Original question from Quora:

Do you need to study literature at university to become a good writer?

My Answer:

You absolutely have no reason to study literature at university whatsoever. I say this as an English minor who took lit classes for fun. It doesn’t make you a good writer.

There is a much different secret to becoming a good writer.

To explain, I need to tell a story…

Once upon a time, I tried to learn guitar. I was terrible. I couldn’t even do the basic chords. So, I almost never picked up the guitar.

Over a period of ten years, I would goof around on the guitar and eventually became just good enough to play some basic songs. Then, I got an opportunity to play guitar at church. That changed everything.

Before I knew it I went from barely making it through one song after a lot of practice, to playing three songs a week. I’ve been doing that for the last ten years.

Guess what? I’m not a pretty capable rhythm guitar player. I can pick up most worship songs, which admittedly aren’t that complicated, and play them if I have the music and have heard the song before.

Now, compare this to my friend in high school. He fell in love with guitar and one summer he spent like 8 hours a day playing guitar. In one summer he became the best guitar player in school and is likely better than most players I’ve ever met.

What took me ten years to do, he did in a summer. Why?

Practice and focus on that one skill. In both cases when we focused on getting better at that skill and practiced the skill, we improved dramatically.

When it comes to being a phenomenal writer, you have to practice. Reading and studying great literature is a waste of time if you aren’t practicing your writing.

If you want to be great at writing do this:

Get a book and a legal pad and pen. Make the book something you respect, admire, and want to emulate. It could be Hemingway, Harry Potter, or even books that don’t start with H.

Now, every single day take 45 minutes and spend it copying the book you are reading down in longhand. Do that every day for a year (at least).

When you are done copying by hand each day, write 500 to 1,000 words of your own stuff about literally anything. Short story, book, blog post, it doesn’t matter.

Crank out those words.

When you do this for a year, you’ll be amazed at how much better of a writer you are. If you don’t believe me, try it for even three months and prove me wrong. It costs almost nothing.

I promise you won’t be disappointed. At least, you’ll have more skill than if you spent the time watching TV or sitting in some lecture when you could be writing.

-Brian

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