The imagination is the mental faculty that enables us to make pictures of things that aren’t present to our senses. But in order to make those pictures, we need to have already filled our imaginations with raw material. How do we do that? By making use of another essential writer’s faculty: our power of observation. The imagination is completely dependent upon observation; so, if we want to be able to use our imagination in our writing, we need first to develop our ability to observe. Read More
The Mastery Path for Writers: a new way to learn the skills you need
We typically refer to poems and stories, novels and plays—even, these days, some kinds of nonfiction—as “creative writing.” Each one of these kinds of writing, or genres, works differently, and if you want to produce pieces of writing in a given genre, you need to know how that genre works. In these lessons I do not discuss the specific things you need to know to write a poem or a novel or a play; there are hundreds of books available which will teach you these things. Instead, here (and in my book, How To Be a Writer ), I provide you with the opportunity to learn some basic creative writing skills you can then apply to work in whichever genre interests you. I do this because my experience as a teacher has shown me that many people don’t realize that creative writing requires the use of different mental faculties than other kinds of writing. Read More
It’s impossible to create a piece of writing—in any genre—without content. Naturally, skilled writers also need a command of language; but words are not the most important aspect of a piece of writing. Words are only the medium through which a writer’s content is communicated. If a piece of writing has nothing to say, has no content, then no one will want to read it. Read More
If you spend a few weeks—a few months—even a few years—collecting material, you will soon have quite a pile of it. So, what do you do with it now?
You don’t have to do anything at all with it, if you don’t want to. Collecting is a practice; it builds your content-mind as well as providing you with material. If you don’t like any of the stuff you’ve collected so far, be satisfied with knowing that you have been strengthening your writer’s mind.
Chances are good, though, that there is some material in that pile you will want to use. In order to find that useful material, you will need to engage with what you've collected Read More
Practice puts brains in your muscles —legendary golfer Sam Snead
Athletes and musicians who want to become great devote countless hours to what the expertise researchers call “deliberate practice.” This is not just fooling around, or playing a game with a friend. Deliberate practice is highly focused and intentional. It’s designed in such a way that we can learn a new skill or improve one we already have. Anders Ericsson, an expert in skills acquisition, says deliberate practice “entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all.” It’s deliberate practice, not innate talent, that makes some people great at what they do. Read More
Although just putting words on paper, as with freewriting, is easy, writing so that other people understand your words, and are moved by them, is not. That’s because writing, like hitting a 95-mph fastball over the Green Monster, or singing a Puccini aria, is a complex skill. Like any complex skill, it is made up of a large number of component skills. I group these skills into two main categories: content skills, and craft skills. Read More
If you want to be a writer, you need to be a writer.
That sounds like a Zen saying, doesn’t it? Let me explain.
So many people say they want to be writers; few of them actually do it. There are many reasons why a desire to write doesn’t translate into producing finished pieces of writing. One of the main reasons is that most people don’t know what writers actually do. Read More
To get on the Mastery Path is simple. First, you need to give up the talent myth, thereby freeing yourself from the endless worry of wondering whether you’re any good or not. Second, you need to give up the idea that writing is easy.
Once you’ve abandoned the talent myth, then it’s possible to see how experts in any field become great: they aren’t born with their skills—they learn them. We can do that, too: after all, the human brain is designed for learning. Read More
If you have bought into the prevailing idea that being a writer is something you “are,” a function of your “self,”then the concept of “talent” probably lurks in your mind, threatening to overwhelm your fragile self-confidence. Most people believe that great writers are born, not made; that they are special individuals gifted at Read More
Once, many decades ago, I was an ignorant and scared writing teacher facing my first classes. I knew little about writing, and still less about how to teach. But right from the start I loved teaching; right from the start I loved reading my students’ writing; Read More