
Over the years, I have been good at many things; running, computers, and photography, to name a few. I have just taken up the guitar. Pretty soon, I will be good at that. How do I know this? Two reasons:
I have done this many times, so I know how to get good at stuff.
I practice at least an hour a day, seven days a week.
I was a runner once. No more. I think I was too good for too long, but that’s another story. I started running in March of 1978. In July on ’78, I ran my first Peachtree 10K Road Race and finished in the top 5%. How did I do that? Talent? No. Luck? Hell no.
I ran at least an hour a day, seven days a week.
In 1982, we got our first computer. I threw myself into learning the computer and mastered the computer, database management, and programming within a few months. How? You already know the answer.
A couple of decades later, I did the same thing with photography. Total immersion, study everything I could and practice, practice, practice.
Today, I am considered a good, but probably not a great photographer. At any rate, I make a fair amount of money at it.
Oh yeah, I’m good at making money, too.
Next, I tackled writing. I read and followed every blog that existed in 2005, and started taking on paying gigs. This taught me two things about how to get good at writing and make any money at it.
Learn to work with editors and deliver what they want.
I can’t believe you want me to repeat this one.
Actually, to make a decent living, you have to work a lot more than an hour a day, but with a few hours a day, I am carving out enough money that I am happy with the return.
Of course, I have gotten pretty good at it.
And that’s what you came here to find out about. I wasn’t trying to sound cocky with that last statement. I’m not just telling myself I am good. The percentage of my work that gets sold is telling me that. The number of followers and fans is telling me that.
So, how, specifically, did I get good at writing.
You already know the answer to that, you just don’t want to hear it.
I worked my ass off. I read everything there was to read about writing. Do you know how boring The Elements of Style is? You should. If you don’t you need to find out.
After you finish reading this. Maybe I have a secret formula. Perhaps there is a hitherto unknown place where a beginning writer can get rich while you sleep.
Spoiler Alert: There isn’t.
Fortunately, some books weren’t boring, such as Stephen King’s On Writing.
As I read, I wrote. Everything. All the time.
Read and Write. Read and Write. Read and Write.
That’s the secret formula.
Except I’m leaving out one important part. The most crucial part of getting good at writing. The way I got good at everything that came before it.
I learned from my mistakes. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Practice mistakes over and over and you will be making those same mistakes forever.
They don’t call it trial and success.
You try something. It doesn’t work. You examine what you did and figure out what you did wrong.
That is the key. What you did wrong. It wasn’t a computer error, the programmer screwed up. I didn’t need a new lens, I needed to learn how to expose my photographs correctly. I don’t need a better guitar, I need to learn to hit the notes accurately on the one I have.
If my article doesn’t get accepted or purchased, or even read, it’s not the medium, or the editor, or the audience. It’s me. I chose a bad title. I wrote a poor opening.
My writing sucked.
So I figure out what I did wrong and fix it. And, just maybe, I don’t do it again.
Because one thing I learned all those decades ago on the computer, garbage in, garbage out.
But people seem to understand that. If you write a bad line of code, the computer crashes. If you write the same line of code again, the computer will crash again. You don’t need a new computer, you need a new program.
But in writing, people don’t seem to grasp that. If someone writes a touching memoir about their experiences in the third grade and nobody reads it, what do they do?
They write a touching memoir about their experiences in the fourth grade.
Yeah, that’ll probably work.
You can’t repeat your mistakes and get better. You just can’t.
But you can repeat your successes and continue to succeed. In fact, that’s how you succeed.
That’s the only way you succeed.
And if you keep doing that, you will get good. It’s how I got good.
Not great. But good. At least, good enough.
And for me, good enough is good enough.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to master a Bach concerto on my new guitar.
Actually, I’m trying to learn, Red River Valley, but for today, that’s good enough.