None of us come with manuals. You have to learn by trial and error and grow through experience to discover what kind of writer you are. Discovering who you are and how you work best should be two of your most important goals as a writer. Learning who you are as a writer will help you to find your voice, and learning how you work best will make you productive. All writers need to do this, and no two writers are ever the same.
Many of you could not write what comes naturally to other writers. A romance novelist might be an awful thriller writer. A mystery jock might write awful poetry. A brilliant historian might gum up a children’s story.
Understanding that all writers are different is an essential step in building your writing confidence. It is also the best guide for sifting through and absorbing writing advice – you are looking for what will work for you, and much of it may not.
You can read as much about how your favourite writers worked, and you should, but realize you are just window-shopping most of the time.
Are you more a Hemingway or a Meyer? Like reading your way through a gorgeous museum, you are taking in impressions, but you don’t take home the actual paintings.
You are your own person with your own lifestyle, priorities, talents, and goals.
Likewise, we all have different writing habits. If yours aren’t working as well as you would like, you might be in the market for an upgrade. This is when reading widely about the ideas and habits of successful writers can elevate you to new heights.
Or it might not.
You might write like no one you’ve ever heard of. You might only write at 4 am when you awake from mid-40s insomnia. For two hours until the sun rises and your head falls back onto the pillow, you might furiously bash word after word into your keyboard in a fit of genius. This is great if it works for you.
You might write pages of first thoughts about a scene, tear them up, and start fresh to actually write the scene.
You might first write notes in a little blue and gold leather bound notebook that Gramma gave you and then go to the computer and flesh out the next chapter.
You are well ahead of the game if you know what inspires and enables you to be the best and most productive writer you can be.
What you, as an informed, open-minded author are looking for, is your thing. Just like you need to develop your own voice, you need to develop your own writing approach.
You may already have found it, and when you see it reflected in the practices of another writer you might feel vindicated (or dismayed you aren’t as unique or eccentric as you thought).
Wow, she abhors adverbs as much as I do! He writes in extremely short sentences, like I do!
It can take a lifetime to learn who you are and how you write best.
You’ll come to understand the things that make you tick and make your writing better over time, but who among us wouldn’t love a short-cut to those eureka moments? None of us come with manuals. Unfortunately we have to learn by trial and error and grow through experience. Reading what works for other people can significantly speed up the process.
While you might have freedom to decide whether you are a morning, noon, evening, or night writer; whether you are an outline maker or seat-of-the-pants writer; whether you are a stylist, a plotter, or a conceptualizer; or whether you love people to read your work as you go along or you keep your manuscript secret until it’s polished; some things are non-negotiable.
Don’t confuse finding your mojo with shirking your duties as a writer. Finding your mojo is a quite different pursuit than learning your craft. Good grammar is one such non-negotiable thing. If you don’t have it, get in with a great copy-editor.
Still, you will have to match the best of breed to your chosen writing focus. Sometime we are alone. Sometimes we have maps provided by others.
In looking for your way, there is only one sound piece of advice I can give: Read widely, think widely.