How To Learn to Write

I was reading an article about how to write scenes. The article provided a list of things that needed to be included in a scene. They were all very useful suggestions. There were a lot of them. I imagined being a beginning writer, trying to learn to write, reading this article; I imagined her memorizing that list of suggestions, and carefully checking each of her scenes to make sure each element was included in each of her scenes, and I rebelled.

No. Just, no.

Articles that break down story structure are great and useful, but I think, at the beginning, they don’t really help. Sure, you can build a scene from a numbered list, and that will give you a skeleton, but you’ll still need to do a lot more with that scene to make it live for the reader.

It’s my belief that there are too many variables involved in writing to learn them from a list. There’s only one way to learn to write, and that is to write.

And write and write and write. And finish something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be “good.” That’s not the point. The doing of it is the point.

Until you’ve written a certain amount of fiction, all those handy articles on writing can only give a surface understanding. Writing yourself is the only way to realize how difficult writing really is, and how complex. I firmly believe there’s no way to truly understand some problems inherent in writing unless you have the problems first, and struggle through to answers for those problems.

Call it “finger exercise” if you want.

Writing isn’t that much different from being a musician or an athlete. There’s a certain level of the work that takes place below the surface of your brain, and you can’t reach that ability until you’ve practiced enough to lay the paths for it. Reading articles can help you interpret what you’ve been doing, and writing can help you interpret articles, but if you don’t actually write, then the process is stymied.

The only way to learn to write is to write.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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6 Responses to How To Learn to Write

  1. SheWolfSilver says:

    I so agree. Most of the articles and books I’ve read on writing have just confused me and made me over think things.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I got so frustrated with the article I couldn’t finish it until later. For the same reason, I ban myself from reading books about writing when I’m at certain stages in the process, even now.

  3. Kate Willoughby says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, too. I was reading the same article (I think.) Even as a seasoned writer, there’s no way in hell I’m going to go over every scene and check for all those elements. All that stuff should come out of you without you thinking too hard about it.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    I think lists like that are more helpful to jolt you out of a stuck place. Like, can’t figure out what’s wrong with the scene, so examine its bones.

  5. Kate Willoughby says:

    Yes, again, I agree. But even then, if a scene’s not working, I usually ask my CP. I would never think to drag out a list of elements.

  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    I’ve done it, though rarely, and usually before I begin a rewrite. Except I don’t refer to a single list, but make notes myself from articles I’ve read over the years.

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