There are good writers and bad writers. There are writers who can make people cry by reading scribbles on a page, and writers who put us to sleep, though that was definitely not their intent. While good and bad writing can often be subjective, just like other arts, there are certain aspects and qualities that are more objective.
What I get a lot is, “How do you become a better writer? How did you improve, what did you do?” Getting better at writing always seems so different than getting better at anything else. If you want to become better at drawing, for example, you would think you should keep drawing and practicing. If you want to become a better runner, you keep running. They are all things that have very tangible solutions.
But what about writing? You already know the language, you already know the stories you have in your head. Regardless of how much you write, the individual words are all still the same. “Dog” means the same coming from someone who’s never wrote anything before as it does coming from the most famous author on earth. So what to do?
The truth is, practice works for writing as much as it does anything else. When you write, and when you write a lot, you begin to understand how to make things flow. You begin to understand how plots are woven and come together, your characters gain a little more depth and you learn new ways to phrase your ideas. You learn subtleties and implications, you become connected to your work and find that your own emotions flow through your words.
As with many crafts, improvements to writing come over time, unnoticed and silent. They come as you look at your work now and compare it to five years ago and realize, “Wow, what was I thinking then?” The more you write, the more you will learn.
But the wonderful thing about writing is that you can learn in more than one way. Reading is a wonderful way to learn to write. When you read, you get to see the tricks used by other authors. You can look at a plot twist or your favorite character and say, “Damn that’s good.” Heavy readers will have a good grasp of spelling, grammar and structure, they’ll understand different ways to work their plots, be able to plan different arcs and create histories for their characters.
The thought of plagiarism may scare people away from using any ideas they’ve seen elsewhere, but implementing other ideas is a good way to practice. While you can’t use others’ works in your own final pieces, you can certainly practice their methods to figure out how they work. Stories come from the imagination (much fiction, anyway), so learning to write well is often a result of training your imagination to be as creative as can be.
Of course, it helps to know what your faults are so you can know what to work on. This is where critique and beta readers come in handy. Show people your work and see what you should practice. Is it character development? Do you tend to write too much in passive voice? Do your characters all sound the same?
Regardless of your means, the ends are always the same: practice. Practice often and practice hard, because it’s worth it. Becoming a better writer is as simple as sitting down and typing whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense and it doesn’t have to be the next Stephen King novel. All that matters is that you don’t stop. Regardless of where you are now, you will always be able to look at yourself in the future and say, wow, I’m doing good.