Essential writing skills: how to invisibly improve your writing

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking through some of my older books, specifically to see what’s needed in order to prepare some of them for re-release. Out of which has come two thoughts. The first is, ‘wow, did I write that?’- where I’ve discovered something I have absolutely no recollection of researching. And the second – well, it’s ‘umm…did I write THAT?’

Wright_Typewriter2Actually, it’s more like ‘F—- me, did I put my name to THAT?’ I use that word a lot. But this is a G-rated blog.

It’s kind of ironic. At the time I was producing stuff that seemed just fine. My publishers thought so. So did the reviewers. But looking back now.

Uh – well, it’s still fine, it’s perfectly readable. But truth be told, I might do it differently today.

It was Ernest Hemingway who suggested that all writers are apprentices – even those who’ve become fully competent and made writing part of their soul. And he was right.

I’ve been a published author since 1976; I’ve actually published something over 2 million words in 500+ short stories, feature articles, over 50 books, academic papers and a wad of other stuff. I’ve worked professionally as an editor, as a publisher, and I know the business pretty well. And I still make a point, whenever I write, of asking myself whether I can do it better – and looking for ways, actively, of making that happen.  It’s important. We never stop learning.

Looking back at some of my older stuff, I guess that push has had due effect. It doesn’t make the older stuff bad. It just means I’d do it differently today – better, in my opinion, though maybe not in somebody else’s.

Which brings me to the point. All this happened invisibly, without any huge effort. Why? Because I kept asking those questions. I kept nibbling away at it, every time I sat down to write – incrementally, quietly, and with focus.

You can do that too – it applies at all stages of the writing journey, and is where part of the writers’ learning curve comes from. It’s also straight-forward – it means learning comes as part of the writing process itself, which always makes it more fun.

It produces, in short, invisible improvement. And that, I think, is perhaps the best sort.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


5 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: how to invisibly improve your writing

  1. So true Matthew. Even I – with far less experience than you and probably hundreds of thousand fewer words written – have noticed how much my work has improved. Thanks mostly to my critique group, reading about writing and then writing. I keep rewriting, trying it this way and that. Getting rid of ‘that’ words, going through a second time to change ‘ing’ words, editing out the ‘ly’ words to see if it all still stacks up and I’ve still got flow. It all takes time but I think I’m better off for having put in the time.

  2. Learning the craft of writing, for me is a slow process. As you described it gets better invisibly and remains unnoticed until much later when it appears during review and/or revision. Recently, I’ve become the ‘editor’ in my office. Everyone brings their memos and presentations to me to review before they get published. It has helped me to see my own writing in a different light and I realize that I have improved over time.

    1. It’s slow for everyone! And there are no short cuts. Nor does the learning stop. As Hemingway said, we are all apprentices. But there are moments when it works its way into your soul. And when things get easier, and when you can look back and aee the improvement over time. It’s all good!

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