Advice for aspiring authors
I was recently asked a question, so I decided to write about it.
This is the oldest advice in the book and you’ll read it a thousand times if you go looking for advice. There is a reason for that. This is the way to become a good writer.
You will find this advice as many times and there is good reason for that too. You can not make good art without seeing good art. If you don’t know what good art looks like, how can you replicate it? Read everything. Read your favorite genre. Read other genres. Read authors you love. Read authors you hate. Read fiction, read non-fiction, read your cereal box, read that scrap of paper on your desk. (I think Neil Gaiman wrote something like this once…;) Can’t remember.)
Just make sure you’re reading. When you’re a writer, reading is part of your job. It can go on your work clock. You need to read actively at all times in order to keep honing your craft. Don’t neglect the reading.
I’m glad you asked.
*Sings* When I was a young warthoooog…
When I was a young artist (yes, I was mainly an artist before turning to writing), I hated repeating drawings. I didn’t like erasing parts I’d already drawn. I didn’t want to go back and redo the sketch. I just didn’t have the patience for it.
For years, when I asked great artists “How do you get so good?” They would reply, “Practice.”
I hated the idea that there was nothing more to it than that. No secret? No tutorials or books I could go through and become a better artist? No schools or programs or anything, just… practice?
It felt like no advice at all and I was always disenchanted with the advice afterward.
Years later, I was in art school for the third time, having jumped around from program to program after finding the first two rather wanting. (Awful drawing? Gold star! As Dakota would say, Yeah, naw.) I was working on pieces and being told to redo them. Over and over. I hated it. I hated every single bit of it. But I had this one teacher who became my mentor and truly the greatest educator I’d ever had. Mr. Thomas Starnes. (He’s incredible, btw. Look him up!) and I will never forget what he said to me when I asked how to be so good.
The only difference between you and me is mileage.
Specifically, miles of paper.
The drawings I’ve done could reach to the moon and back twice.
If you want to be great, just keep drawing. Draw every day. Draw miles and miles of paper. There’s no special “talent” or “gift” that makes me better than you.
All there is… is Mileage.
So get to drawing.”
The “practice” argument had always discouraged me before.
This was the first time it had inspired me.
I took Mr. Starnes’ advice, and I asked him privately what I could do to make my drawings better, now.
He said I should learn to let go of what I’d done and do it again. If I realized I had made a mistake that wouldn’t be fixed with a quick erase and a new stroke, if I was too far into the drawing but the proportions were off, or the angle was wrong, or I needed to reframe the composition… to turn the page and start again.
This was the hardest thing for me. I had a serious problem with “killing my darlings” (Steven King? I think so. Not sure.) And I hated, hated redoing things! (See again: No patience.)
But I tried, grudgingly, to take Mr. Starnes’ advice. This is how much I respected the man, btw.
I started noticing when a sketch was off, and I would hear his words in my head. SIGH and turn the page.
I started getting better.
And while I’m no great artist, I went from a pretty bad artist, to a pretty good artist during my time under Thomas’ mentorship.
He would say it was less to do with his teaching… and more to do with the mileage.
“There’s no special “talent” or “gift” that makes me better than you.
All there is… is Mileage.” – Mr. Thomas Starnes.
Writing is art, silly!
There’s no difference.
There is no difference between me, an author with multiple published works that at least some people consider pretty good, and you, an author who wants to write but hasn’t gotten there yet.
The only difference is mileage.
Miles of paper.
Miles of screen-text? idk how to parse that. But you know what I mean.
Write every day.
Write stories. Write blog posts. Write drabbles if you must.
And when you realize a story isn’t working… turn the page and redraw the sketch. Get the anatomy right. Fix the proportions. Reframe the composition. And make a better story.
You won’t make great books until you can kill your darlings.
You won’t make great books until you can write every day.