"If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." -Margaret Atwood
If a person seeks the advice of how to become a better runner the frequently heard recommendation will be to run more. Suggestions of running trails, hills, distance, short bursts, running for speed, running for endurance will be given with the correct assumption that the combination of all these will create a better runner. It isn't a complicated formula--when we want to improve, we must practice. Repeated throughout our childhood, we know well the mantra that "practice makes perfect."
The problem is we learn too soon that perfection doesn't exist, causing many of us to reduce our amount of practice or sadly relinquish our efforts entirely. As a writer, how often have you imagined the perfect story, a flawless blend of nuance and subtext creating the backdrop for textured, multidimensional characters? How many times did you envision the expression of this story beautifully written in effortless prose? And how often did the reality of execution damage the vision?
Because our imaginings do not match our capability to carry out our dreams of perfection, we are often left feeling discouraged and stunted. These feelings can cause us to abandon our craft or at a minimum reduce our involvement. It's easy to assume that our expectations will never be met and therefore we should not continue to try. But it is only with consistent effort that we will ever become even close to the possibility of successfully reaching our potential. Yes, we have learned and accepted that "practice doesn't make perfect" but only practice will bring us closer.
Just as a person must run to become a better runner, a writer must write to become a better writer. But it isn't just the mere performance of the activity, which garners improvement. The practice of honing one's craft involves various components. It is true that if you run everyday you will tone your muscle, improve cardiovascularly and become a better runner than you were. But if you want to become more than just a better runner, if you want to be a good runner then you must approach it strategically. You must seek the wisdom of seasoned runners, do your research, and cross-train. It seems counterintuitive to think that the best means of improving your running is to swim or bike but it's true. The more you incorporate training opposing muscles, the stronger you become overall, which in turn makes you a more competitive runner. This concept is applicable to writing.
You can write every day, which will improve your ability. However, if you want to exceed merely improving then you must consider the various ways in which you can purposefully become a good writer or maybe even a great writer. It is much the same as running or any other skill upon which you wish to improve. It is important to observe the great writers--read, analyze and absorb their work. Research, understand and know your audience. Learn about and listen to your own voice. Write with purpose but above all, passion. And, like running, you must cross-train.
No, that doesn't mean that you start solving complicated algebraic formulas. You will still write but in different forms than you are currently. It is most helpful if these forms are ones with which you are not as comfortable. If you write short stories, write poetry. If you write poetry, write a journalistic news piece. Flex, train, and build the opposing muscles so that you are strong overall.
The Internet has made the ability to cross-train in our craft feasible. There are many sites seeking various writing styles from news articles to satirical commentary to poetry. Of course, you need not submit your work anywhere. After all, a runner doesn't need to enter a bike race rather he or she must simply ride the bike. Instead, it is the experience that is imperative. Learning the lyrical nature of poetry could translate into more beautiful prose for your work of fiction. Practicing the brevity and recording of facts for a news piece can bring a succinct believable element to your short story.
So remember to write here, there and everywhere because proficiency comes with one's ability to comfortably command their craft.
I have not just written this advice but taken it so that you can also find my writing at http://slbparnell.hubpages.com
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International