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How to Be the Best Writer Ever (of Your Own Writing)

June 12, 2013 Fiction, Inspiration, Writing 2 Comments

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By Dell Smith [Photo by Liz Smith]

“Well, I think that curiosity is probably the biggest thing that can keep you going, and the feeling that you can do something that hasn’t been done before…”*

As writers, we write the story we want to read because it hasn’t been written yet. Have you ever read a story or novel and thought, “Close, but I wish the author had done A, B, or C instead. When I write my story, that’s what I’ll do!” It’s human nature to want to take an existing object and perfect it. Build better roads, taller buildings, faster cars, and bug-free software.**

This is why many writers tackle the same themes throughout their writing life: they are perfecting their existing work, crystallizing their favorite ideas into their one perfect book. We may not do it consciously, but isn’t that one of the underlying reasons we write? To create exactly that which we think is missing in the world?

This is how it works. Writers are born. And then somewhere along the way we start to read. We read picture books and Peanuts, and then graduate to John Green, S.E. Hinton, Lemony Snicket, Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and so on. And then we start writing, producing strings of words unlike any other—unique in context, structure, syntax, and theme.

In the process we teach ourselves how to write the words we want to see on paper. We train ourselves to become experts on how best to tell our stories and shape our characters. That’s why it takes so long to write a good book: you need time to develop the right muscles for writing your story. It may take months or years, but when you finally become the best writer for your story, you know everything your characters do and say in any situation.

James Joyce may have been a great writer, a genius at writing his work, but he would be a flop if he attempted to write your book. In his fussy, voluminous hands your characters would become clumsy and self-conscious, speaking nonsense. In Joyce’s charge, your characters may never leave the house! Thank god you’re around to save your own writing.

How good are you at writing your own writing? There is only one way to find out. Give it over to someone else to read. Yes, you may be surprised at how much you can suck at writing your own writing. You need perspective to see how unique your shitty writing really is. Don’t be afraid. This is part of the process.

To gain insight, have your writing group or your online writer friends critique your work. You will get all kinds of feedback, but as long as you surround yourself with writers who respond with supportive comments and suggestions without trying to turn you into them, then your potentially shitty best writing can be shaped and crafted into a closer version of your best writing.

Just write what you want to read and the rest will follow. Because remember—there’s nobody else like you. So now it’s your turn. Let’s see what you got.

* Screenwriter and director Robert Towne (Chinatown, Shampoo, Ask the Dust) responding to the question, Is there any one particular thing that keeps you motivated to continue (writing)? From Stop Smiling magazine, issue 32, 2007
** Only if we’re writing science fiction.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. If I love what I write, feel moved by my own writing, I feel I’m heading in the right direction. It’s hard to let someone else read and critique my writing but it must be done. Hopefully, others will feel as excited by my stories I as do. :)

  2. Becky Tuch Becky T. says:

    Dell, this is lovely. A great reminder that it’s not about being “the best” in a general sense, but rather about being the best match for your own material. Good stuff!

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Dell Smith

Dell Smith
Dell Smith is a fiction writer. He grew up on Cape Cod and left town to study filmmaking. He writes stories and novels, and works as a technical writer at a software company northwest of Boston. He has also worked as a videotape editor, cook, music video lackey, TelePrompTer operator, accounts receivable clerk, assistant film editor, caterer, roadie, flea market vendor, videotape duplicator, and wedding videographer. He has lived in Worcester, Bridgeport, Van Nuys, Billerica, Ithaca, Florham Park, Fairfield, and Simi Valley. He brings his life experience to bear in his fiction. His writing has appeared in Fiction, Tropus, J. Journal, Lynx Eye Quarterly, and Grub Street’s 10th anniversary anthology Hacks. He is a regular contributor to The Review Review and maintains a blog, Unreliable Narrator at dellsmith.com, featuring essays on movies, writing, and the publishing biz, along with book reviews and author interviews. He is currently writing a novel. Read Full

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