Getting ahead in writing, one step at a time

One of the problems writers face early in the learning curve is the sheer scale of the basic skill-set needed to be any good.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

Once they’ve got past the Dunning-Kruger problem – the illusion of competence because they’re totally ignorant of what has to be learned – the whole vista of writing explodes out across their vision, and it’s huge.

To write a story, authors have to master writing style, story structure, character arcs and understand the editorial process, all at once. Non-fiction demands a similarly multi-faceted approach. Every part of it is needed, all the components inter-relate dynamically, and it’s daunting.

My advice? Break the problem down. Fiction writing divides up according to those broad areas and I recommend working each one up individually – by practise. Isolate each part from its inter-relationship with the rest, just to get a handle on how each bit works. The order is going to be up to the individual, but I always recommend tackling ‘style’ first – getting comfortable with the creation and construction of words and phrases.

That’s because expression is the very basis of writing – the ability to assemble the words in the desired style, without stalling and stuttering over whether something needs a comma or wrestling with recalcitrant phrases.

Make that part of the task an automatic and ingrained ability first, and it’s possible to then focus on the issue of content.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that everybody ‘learns’ how to write at school. They do – but not to the point of being able to write a novel. That takes a different skill set.

As to how to do that? Practise. Write stuff. Write a lot of stuff. Then throw it away – just like concert pianists spend many hours learning how to play before unleashing themselves on the public. They don’t let others listen to it. Nor do they record it.

Writing’s the same, when you’re learning the basics.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


12 thoughts on “Getting ahead in writing, one step at a time

    1. I’ve spent a lifetime writing – started when I was 7, went on to formal training in fiction writing, then did around 10,000 hours practise. I’ve published something over 2,000,000 words since and been kicking around in the writing and publishing business throughout. If I can share that experience and help others I’m happy to do that.

      1. Oh, 10,000 hours is good, I think that that is considered a standard if you want to be professional at something. 2,000,000 words, simply wow!

        1. Yes, the pro standard for any skill runs to about 10,000 hrs – piano playing included! 🙂 My list includes 53 published books and a lot of articles and papers. The longest book is 250,000 words, but that’s still only about 40 percent the length of The Lord of the Rings…

            1. The whole book – 650,000 words all up. It was divided into three by the publisher, originally, but Tolkien never envisaged it that way – he thought of it as a single story.

  1. Matt, I’m a pack rat and just can’t bring myself to throw it away. It goes into the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet. It sits there waiting, hoping that someday it can come out into the light. Though most if it will not. 🙂

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