Freelance Writer Files: How to Learn How to Write

Person writing with a computer

There's more to writing than typing.

Occasionally, I get an e-mail from someone wondering how they can learn to write, or how to become a writer. They want me to tell them. And I really can’t. To someone who has had the urge to write since childhood, to someone for whom writing is as essential as oxygen and food, the question is puzzling. How do you learn to breathe and eat? Well, you just do. You have to in order to go on living.

Today, instead of meeting the young man for coffee, as he had suggested, I decided to write a brief response that comprised all I can possibly offer on the topic of “how to learn how to write.”

In his e-mail, the young man had indicated that college recruiters and the Web had not been helpful to him in figuring out how to learn to write. From the spelling and style of the e-mail, it seemed that a little formal training would help, as well as a working knowledge of Spell-Check. Anyway, here’s my response:

Dear _____,

I don’t know how to tell you how to learn to write. But one thing I know is that most writers start out being voracious readers. Read books and short stories and poems by great writers, and good writing will soak into you. Read everything, from ancient Greek plays to Charles Dickens’ novels to modern short stories.

Not all writers are schooled in writing, but most are. Formal learning, in a Composition or Exposition class in college or at JCCC, is an excellent basis for beginning to be a writer.

There are also books good writers have written about how to write. Stephen King has written at least one. The Elements of Style is a Bible of good writing you should read. There are many others, of course. Seek them out at the library.

Start writing. Even if what you write is terrible. And of course, it will be at first. Don’t let that stop you. Keep on writing and reading, reading and writing. Take English courses, literature courses, history, art, etc. Everything you learn will help you as a writer.

Pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and especially, in your world and inside you. Be observant. Write about what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Keep a journal. Write in it every day.

Really, this is the best advice I can give you. Good luck!

Best wishes,

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