My dad will tell you that when I was little, I penned stories that sounded exactly like whatever books I was reading, which is to say that Ann M. Martin could have totally enlisted me as a ghostwriter for her series, The Babysitter’s Club. Yes, I wrote fanfiction before I even knew it was a thing. It’s fun.
Almost any writer, if asked, “how do I improve my writing?” will say two things: 1. write (almost) every day, and 2. READ. Well, of course: anything that one does every day becomes easier over time, and apprenticeship is a time-honored way of learning. Reading is one way of apprenticing yourself to a writer, of learning the craft.
Yet I would add one thing: write as you see it. In a previous version of this post, I rather pointedly took down a particular style of blog-writing that appears to be trendy, then thought of one or two other styles that appear trendy (all following a handful of popular bloggers), then realized that the style’s not exactly the point.
The point is that in a world that rewards the handful of people who are very, very, very successful at their chosen pursuit, it’s hard to imagine that you might find success (or simply satisfaction) merely as yourself, and not as some version of the already-successful star.
And I suspect that for every Ann Voskamp and Rachel Held Evans there are scores of writers striving to be similarly (meditative, gratitude-bathed, syntax-inverting, filtered-photograph-illustrated ) or (funny, provocative, egalitarian, emboldened topic sentence-loving). They have clearly tapped into Something that Readers Want.
As much as I believe that reading improves people’s writing, I’m convinced that good writing comes from someplace else. It comes from writing things down precisely as you (you! you! you!) see them–not from writing them down the way Popular Writer X would nor by writing them down in the style that Today’s Readers Enjoy.
I don’t read many books on writing at all, simply because I would rather read about other things, but one that I keep nearby always is Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. It’s all about silencing the voices in your head that say “you can’t!” and freeing yourself to express what it is you have to express in ways that are fresh and exciting because they come from you–not from who or what you think you should be.
Let other people write as they write—for you to write as they do will never be more than fan(non)fiction. Write it as you see it.
It’s a reminder I need fairly often. Maybe you do, too!
“…so long as a writer is working to satisfy imagined expectations that are extraneous to his art as he would otherwise explore and develop it, he is deprived of the greatest reward, which is the full discovery and engagement of his own mind, his own aesthetic powers and resources.” ~Marilynne Robinson