By Guest Blogger, Phil Sexton, Publisher & Community Leader, Writer’s Digest
It’s been said that all you really need to do in order to write something of quality, whether it’s a novel, memoir, short story or some other piece, is to read voraciously, write as much as possible, and revise with an honest, critical eye.
I’ve also heard it expressed that writing can’t be taught, so why bother establishing rules. You either have talent or you don’t. In fact, why bother publishing books and magazines devoted to helping writers improve their craft in the first place? (It’s all free on the Internet anyway, isn’t it?) It’s a valid question, I suppose, and one of substantial importance to me given that Writer’s Digest lives and breathes to help people learn how to write better and get published.
A bit of personal history: I spent four years as a copywriter, with the first two of those serving as an apprenticeship of sorts. It was hard, frustrating work. Time after time I would turn in what I thought was a tight, powerful piece, only to have it come back to me with red lines and correction marks peppered throughout. Thankfully, my boss was the kind of person who didn’t just leave me to learn on my own. Instead, we sat together and worked through each piece, word by word, line by line, talking about rhythm, word selection, timing – the literal music of language. It was the best course on writing I’ve ever had.
What surprised me some time later was how that experience impacted my fiction. It became tighter. Word selection became paramount. And I really began to pick apart my work – analyzing it with a critical eye I’d not used before. Is it the best way to write? Likely not for everyone. But for me, absolutely.
It’s with that spirit that I started working for Writer’s Digest. I like the idea of helping people improve their writing and I have all the faith in the world that it’s possible. It’s why I believe that reliable books, websites and periodicals (like Writer’s Digest) are so valuable. They provide a regular stream of insight and instruction from experienced editors, authors and writing instructors who share that same desire to help others improve their work.
Of course, this desire to teach and learn also provides vast opportunities for social networking, which not only facilitates the learning process, but also opens up opportunities for publication. One of the things I’m most excited about is our upcoming Writer’s Digest Conference at the end of this month. At that event, we’ll be hosting a “pitch slam” at which more than 50 agents will hear pitches from nearly 500 attendees. It’s chaotic and raucous – a bit like speed dating, really. It’s also an incredible high to see so many people in one place talking about their writing and how to improve it.
Bottom line: Don’t settle for good enough when it comes to your writing. Use whatever reliable books, blogs, magazines, courses or other resources are available (including your fellow writers) to keep honing your craft. Because once you stop doing that, you’ve got nothing left to say.