Fractured Focus

by | Oct 13, 2021

“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others. Read a lot and write a lot.”

Stephen King

If you’ve ever struggled with your writing, you may have wondered, “Did Stephen King start out like this?” (If you’re not a horror movie or sci-fi fan you can fill in the author name with Emily Dickinson or Shakespeare or Hemingway or even your journalist cousin Eddie on your mother’s side — whoever embodies your mental image of a successful writer.

Whomever you compare yourself to, I can assure you the answer is no, they didn’t start out like this because you, and they, are unique. We each find our own path. But also, in a sense yes they did. The universal truth is that writing doesn’t start out on the page or screen all neat and pretty. Like any creative endeavor, it starts off messy. It sometimes feels stupid — but keep going. There’s treasure to be had if you keep digging in. Stephen King, bestselling author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels said in his book How To Start Writing, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others. Read a lot and write a lot.” He’s right. 

The way you learn how to write well is to exercise your ability to write — in great abundance. Have you noticed how great musicians still warm-up doing scales? That great athletes do calisthenics just like you did in high school gym class? No matter how much you practice, warm-up, or do writing exercises you must also realize that great writing comes from rewriting. It’s not going to be perfect the first time out. You must keep working until it’s something you can be proud of. That’s where reading a lot comes in. You learn from reading how other authors handle the issues you find yourself battling: how to introduce a story; how to transition from one point to another or use details to make an otherwise dull paragraph come alive. Reading also helps you develop discernment, to know good writing when you see it. The prolific bestselling author of the 1940s and 50s James A Michener summed it up well when he said, “I’m not a very good writer but I’m an excellent rewriter.”