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How to become a better writer: Advice from a master

Do you want to become a better writer? The good news is that you can. Writing is a skill you can improve with time and effort. I believe some of that time and effort should be spent learning from the masters – those with unquestionable skills.

In his Zen in the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury tells us how he learned to write better within the context of his life story. He equally shares his downfalls and his triumphs as well as advice he thinks every writer should embrace.

I’ve pulled out some of his suggestions that can help you be a better writer, whether it is just blogs, short stories, poetry or the next best-selling novel. I think you’ll appreciate his wisdom – and his humor.

Include Reading in Your Muse’s Diet

One of the chapters is entitled “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” The phrase “finding your muse” used to be quite common, but not so much anymore. It refers to your source of inspiration, but personified – at least as Bradbury writes about it. For him it is a singularly feminine energy that needs proper care and feeding.

The muse’s diet consists of many things, but one of the most important is reading. He suggests,

Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.

And he adds,

In your reading, find books to improve your color sense, your sense of shape and size in the world….Poetry, essays. What about short stories, novels? Of course.

Reading is one of the most important things you can do in your journey to become a better writer. It feeds your muse and provides you the information, the experience, the raw data from which you can create your blogs, stories or poems. Trying to write without reading is like training to be a sculptor without ever seeing a statue.

Find and Release Your Voice

Become a better writer by finding your voice.

Bradbury begins his book with a story about his nine-year-old self. He loved Buck Rogers and his adventures. So much so that he began trying to write his own stories. He wrote for years, with some success. But even then he tells us that he wasn’t really a good writer,

I grew up reading and loving the traditional ghost stories of Dickens, Lovecraft, Poe, and later, Kuttner, Bloch, and Clark Ashton Smith. I tried to write stories heavily influenced by various of these writers, and succeeded in making quadruplelayered mudpies, all language and style, that would not float, and sank without a trace. I was too young to identify my problem, I was so busy imitating.

A writers, the process of finding our voice is crucial to our success. Not necessarily commercial success, but it can be. Our voice isn’t just a style, but the essence of what lies behind it. It is us, on the page. It is both terrifying and electrifying when we set it free. Here is how Bradbury describes it:

I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title “The Lake” on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.

Why the arousal of hair and the dripping nose?

I realized I had at last written a really fine story. The first, in ten years of writing.

Wow. You can have moments like that when you write authentically without consciously trying to copy, emulate, or critique as you go. It doesn’t have to be a career-changing work of fiction as it was for Bradbury. It might just be the most awesome blog you’ve ever written.

How do you find your voice? Write and write some more.

Write more

Become a better writer by writing more.

One of Bradbury’s main suggestions is to write. A lot. No, he wants you to commit to writing every day. He recommends,

Something like this. One-thousand or two-thousand words every day for the next twenty years. At the start, you might shoot for one short story a week, fifty-two stories a year, for five years. You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.

To prove his point he reminds us of how great artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Tintorerro practiced their art over and over before they produced the works that made them famous. In today’s examples he talks how surgeon’s practice performing their procedures long before they ever actually  do one.

If you google ‘Ray Bradbury writing challenge’ you’ll find many who have taken up the charge to create one short story a week for at least a year. He’s often quoted as having said it’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row. But in Zen in the Art of Writing he merely points out that you should never consider some of the short stories failures. Even if they aren’t great, they were part of the process of creating the ones that were good.

Never give up

Bradbury is asking a lot of aspiring writers. He wants them to spend copious amounts of time reading. And also spend their days writing and then writing some more. Is he asking too much? Do you think you can do it?

Yes, I think you can. In his last words of wisdom that I’ll share explains why:

There is no failure unless one stops.

No one is perfect. And in our world there are few of us that can spend the amount of time writing that he says is necessary. But as long as you keep writing, as much and as often as you can, his principle will still apply.

Don’t stop, don’t give up.

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This blog originally appeared on hyperfundit.com. It has been updated and represented here.

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