Writer’s Craft: How to Learn Writing?

A writer is not that different from a carpenter. One shapes wood, other – words. I’ll try to prove you that. During all the time of my professional activity, my job has been connected with text writing in this or that way. I had to learn how to write. And in this article I try to share my experience of getting a skill of this craft.

I’ve met people of very different writing professions: editors, copywriters, essay writers and REAL writers. I’ve asked them all to teach me how to write. But my question “How should I write my essay?” still does not have one clear answer. I only can range average answers I heard one by one.

«That’s not for Everyone…»

THIS is the WEIRDEST answer. There are two possible reasons for it:

  • A person thinks you to be a competitor, consciously or not;
  • A person does not have a technology, but uses threads on the intuitive level.

«Well, that’s an art…»

Any creativity or art, or whatever, can be called as a process. And the process can be called as a technology. The technology of writing is not owned by many people. That’s not just an art. The artist has paints, techniques… They don’t paint their pictures with air, do they?

«Go read something for example…»

I can read during the whole life. When should I write? And I can’t write after reading something like “Faust”: I feel like the one with no voice who exists only to keep silent and to listen to the master (well, to read their words). There are numerous examples when a person never connected to the writing craft becomes a writer.

One happy accident helped me to meet the writer who earned money for his writing. He showed me the right way, and told about writing to be another profession, or a craft.

Where Does the Mastery Start?

It starts on exercises. For the writer, the first and the main exercise is the essay writing. An essay is a short literature form which is a base to build big novels.

Just read Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”: they sit in a trench – half-page essay; home memories – half-page essay; bombing – half-page essay. Remarque created thick novels with such essays. Anything can become a topic for your essay – a river flow, a homeless dog’s thoughts, a past day – the essay will look like your diary note in this case. The essay can have a size of few sentences to several pages. An essay for a writer is the same as an etude for an actor, as plays and vocalizes for a musician.

I’ll try to state some principles that helped me mastering the craft:

1. No lies. Write only truth. That’s hard to explain, but you can’t lie to yourself. People are not fools, they’ll see a fraud. Here you need at least a skill of not lying to yourself, if not to others.

There are two critical points:

A – Striptease (unconscious negativity goes here too);

B – The fear of saying something at all, as people can lie without even thinking about that. No, write as sincerely as you can. Even if you are wrong, that will be your truth. But if you write your inner truth, that can have consequences not only for your texts, but for your mind, too.

2. Harmony. Write harmoniously. Your text needs to sound pleasantly for outer and inner voices. That’s easy to check the harmony of a text: read what you’ve written. If it does not sound well enough – rewrite it.

3. Seven words per sentence. Yeah, I know there will be a lot of people saying that expanded sentences are good. Thanks, I’m informed about big sentences to be cool, I won’t argue that. But here we speak about your start. You just can’t write/play symphonies and think/write with complicated constructions at once. Moreover, you won’t be able to write them in the way which makes them pleasant to read.  

First you need to learn how to burn bricks, and then you start building something more complexed. Writing with long sentences is a high road, not every writer can do that. Do you remember those miles of sentences in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”? I’m sure not everyone is inspired with such phrases.

4. No. Freaking. Inspiration. This word is so raped I’m ashamed to use it. There is the existing reality, and it is naive to think that something can fall down into or onto your head from “above”.

You have a huge and powerful machine: your subconsciousness. You only need to load it correctly and it can give you needed and high-quality things. Here is what I mean: what questions bother you? What do you think about? What do you read about? How do you perceive the world and people around? What’s “boiling” there in your mind?  

Your text on a paper depends on the answers for these questions. The “inspired” person is equal to the “high” person: gets nothing, is dominated by the state of mind and does not see anything around. You can rush your bicycle or drive a truck calmly. Inspiration is madness, schizophrenia of a creative person. You need less inspiration.

Just try to read memoires of well-known writers about their writing. You won’t find a word about “inspiration” there. You can find the information about how they tuned the process. Yes, the technological process itself: writing their thoughts down, working with drafts, conditions and times to come back to texts, finding topics, processing and polishing texts, etc. Here is the point. You will never wait long enough for the inspiration to come. You need to work, not to wait. You’ll write a text to come back to it and to get it done; there won’t be empty and different thoughts about the text instead.

Usually, the text written under the “flow” requires a severe and cruel check. After that, you need to calm down and to choose the most valuable words when you are not “high” of “inspiration”.

5. “Any fight starts with a first punch” – that’s what my coach said. The same thing works for texts: a text starts from a striking phrase. Say everything you want to say (or even more) with one sentence. Make this sentence a slogan of your text.

You hit the point with a striking phrase, and then you draw the line: you illustrate/reveal/decrypt that striking phrase.

For example, in a striking phrase for this text I stated everything that I try to prove, I show that the writer’s craft is as usual as any other profession. Your striking phrase can consist of some words or of just one of them.

If you can say this all with just one word and the correctly chosen intonation during a real talk, everyone can understand the sense you mean. But the text is different: there is only a paper and a reader; you are not nearby to comment it all. And it is your quest to fit it all it a first phrase to give a tuning sound for the reader. The reader reads text that does not belong to you anymore. The reader reads his or her own text, and it is possible to read it as they want.

One more thing: the striking phrase is a perfect solution for that eternal dilemma: “What to write about?” and “What to start with?”. Think out your striking phrase, and that’s all – you only need to develop it into a text.

6. You ought to make a discovery during the process of writing. If you failed to do that, throw the draft into a trash can. You need to find out something new for yourself, even if that is one of common, routine thoughts or things. If your text consists of banalities only, you throw it away with no hesitation.

7. Go outside the shape. Use words of your text in the way that leads you beyond their usual meaning. Like in poetry, when well-known words get new sense and sound. This point is not easy to explain, you need offline work and examples.

In some words, this point is connected to the previous one. No discovery – no new shapes. No new shapes – no discoveries.

8. Value the paper. It is hard to explain in the age of terabytes. Paper became not even cheap, but absolutely free. Imagine that the paper you want to write something on was made from antelope’s skin during a month.

A person or some of them worked for the whole month for you to write something there, or it was you who worked for long to create that piece of paper. You won’t write nonsense after that. You’ll think many times, train on the sand before writing something on such a paper, won’t you?

As now you just sit, fall on the keyboard and here it is! Perfection! Take it, everything’s ready! The word gets devalued together with paper. That is why you should write on the paper, not in the “Word” app in order to train. You’ll value paper and words more.

Please, don’t be wondered with the primitiveness of these principles. They actually work. They are only the beginning, a start for the writing person to know where to stand first, to have the technology of doing something. Of course, you can’t become a great master of words if to keep up to these principles only, but you can start mastering the craft with them for sure.

Brain Exercises

The process of turning abstract things into real ones and vice versa is another important exercise for the writer. If you have a good mood, you need to write about what exactly expresses it (frequent heartbeat or something else); if there was a thing happening or if you did something, you need to express some abstract conclusions for yourself about that. If to explain that with Internet language, online (thoughts) is to be turned into offline (specificity). And offline is to be turned into online.

Philosophy is here, yes. It doesn’t matter if you want that or not, but your philosophy becomes visible when you write. That is why writing is very often a discipline of mind. If you don’t have shaped thoughts and beliefs in your head, don’t go for illusions – they can’t appear on a paper. If there are blind spots somewhere, then on the paper you can see them so clearly they can drive you mad. But then you’ve got a big plus – you can work on that.

Have a notebook with you. Surround yourself with stickers. If you don’t write down a thought appearing in your head instantly, you won’t ever write it. Don’t be pleased with the illusion about your mind being full. Write your thoughts on the paper and everything becomes clear.

What are Mistakes of Newbie Writers?

The very first and the main one: to be the writer. I mean, it is a mistake to keep a thought of “I am the writer” inside your mind and to pretend on purpose. No, you only need to write. Otherwise, this posturing becomes visible and bores very fast. If you ask active writers about whom they feel themselves to be, many would just say: I just write and get paid for that, and that’s all.

A good way to check your writings: take them to editorial houses. If they pay you at least 10 dollars, then it is worth. If they don’t, you still need to go on.

I say again: these recommendations are not absolute. They are things that helped personally me to start writing. And I’m sincere about the thought: if a person wants to learn how to write, then he or she has to treat writing as a craft. Of course, not every craftsman becomes a master, but you don’t stand a chance to become a master without becoming a craftsman.

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