When I started out, I resisted the idea of learning about writing. Somehow, I had absorbed the idea that writing was a talent and that talent was something you either had or you didn’t. So for a long time, I muddled forward, and whatever talent I may or may not have had was hidden by the fact that I hadn’t learned anything in any kind of deliberate way.
I suppose the thing that first broke that mindset for me was going to journalism school, where I learned that knowledge and structure can serve creativity, the way a scaffold serves a fresco-painter. There are no rules for writing, but there is precedent. If you want to try something in your work, how has that worked for other writers when they tried it? What challenges did it create for them? What effects did it stir in their readers?
A lot of how-to-write advice is too sweeping, or just plain bad. If it doesn’t fit you, it doesn’t fit you. But I do think it’s worth availing ourselves of the resources that are out there. We live in an age of podcasts and YouTube channels and magazines and Twitter threads and blog posts, as well as books. A lot of it is actually really good, and I’ve learned a great deal by just humbling myself enough to take advice. And, paradoxically, that has helped me learn when to stand my ground and resist advice that doesn’t fit what I want to do.
Two places to start looking are the online courses at the Loft Literary Center and the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers (disclosure: I teach occasionally for both places.) Check out Ask the Bards, a new podcast by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson.
Identify one aspect of your work that you’d like to improve, and decide on a method of improving it, either by consulting instructional books or other resources, or by studying examples of it in other people’s writing. If you’re stuck, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll suggest some resources that might help.
“What the beginning writer needs, discouraging as it may be to hear, is not a set of rules but mastery – among other things, mastery of the art of breaking so-called rules.” John Gardner, The Art of Fiction