Original question from Quora:
What is the best writing advice you have received?
There are two pieces of advice that have made the biggest impact on my writing.
The first thing is a story I found on the internet, so who knows if it’s true or not. Nonetheless…
A man was at an art exhibition for his artist friend’s paintings. He was admiring his friends work and asked them, “How do you make such beautiful paintings?”
The artist replied, “I paint every day.”
That phrase stuck with me and when I decided to be a successful self-published author, I committed myself to working every day on my craft.
That was over a year ago and since then I’ve written, edited, and published my first book. I’ve started on my second book and nearly every single day I’m writing at least 500 words on something, or I’m making progress editing something.
I know my writing improved. I know my editing improved. I know my book marketing improved.
I’ve gone from a complete nobody to someone who has at least sold a few books. I’m not a bestseller yet, but I believe I’m going to get there eventually.
The path to being a successful author is clear - I need to show up every day and write.
That is powerful advice.
The second thing I’ve learned is related to that, but is a bit different.
Have you ever played golf? Golf can be a tough sport. People spend their whole lives often just to shoot par. Most people are far worse than that at golf.
I know I am.
Now, imagine you took whatever skill you have, or even the average skill of a pretty good golfer and you took that skill and you played a round of golf with Tiger Woods every week.
I bet you would become a much better golfer just by playing with Tiger Woods. Why? Because being a bad golfer is embarrassing, but being horrible while playing with the world’s best would be inexcusable.
You would naturally find ways to improve just to try and come up to his standard. Also, you’d notice things that he does. You might get small bits of advice. You might practice more just to reach his level.
All of that because you’d want to feel comfortable playing with Tiger Woods every week.
I guarantee you that playing a round with Tiger every week would improve your golf game more than just about any other thing you could do.
Now, what does that have to do with writing? EVERYTHING!
We have the ability to write with the greatest masters of all time. It’s so simple that any writer can do it, and yet almost none of them do.
You can copy the masters.
Copying the masters will make you a better writer. Notice that I said copy the masters, not read the masters. That is an important difference.
You should literally take short stories or even entire books and copy them by hand if possible on paper or at least using your computer or a typewriter.
Yes, I know this sounds like a lot of work and feels impractical. I don’t care how much work it sounds like, it’s the same path that so many artists for hundreds of years have trod why should you be any different?
Musicians have done this since music began, whenever that was. As a musician you learn how to play notes, then you play other people’s songs. Eventually, you might create a few songs of your own.
But, you won’t become a great musician if you only focus on creating your own music and never learn to play the music of others. No matter which musician you can think of, any songwriter you love, I promise you they started by copying someone else’s work and that influence shows up in their music.
Writers can and should get material from books and short stories that they want to write like and copy those down, by hand if possible. Do this for 30–60 minutes a day, every day and you’ll start to see things you’ve never seen before. You’ll learn lessons that can’t be taught, only experienced.
That’s the magic of copying. You learn things that you can only learn by doing.
NOTE: You don’t have to copy “classic” works, only works that you wish to emulate. For example, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books could be perfect for writing young adult suspense.
Writing your own work is truly beneficial, and if you write enough you will learn many of the same lessons, but usually only through a series of minor victories and defeats.
Copying the work of others can give you an instinct and a framework to work from when creating your work. You can cut years off of the learning curve simply by being wise enough to emulate greatness.
It’s work and it’s supposed to be work. It’s all work. No shortcuts truly get around putting in the time. Yet, in putting in the right work, you can accelerate your success.
So, every day you should write something new yourself, and copy something great that came before you. Do this long enough and success will likely find you.
But remember, it’s a habit, not an event.
P.S. I unpack more ideas in Creative Genius.