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Tools for becoming a solid writer

I have a creative mind, and I love to put my ideas onto paper. What other tools do you pros recommend?

Do I need to attend a university and major in rhetoric to avoid writing a piece of garbage? I request guidance.
While I am not a professional writer, I do turn out quite a bit of writing. I don't believe you need to attend a university unless you are looking for a job in a field of professional writing.

My advice, write. Write again. Write some more. Just write.

You will find that your writing evolves as you learn to put yourself to the paper.

Thats just my two cents.



No, you definitely don't need any kind of formal education to write good stories.

The best thing you can do is just read a lot. Read lots and lots of book in your field. Read books from other fields. Read mythologies from various lands. Mythology is the original fantasy literature. Read writing books, and don't be afraid to try their advice, but also don't be afraid to discard their advice if it doesn't work for you. Read as much as you can.

And then write a lot. It doesn't matter if what you're writing isn't very good. The more you write the better you will get. Experiment with your writing. Practice trying to write like various authors you enjoy. Practice various techniques you've read in books you liked. Just write as much as you can.

Keep trying to learn from everything you read and everything you write along the way. But don't forget how to be simply entertained by stories.


Well School or classes aren't going to hurt I guess, but they are far from necessary in my humble opinion. I think there are three things you can do that will really help you out.

1. Start writing. Like right now! It doesn't matter what, but short stories are often suggested as novels can take a while and being able to say you 'finished' something can help stave off discouragement in beginners. Don't worry about wasting 'good' ideas, you'll have better ones later no matter how good your current ideas are.

2. Read! Read a lot. Take notes about what you like and what keeps you interested as well as what you don't like. I'm also partial to writing one or two line summaries of chapters of books I read.

3. Get ready to have your heart ripped out. Have other people read your work and get crits on it. I'm not saying you need to do what everyone says, but at least listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from. You'll need to grow a thick skin and not take it personally. They aren't attacking you, they are attacking your work. And that's a good thing! It will only get stronger as a result.

Good luck!


Everything that was said above me. But I think it helps if you know what you're getting into.

Writing isn't art. Storytelling is. Writing is a craft, a means to achieve a very specific, artistic goal—a story well-told. Writing is work. It's hard work. I'm not saying writing isn't fun, because it is. Just picture yourself as a sculptor. You're given a block of marble, and your story is hidden inside. Writing is the chisel you take to it to give it shape. Or perhaps a painter with a blank canvas. Writing is your brush.

Writing is something you'll slowly become better at with every word you type, with every critique you receive. Learning to understand the ever-elusive story is much harder. Scenes, turning points, characters and characterisation, sequences, acts, structure. It's enough to make your head spin. I've read a bunch of books on storytelling, signed them all off as total bullshit, read some more, disregarded them as well, read some more and found some truth in them. The trick, I think, in the end, is to find your truth as a storyteller. Some people just have it, they simply understand. Most people don't. I certainly didn't.

So, no, you don't need a formal education. But you do need an education. Look up anything that has to do with the art of storytelling, and get to studying.

And yes, write. This can't be reiterated enough. Write everything and nothing. And more importantly, write with honesty.


Article Team
Recognize that there is room for improvement and learn to enjoy it.

The other day, someone mentioned they were working on a story about a werewolf. I thought "hey, I wrote a werewolf story a while back, I'll share that."
I looked up my story and started to read it to check for mistakes. I was pretty happy with it when I wrote it, but that was nearly two years ago. Perhaps there were some things I could improve on?

I started reading and I found a few things that I could improve on to make the flow better. I kept reading and I found a few more. I read a little more, but soon - all too soon - I had to stop. The entire thing was just too boring. I couldn't fix this. I couldn't make a change here or there and make the story interesting.
If I wanted to tell this story, I would have to start over from the beginning and write it all again from scratch.

Was that how bad I was?
Was that how bad the story was?
Was I a shit writer?

The answer to the above questions is "no."
I'm not that bad. The story isn't that bad. I'm not a shit writer.

But, I was a different writer back then.
Since I wrote my werewolf story I've written and written and written. I've practiced my technique and my understanding of the craft and I have improved.

It is not that I was bad back then - it's that I'm so much better now.
You don't get there if you don't practice.
When I was in jr. high 30-odd years ago I read Macroscope by Piers Anthony. I recently found the note I wrote afterwards in which I laid out all the subjects I thought I had to be proficient in in order to write a novel: anthropology, astronomy, astrology, biology, chemistry, history, etc. Pretty much every dept in a university. The crazy thing is, having just finished my novel, I realized I'd researched every single one of those topics for some small or large reason. Of course, what my 14yo self didn't imagine was that I could have truncated my list to two things: Wikipedia and Google.

For a writing exercise, I would adapt an one that Keith Olbermann recommends for aspiring sports commentators. He says they should transcribe someone's call of a game, then read it back along with the call to understand the commentator's rhythm, diction, etc. You might do something similar with short stories you admire: rewrite them in your own words or rewrite them from a different point of view. Or simply edit them. That will make you think about why each word/sentence/graph does what it does where it does it in a scene/chapter/book. For instance, if you have the time, the world is waiting for a fan-edit of Two Towers. It will also make life a bit easier: having all the characters and story, you can concentrate simply on the craft. That's why I think fan fiction is a valuable exercise as well. I, for one, desperately want to write a story in the Vonnegut universe for the Amazon program. I know it will revolve around Tralfamadore, making it the Tanalorn of his universe, I just haven't had the time to figure out what characters should meet there yet.

As for writing in general, read Hemingway's essay "Monologue to the Maestro," which will tell you everything you need to know about writing, including the unimpeachable advice to read everything so you know what you have to beat.


Article Team
I agree with much of what's been said above.

But I think there's one skill that IMHO is the foundation for it all, and that's belief in yourself. I'm not talking about belief that you're some god to writing, oozing natural tallent, but just a simple belief that if you want something and work hard enough at it that you'll succeed.

You need this belief because when you start off as a new writer, most likely the stuff you produce won't be very good, so you need to believe that with every new story you produce you'll get just a little bit better. You'll need belief in yourself when you get a bad critique on a story that you put your heart and soul into and that you genuinely believed was good. Maybe the critiquer was right or maybe they were wrong, but belief in yourself will allow you to figure that out and not let that bad critique discourage you into never writing again. The only way you fail is if you give up.

With that said here are some other things I've picked up along the way.

As other have said, write and write some more. Writing is the one thing that most writers will agree that all writers should do in order to get better.

Be a student of writing. Read about writing and the many different theories on writing. No theory is right and no theory is wrong. There's just what you like and what works for you. Every writer is different in the way they think about writing, and reading about the different ways story is viewed is like gathering tools for your tool box. A writer can never have enough tools. Some tools you may only use once or twice as you experiment with them. Others, you'll use a lot. This is something you don't need to goto school for. The library and Amazon are your friends.

And finally, do you need schooling to become a writer? The answer is sort of. Brandon Sanderson has, I believe, a literature degree. I remember him saying on his pod cast Writing Excuses that he wishes he'd taken another major because it would have helped him in his writing more.

If you look at many of the professional authors out there, a lot of them didn't study writing in school. There are lawyers, physicists, people from all walks of life. In my writing group, one of the published authors works as a electrician for their day job.

Though I don't believe a literature degree or any degree closely associated with writing is necessary to be a writer, I do believe going to school and getting a degree of some sort can be very helpful. Yes, a science degree will be helpful in writing science fiction etc., but IMHO it's not necessarily the specific type of knowledge you acquire for a certain degree that's useful. From my personal experience, it's the skills of learning how to learn on your own and learning how to critically think that's the most useful.

If I don't know something, I know how to research it. Critical thinking helps me sniff out the plot holes and BS in my stories, so I can get rid of them. It helps me sniff out the BS when I'm doing research too.

So again, it's not what you learn in school that's necessarily important. It's that you learn how to learn that I think is the key. If you learn how to learn then you can learn anything, and that includes how to write.

Ayaka Di'rutia

Brush up on your grammar know-how and knowledge of writing style. I highly recommend Rhetorical Grammar and Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. These books have writing exercises in them, and really boosted my writing technique and editing skills.

You don't have to attend higher education to be a writer (I was writing novels before I graduated High School), but I would highly recommend it. I can't say enough how much pursuing an English degree improved my writing. One of the best things I liked about school was how much I collaborated with other writers in an organized setting.
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toujours gai, archie
College is rarely of direct use, in any profession. But just because a thing has little use does not mean it is of little value. College offers an experience you simply cannot get anywhere else, period. If you have the privilege of attending (without going too deeply into debt!), then surely you should go. If for no other reason than for the experience.

My degree is in history. I found the exercise of writing a master's thesis and then a PhD dissertation to be immensely helpful in three specific regards. One, I learned out to write clearly. This entailed a whole raft of skills from vocabulary to sentence and paragraph structure to being able to communicate complex concepts concisely. And how to write alliterations, evidently. Two, I learned how to do research. To be fair, every history course taught me this (and every history paper taught me more about writing), but especially the dissertation forced me to learn how to drill deep, how to cross-check facts, and how to question my sources. Three, I learned how to undertake and complete a large project. There are very few other endeavors, certainly not in the world of jobs, where you have to conceive, define and execute a project that spans years, more or less on your own.

In short, I found my college training as a historian has paid off handsomely, but not in ways I could have predicted.


I found university invaluable too, in terms of building my writing skills, but I reckon you could learn a lot about writing without it too. I think joining a writing group or a critique site helps too, good ones can be very focused and raise your skill set considerably.


toujours gai, archie
One thing I'd like to emphasize. While one must write alone, one cannot *learn* to write alone. You need partners, editors, feedback. University provides a structure for that (but also provides much more), but so do critique circles, etc. Find what you can afford, what appeals to you. One great thing about the Internet is that it's so much easier now to find beta readers. Aspiring Writer living in a small town in pre-Net days really was an isolated soul.