How to write good

A pottery class was divided into two groups. Each group was told they were involved in a competition with the other group. One group was told the winner was the group that produced the best pot. The other group was told the winner was the group that produced the most pots. Guess which group produced the best pot..

Deciding to become a writer is probably the biggest mistake most novice writers make. They probably admire certain writers and imagine that one day they might become as good or as famous as them. They might even try to emulate their style or story structure.

The truth is, you simply are a writer, but a not very good one. You don’t decide to become a writer, you decide to make a living from writing.

For a writer, having an extensive vocabulary or using vivid metaphors are useful tools to have in the box but the overarching strength of any writer is their authenticity. If you are true to yourself and to what you believe in then all the other accessories of writing – grammar, structure, detail – will naturally follow with practice. Some people attempt to learn the artifice of writing before they have something to say or a story to tell. As a result they have to bolt their writing skills onto a borrowed idea and the result is a Heath Robinson contraption which no-one believes in and raises a smile with its attempts at sophistication.

I know all this because I went through the process. I tried really hard to become a good writer and the harder I tried the worse I seemed to become. It didn’t matter which big words I used, they couldn’t hide the fact that the message was still missing.

Then one day I was involved in an unpleasant incident which proved both painful and revealing. It occurred to me that writing about it might prove cathartic. However, the memory was still too raw to allow the thing to writhe about the page naked and bruised so I decided to drape some modesty cloths over it and dress it up as a piece of fiction. It was to become my first short story which possessed a life of its own. The words wrote themselves, hot and vivid.

The incident concerned a fearful encounter I had with a street beggar. I had gone on an evening walk to try and clear my head. The beggar was unusually aggressive, and shocked by his attitude, I broke down and wept before running away from the man whose words chased after me.. “I only want to buy some fags! No need to be such a big baby about it!”

The shame was the spur. I told the story pretty much as it happened but with the extra clothing in the narrative. When I had finished, it was a bittersweet moment for although the story was painful to write, I knew it had a life of its own.

I gave a copy of the story to a fellow student who lived in the same halls of residence as I did, to get his opinion. Half heartedly he took the story from me and said he would look at it sometime.

The next morning he approached me at breakfast and told me how much he had enjoyed the story. He had only intended to read the first few paragraphs he said, but then got involved in it and read the entire story in one sitting. When he said that, it was like a precious gift he had given me. Because I grew up then. That’s when I knew what good writing was about.

One of two things happen after that; you either keep on writing to hone the rough diamond you have unearthed, or you don’t. Or maybe you just keep coming back to it like a dusty musical instrument you neglect to play for months at a time. The thing is, the improvement comes from the doing. The more you write, the better you become. You can’t help it. But always, at the heart of the work, is authenticity.

So the potters who created the most pots also produced the best pots. They couldn’t help it.

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