Learn From Your Writing Heroes, not by What They Say, but What They Do
It’s their books, not their lectures which will improve our craft
I realize how much of a hypocrite I’m being by suggesting you ignore most writing advice — but it’s true. The way your favorite author writes will teach you more than how she says you should write.
Writers don’t always do a good job when they have to talk about writing.
We know you want the secret sauce. Or you become Hemingway-obsessed until you realize he developed a public personae, playing the ultra-macho part of the idea of a Hemingway.
I’ve listened and watched thousands of hours of writing content.
When you give a writer the authority of the podium, she’ll pull up her pants a little and deliver the idealized version of herself. It’s human nature. We want to be liked and revered.
Meanwhile, at home, behind the keyboard — we’re all scared you won’t like our work.
What do they leave out?
The bits you don’t write are just as important as the ones you do. There’s nothing worse than reading the work of a writer who thinks their reader is stupid.
Your readers aren’t stupid.
Make your reader part of the experience. Allow her to paint the picture in her mind withing spoon-feeding her the details. Look to your favorite writers and observe how they handle imagery.
Every writer treats exposition differently.
They might tell you to write one way and write another, themselves. Use their battle-worn books as your classroom, not always the words they speak. How does your favorite author paint the scene?
There are 10,000 ways to show us an apple. Observe your favorite. Pick yours. Show us the apple without showing us the apple.
What do they include?
Your favorite author will have a dozen go-to inclusions as well. We all have our pet favorites. The key is to develop your style without becoming a two-trick donkey.
How does your author handle dialogue?
How does your author handle multiple characters?
How does your author describe the weather?
Is the use of language important to you, or a side project? How does your author get you to appreciate the characters? Are the chapters long or short? How does the size of the chapter affect your attention span for the story?
Take notes in the margins.
Buy a used, second copy of your favorite book and mark it up like a heathen.
Turn your favorite author’s book into a reference document, not just a bit of escapism. Notice. Document. Decide if you want to take a similar path with your writing.
How can you make your writing similar to your hero, but different?
Once you find a few writers you like, now you’ve got to develop your own writing voice, while paying tribute to your favorite writing bits. We don’t want to clone our favorite author. There is no second Stephen King, fiftieth Hemingway, or third Judy Blume.
Those folks are already taken. We need you to be the first you.
Copy the method, not the execution. Turn yourself into a writer’s stew, rather than a single piece of writing sushi.
Don’t worry, you won’t get this process right the first time. Nor the third.
Over time you’ll develop your writing voice, which will mature and change as you write more. Every writer is different. This offers you a billion combinations from which to make your voice.
Let’s make the first you.
We’re waiting for you.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make work that sells and how to sell more of that work once it’s created. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.