What things have you routinely done to become a more competent writer? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
I am one of those people who knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. I came from a family of storytellers, all outrageous and dramatic Southerners who loved nothing more than spinning stories out of pretty much nothing at all. I learned early on that making people laugh was just about the best thing going.
In elementary school, while my friends mostly wanted to go outside and ride bikes at 90 mph, explore snake-infested creeks, and dangle from the monkey bars, I was writing plays and assigning them roles they had to play. (Lucky them!) I was also one of those kids who was reading books all the time, everything I could get my hands on. Luckily my mother loved reading fiction, and she had a LOT of books around and let me read anything I wanted. Naturally I read things I probably shouldn't have read at a very early age, but all of them just whetted my appetite for writing my own stories.
Perhaps because of all that reading and storytelling I was exposed to, I've always felt that real life could be so much better with just a little bit of enhancement, and I am always thinking up ways to create more excitement. Or suspense. Or wonderment. Or whatever.
I've also done the more concrete things writers do to make themselves more competent: I majored in English literature in college, and minored in journalism. I worked as a news and feature reporter for thirty years, learning to write on deadline and figuring out how to efficiently tell stories that were likely going to be cut if they rambled on too long. The life of a reporter is filled with plenty of opportunities to observe people at their best, worst, and most dramatic.
I have attended writers' workshops, creative writing classes, and writers' conferences. And I've read countless books about writing and how to do it better. I get nurtured by other writers in my community, people who are also thinking about writing just about every waking minute (and many sleeping minutes, too.) We share work, giving each other feedback and suggestions. Just having your work taken seriously by others is a great boon to writing. It makes you want to create more and better stories.
I also keep a journal, which is kind of like a little laboratory where my stories go to incubate and then perhaps spring to life. I write character studies, I jot down snippets of conversations I hear, I explore ways of describing real-life situations that come up. I feel as if I'm always working as a writer--storing up experiences and images that I'll later take out and use in my books.
There are so many ways to become a more competent writer, but I think the best ones are simply observing other people and how they act, and then reading as much as you can--both the good and the bad.
Oh, and then there's the best way of all: writing every chance you get. There is no substitute for practicing the craft of writing. It's through a daily practice that I have been able to feel myself stretching and growing, learning how to use words to get to the feelings I want readers to feel.
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