First of all – What qualifies as a ‘good’ writer?
Some of my favourite authors: Stephen King, John Grisham, even the likes of Aldous Huxley and J. D. Salinger were, at one point in their careers, critically panned – only for public opinion and/or soaring book sales to swing dramatically in their favour. So what constitutes as ‘good’? Well, in my opinion, I think you should be a good storyteller. Personally I don’t read a novel to marvel at the author’s ability to utilise imagery and symbolism (although if done well these can be just as powerful as a good story – see Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger for examples that will make your hair stand on end.) I believe these things should be present if they fit like a tailored suit, not if you find yourself hammering them in during the rewrite, forcing them in between the lines just so you can say LOOK, I’M WRITERLY! If you can write a truly fascinating story while loading your book, effortlessly, with stunning metaphors, subtle allusions to real life, awe-inspiring foreshadowing and beautiful imagery then you are Cormack McCarthy… Thank’s for reading Cormack.
‘Good’ writing, the way I see it, should be writing that entertains. Of course: one person’s entertainment is another’s torture, so you have to write what entertains you. How do you become a better writer? By writing, of course.
When I look back on my first attempts at writing short stories I grit my teeth and recoil at just how bad they are. At the time I was sure I was penning cutting edge Pulitzer bait. I was not. I was learning how to write by writing badly. I improved with time and so will you. You will improve by sending your work out to professionals with the hope of being published. At first they will either not respond or they will say ‘no thank you.’, as you improve they will start to guide you with comments, subtle nudges in the right direction. Take this advice and add it to your arsenal.
The second piece of advice on how to improve as a writer is to read a lot, but – I hope – this advice is redundant. If your dream is to become a novelist then I assume you are already love reading and do not need to be told that it’s a prerequisite of good writing. If you don’t read a lot then it doesn’t make any sense for you to want to become a writer, in fact as go as far as to say you don’t have any right trying. If you want to get in it for the money – I’ve got bad news for you; there isn’t much. Fame? there’s not much of that either, but that’s the way most writer’s like it.
Write and read, read and write. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. In the history of the world there have been very few ‘masters’ of writing, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Hemingway – and many would dispute even these names.
No one says you have to match Shakespeare, but 10,000 hours of writing is not a bad place to start if you want to get better.