The best and most efficient way to improve your writing is….
To help others with theirs.
This may feel counterintuitive if your life looks anything like mine (busy from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep). However, I believe that helping other writers only makes YOU a better writer.
I recently participated in a workshop for a short story anthology I submitted a story to. The workshop was a month long and every week we had to read two stories and critique them. Through that month, I became a better critiquer AND I think I became a better writer. Why?
It certainly wasn’t because I was editing all the time. It was because I was seeing errors that others made that I recognized! Because I do the same thing!
When I read, I can be guilty of what I’ll call ‘final draft syndrome.’ That means I sometimes forget about the process of writing and I focus on the product of writing. When I pick up a book, I’m seeing the 3rd or 10th or 12th version of this story, not the first.
However, when I step outside myself and help other writers, I see the 1st or 2nd version and it reminds me that my own terrible first or second drafts are simply part of the process. I recently read an article about Nobel Prize Winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, which shared that his success was largely based on his freedom to write terribly at first. He said he spent a month writing everything that came into his mind and most of it was pretty bad. Whether you are J.K Rowling or Kazuo Ishiguro or Joe Schmo, your first draft will be awful.
Because you’re still figuring out the story! You have scenes to write that will never make it in, terrible dialogue to suffer through, plot holes the size of Jupiter and more. This is simply part of the process.
This is where helping others comes in and, I think, speeds up the process of learning. Because you’re not working in a vacuum trying to figure out all these issues, you are learning. When you point out a mistake that someone else made, you are more sensitive to finding the same error when you go back to edit your own writing, and trust me, you probably do the same thing.
When you help another writer out, you become better at giving feedback. When you give feedback, you become better at receiving feedback. Even if your life feels out of control busy like mine (and that’s really just because I have toddlers), you can find time to help out other writers. Even if it’s taking two hours out of your week to critique something or sometimes, it’s only 10 minutes to read and give an overall impression.
We can’t learn and grow in our writing craft in a vacuum. We have to be around others. We have to be willing to give of ourselves within that community.
So, who is part of your writing community? Where do you go to give (and get) help for your writing? If you don’t have one, maybe this would be a good place to start.