Read widely if you want to write well. So many people say this and, yeah, it’s true. I would say not only read widely but experience as many different mediums as you can. The more ways you experience communication, the more tools you have to draw on when you’re creating something yourself. This principle is bigger than just honing the practice of using words, but it cuts to the heart of the value of human experience.
Let’s start from the beginning though. If you never read books, how can you expect to write them? You’ve got to know what’s out there for a start. You’ve got to know what’s been done and what people are interested in. But of course it’s more than that. You subtly pick up on what makes good writing and bad, even if you’re not actively analysing it. Of course there’s always preference here and there, and learning to write for a particular set of preferences could be the definition of genre writing itself, but quality is still quality regardless of the preferences which help guide you. I put it to you that at the heart of a great Sci Fi, Chick Flick or War novel, an engaging plot, relatable but flawed characters and believable dialogue will be there. This is why films and television can be as moving as any novel, deep down we’re all using the same tools.
But don’t stop at the bigger, structural aspects of writing, for sometimes the sounds of words themselves is the key. If you want to write good prose, read poetry and if you want to write good poetry read prose. Study rhetoric and the art of persuasive speaking. Enter the workforce and immerse yourself in corporate waffle-speak. Don’t just consider your communication from the intention level but look at the effect of using certain words or sounds together. You’ll find you can challenge the notion that there’s nothing new under the sun. People might have been creatively using language since we’ve had it, but it’s still evolving and adapting to the modern world, same as we are. There’s room to use old techniques in new ways to come up with something no-one has done before. Embrace that and see where it takes you.
Don’t forget the visual and aural senses as well. There’s something in music that transcends words themselves. If you want a challenge, try writing down everything your favourite song means to you and why. Same for paintings and other forms of visual art. We’ve considered how books and film are similar but consider for a moment how they’re different. Some might argue that the great thing about a book is that it empowers your imagination to create the world you’re experiencing but a film is inherently limited by imposing a single manifestation of the story. I would even agree, but who could argue with the success and value of such grand films as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings or the unique experience you get from a Quentin Tarantino film?
If we take this widening of experiences to its conclusion, then consider for a moment the nature of video games. That’s right. Video games. Few people would suggest sitting around playing the latest Call of Duty as a way of improving your writing technique but let’s just consider this for a moment. Video games allow you to experience things in a way we’ve never been able to before. The degree of complexity that can be generated these days leads to such immersive experiences that can’t really be had any other way. Consider the combat, exploration and escape mechanics of Assassin’s Creed or the grand strategy of something like Total War. Fundamentally different games, but they both give you an experience you wouldn’t get from anything else. When you end up seeing the world slightly differently with each new experience, you end up with more options rather than less when it comes to your own creativity.
I couldn’t wrap this up without mentioning one more thing: history. The collective experiences of humanity are a pretty decent store to draw upon. Maybe it’s just my bias coming through but I reckon history gives you a never ending supply of varying experiences and perspectives. Perhaps that’s why I go back to it, because there’s always something new to learn and inspire you.
Lot’s to be getting on with then. Thankfully you don’t need to be doing it all every day. It’s good to know that there are plenty of ways to grow creatively. By all means try and write every day, read within your genre and further afield, but don’t forget to binge on Netflix once in a while too. It might even do you some good…
(Photo sourced from Wiki Commons)