Ask reasonably good cooks how they learned their craft and they’ll likely tell you, “By experimenting with recipes… trial and error. You eventually discover what works and what doesn’t, what your family likes and what you shouldn’t bother to make again.”
Ask the gourmet-caliber cooks and they’re apt to say they studied at an accredited school of cooking or under a renowned chef, and apprenticed for many years.
It’s an analogy that you can’t take too far, but I look at writing in a similar light. There are writers who have a knack with words and can produce a best-selling book without any previous preparation or experience. They are the exception. Most successful writers will tell you they wrote and read, and wrote and studied, and wrote and listened, and… well, you get the idea. Good, well-crafted writing doesn’t just happen; it takes knowhow and lots of work.
Have you heard the definition that says insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? It applies to writing, too. We hear it all the time: your first novel probably won’t be publishable, but it’s good practice. Keep trying. Write a second, a third and a fourth, and eventually you’ll get it right. From what I hear, that’s rubbish! You don’t learn how to write well just by writing a lot. All that does is perpetuate bad habits.
Every time I read a good how-to book about writing, listen to a knowledgeable speaker at a conference or lecture, or study a beautifully crafted novel, I discover techniques to enhance my storytelling ability. I’m still a long, long way from being the kind of writer I want to be but it’s a progressive endeavour.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t learn good writing by writing, but you hone it.
Do you think good writing is a natural talent or a learned ability? What have you done lately to enhance your knowledge of the craft of writing?