Every term we get questions from students along the lines of “what should I do to take my writing to the next level?” Here are five foundational behaviours that great writers have in common.
- Create a regular writing habit—whether it’s once a day or once a week. Think about what’s realistic for you and then consider setting the bar a little lower than that—at least to start with. Better a goal that you can hit every time and perhaps even exceed, then one you’ll regularly fail to meet. Guilt is the enemy of creativity!
- Read like a writer. Study stories or poems you admire—slow down and really look at the techniques at work. Revisit old favourites and invest in anthologies so you’re exposed to a range of styles. Some great ones to start with: the Pushcart Prize series, which includes fiction, poetry and personal essays. For fiction: The Art of the Story, a great international collection edited by Daniel Halpern. For poetry: Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters edited by Robert Pinsky.
- Keep a notebook. Always having a notebook on hand and jotting down observations and ideas throughout your day will feed your writing practice and encourage you to keep your writer’s eye open—constantly scanning the environment for inspiration. And it’s a great resource when you’re ready to start something new or get stuck.
- Build a community. With the demands of work and family, it can be easy to put your writing on the back burner. An active community helps you stay in touch with your creative self and can provide two things all writers need—feedback and encouragement. Plus having writing friends makes writing more fun and keeps you on track—even when you aren’t in a workshop. You can swap books, set writing dates, and read each other’s drafts.
- Focus on the process and don’t put too much pressure on the outcome. Many beginning writers think that if they can’t sit down and immediately produce great work, it means they aren’t talented enough. The reality is that writing, like painting or composing, is to a large extent a craft—it takes study and practice to build your skillset. Also, keep in mind that first drafts should be rough—this is where you want to give your imagination free reign and not worry too much about making every sentence or line perfect. To be great, writing requires revision. Any published piece you read will have gone through multiple drafts so don’t make the mistake of comparing your first drafts with the polished work of a seasoned author.