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Just Write—and Read!

“Just write”, is the advice often given to beginning writers looking to hone their skills. Of course, as with almost any advice, not everyone in the field agrees. I recently read some writers who mocked the advice as the hallmark of wasted time and effort. They were solidly in favor of higher education as the path to improving one’s skills. Education approached with an open and questioning mind rarely stunts a person’s development.

I’m certainly in favor of improving grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I’m of the opinion that one must know the rules to successfully break them—as good writers often do. The classroom is a good setting for acquiring those kinds of skills. If you slept through high school English, or like me, cut English class my entire senior year, I recommend enrolling in a community college and taking an English class or, better yet, two.

One note of caution here. Take English, not Literature. That can come later if you want to pursue it. I’m not talking about getting a degree—just English 101. English 102 generally revolves around research and that is worth the tuition.

That said, I am a “Just Write” advisor. There’s nothing like jumping in the deep end to teach you how to dog paddle. Just don’t stop there, practice, practice, practice. With all that practice, find yourself a critic, and for goodness’ sake listen to them. Very few family members or friends qualify for that position, just saying.

There is one bit of writing advice that I advocate more than “Just Write”. It should precede sitting down at a keyboard and needs to be maintained throughout a writing career—read. In the words of an old advertisement—reading is fundamental. Good writers are readers. That doesn’t mean reading will make you a good writer. It means if you don’t read, you’re ham-strung from the start.

I’m not talking about copying someone’s style or voice. I’m talking about exploring what great writing looks, sounds, and feels like. You’re not going to destroy your originality—there’s nothing new under the sun. Rather, chances are that by reading you will discover your unique voice and find that book that nobody’s written that you want to read. When that happens—just write it.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”— Ray Bradbury

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