What does it mean to be a "good" writer? (I'll get to the picture in a minute... but come on! You have to keep reading just to learn more about this irresistible treat!)
From our perspective, being a "good writer" doesn't mean you have the most flowery prose out there (for YA at least). It means that we write something so engaging, that the writing itself is all but lost to the story.
A recent article published by Gotham Writer’s Workshop said, “Some beginning writers operate under a false assumption: They assume that stories are about language. But language is merely the medium in which stories are created.” The author continues: “With rare exceptions (Ulysses, Lolita), stories are never about language, or never exclusively about language. ... [G]ood writing doesn’t bring attention to us as creators; it directs the reader’s attention to a created world.”
Sure, that’s all well and good, you say. NOW TELL ME HOW I CAN DO THAT!!
In running through articles and top ten lists on what it takes to be a great writer, there seem to be a few common refrains. We've narrowed it down to a top 3.
#1. Read. A Lot.
That’s right. Rather than sitting down at your keyboard and prattling away, try curling up with some of the best-loved books of the genre in which you are trying to write. While telling you to read books you love is sort of akin to asking you to eat a giant slice of chocolate cherry bomb cake (yep, we're talking about the picture now), I’m going to take a little of the fun away. Consider it like knowing the calories in each bite. As you read, pay attention to the writing. How has the author used language? What things about the writing bother you? How was the pacing? The world building? If you pay attention to the parts you really do and don’t like, you’ll be better able to emulate or avoid those same things.
#2. Get critiques.
"The less competent the writer, the louder his protests over the editing. . . . Good writers lean on editors; they would not think of publishing something that no editor had read. Bad writers talk about the inviolable rhythm of their prose." ~ Gardner Botsford, A Life of Privilege, Mostly.
There are probably as many different ways to get critiques as there are authors out there. Find a critique partner online or through a local writer’s group. If you aren’t already a member, places like SCBWI , #YALitChat (this is where the 5 of us met up), and Verla Kay's Blueboards are good places to join. While SCBWI has an annual fee, many of the local chapters will allow you to attend meetings without joining the national chapter. Heck, I’ve found critique partners on Twitter by doing things like YALitChat and KidLitChat.
Another helpful resource is the teens who make up your target audience. If you don’t have your own, borrow your friend’s kids. Or your crit partner’s kids. Something I recommend is putting together a fun little “official critique package” so they feel extra special (i.e., are extra-motivated to help you). Include a list of questions about specific things that concern you. It could be anything as general as “are there any parts you would change” to “did you think scene x was too over-the-top?” Include red and green sticky notes. Red = B (bored), C (confused), or D (don’t believe it).* If your Beta readers do nothing more than mark B, C, or D in specific places, you’ll be better off than you started. Green = whatever else you edit out, you must keep this part. Hopefully you’ll get some of these back too.
* this tip from author Kathleen Duey
#3. Learn your craft.
Attend conferences. Take courses (free or paid; online or in person). Go listen to authors/agents/editors speak. Read author/agent/editor’s blogs. Follow agents on Twitter. If you don’t know that adverbs are out, that you have to show-don’t-tell, and that the only two tags editors don’t snarl at are “said” and “asked,” you haven’t been doing your homework. (If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, just don’t ever write a sentence along these lines: “I’m so confused,” he blurted loudly.) There’s no substitute for paying close attention to the industry.
What do you think? Would you list something else on your top 3 list?