I just finished Stephen King’s book On Writing and have to say I really enjoyed it. (Thanks, Judith!) I’ve got several how-to writing books on my shelves that were cracked open and put aside to fulfill their secondary job as dust collectors. A how-to manual on writing just doesn’t appeal to me. Good writing is one of those things I know when I see it. It’s kind of like painting. I could read a gazillion books on how to paint, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be able to do it.
My theory is you’ve just got to practice. I’ve been actively writing for pleasure for almost ten years now. I’ve had some amazing English teachers over the years (and have worked with quite a few too!) who gave me the frameworks on how to write, but it’s been up to me to slog my way through stories to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I also strongly believe, as does King, that in order to write well you have to read. A lot.
One thing I’m still digesting from King is his premise that “while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a bad one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” I’m usually not for blanket statements, but I think he might be onto something here. Some people have a hard time just writing a coherent sentence and will probably never be able to write a great story. And very few of us are Shakespeares.
Do most of us just start out as competent writers? Are we all striving to become merely good writers?