Yesterday, Chuck Wendig wrote a post called Ten Things I’d Like To Say To Young Writers (the man likes his lists) and I think it’s good, solid advice. Me, I’d like to add two more things. Here goes:
Really study text that works.
Have a favorite short story? Retype it. A favorite novel? Type out that first chapter. There really is no substitute for retyping a whole mess of text–just reading it, even aloud, doesn’t bring the same focus. Then read it through with a yellow legal pad next to you and, every five pages, jot a line describing what happened.
How quickly does the book get to dialog? To the main characters? How quickly does the book describe what the main character is searching for, if it does at all? How much space on the page is given to description of people or places? How soon does the conflict start? Depending on the genre and the style of book, the answers can be quite different.
Best of all is to choose a successful book that is very like the one you hope to write. Study it. Try to get a feel for it, because:
Understanding how a piece of writing makes readers feel is the real prize
The universe is full of writers who crap on a keyboard and call it gold. Those people do not understand the way readers respond to their text; they know what’s in their head, they’re sure that’s what they put on the page, what’s wrong with readers/editors/agents/the world that they can’t see the awesome?
But, in fact, it can be very difficult to judge your own writing the way a reader will. We might hope the scene we just finished will be scary, or funny, or sad, but until we show it to complete strangers we’ll never really be sure.
What move people never say is that the ability to accurately understand the effect your own words will have on the reader is the first (and most difficult) step to becoming successful. So try to get a feel for your own books the way you do when you read the ones written by other people. Revisit stories you wrote the year before. Invite readers to tell you how they reacted to the story (but never what they think you should do.) Understanding those feelings are the way to mastery.