The Amazing (and Simple) 3-Step Plan for Learning How to Write

The Amazing (and Simple) 3-Step Plan for Learning How to Write

This week’s video answers a question I’ve been getting from multiple sources: about how yours truly went about learning to write.

Video Transcript:

Lately, I’ve received a lot of emails asking the question, “How did I learn to write?” So today, I’m going to do my best to answer that. But first I’d like to throw out two thoughts.

The first is that this is a great question. I know that I personally have learned so much about perfecting my own process by studying the processes of other authors.

The second thought is that you shouldn’t get too hung up on this question. Great to know how others do it, but ultimately you have to create your own process, based on what optimizes your creativity.

How to Write Step #1: Write

Okay, so how did I learn to write? I came into writing totally backwards. I never intended to be a writer. But stories have always been my language, and I started writing my stories, just so I wouldn’t forget them. So that’s Step 1: write! In high school, I wrote four novels and hundreds of short stories. And I had a blast!

How to Write Step #2: Study the Craft

But about the time of that fourth novel, I realized I had no idea what I was doing, so I got a bunch of books on writing and started learning there’s actually more to this than just putting words on the screen. So that’s Step 2: study the craft.

How to Write Step #3: Read Fiction

Now Step 3 was something I’d been doing all along—so I guess that makes it Step 0?—and that is reading fiction like a madwoman. I read probably a hundred novels for every one I write.

Beyond that, I also took a brief course from Writer’s Digest early on, benefited hugely from critique partners and editors—and, of course, wrote about writing, which has probably taught me more than anything else.

What I did not do was go to college and get an MFA. I think they’re great for a lot of people, but I also see a lot of writers wasting their time on them instead of just writing what they were meant to write.

So as you can see my journey hasn’t been that revolutionary or unusual. If I have one secret to impart from my experiences, it’s this: just write. Sit down and write hundreds, thousands, millions of words—and read twice many as that. That’s all it takes. You’ll be surprised: every word you write will be better than the last one.

Tell me your opinion: How did you learn how to write?

The Amazing (and Simple) 3-Step Plan for Learning How to Write

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Just love your advice. Make it all easy-peasy lemon squeezy 😀
    I think first thing’s first. Write a novel, then learn it all with a reference guide of your mistakes… That’s what I am planning

  2. Thank you. Although I have enjoyed writing since I was a teenager (and even as a child) I am finally working to finish my first novel.
    It has taken longer than I wanted, mostly because I have been doing those 3 things. Writing, studying the craft, and reading fiction.
    I pull up the experts (those who have gone before) when I hit a rough spot and things aren’t falling into place. Usually, I learn what I’m missing and am able to get things moving again. I know by incorporating “studying the craft,” it is taking longer, but I have a feeling my work is getting better because of it.
    Your post assures me I may be going in the right direction…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t necessarily regret that that I wrote four novels before I had any idea there *was* a craft, but I’m sure I would have gotten much better much faster if I had.

  3. I agree reading and writing are the too easiest ways to learn about the craft. I suggest reading a wide scope that also includes something current (and hopefully good) within your targeted genre. I write YA but what I read in school and loved as a teen is slow and tame compared to today’s YA books. I never would have known YA stories push boundaries and tackle tough topics if I wasn’t reading current award winners and list toppers. Nor would I have had the courage to write my deep, dark YA contemporary. And I certainly wouldn’t have put in as many curse words 🙂 Stephen King’s ON WRITING was also a game changer for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. It’s important to read broadly, but it’s even more important to read deeply within our chosen genres.

  4. robert easterbrook says

    I have come to writing as an older person, not someone in high school. I am told there is a difference, but I haven’t worked out what that difference is. Other than, perhaps to say, that high school students are not interested in the same things that I am. Sometimes I am – I like steampunk, goth, goth punk, and the occasional toxic. I mean, I’m not interested in Superman, though I am interested Batman, just a little more. My favourite illustrated work is Mass Effect. I like Sci-fi because I think to write it requires much more creativity and imagination than, say, romance, which I have little time for, unless the romance occurs in Historical fiction. But, I’ve always had the feeling that I should write something. It wasn’t until I was writing my PhD thesis that I got the ‘write fiction’ bug. I woke up one day and said to my housemate: “I’m gonna write a novel.” He just looked at me and must have thought I hadn’t had enough sleep. The very first thoughts I had about the novel were that of a struggling, repressed culture that had been lied to and force into an odd form of slavery. And I started writing. But I have since realised that it is hard work trying to produce the kind of thing I want – trying to be original rather produce a kind of fan fiction, doing what many others seem to be doing. I don’t want to write to compliment someno else. So, do you think there is a world of difference for people who come to writing fiction later in life than early?

    • I think there are pros and cons to both early-life writing and late-life writing. The most obvious difference is that early-life writing gives writers a head start on learning and perfecting their craft. But late-life writers often have more depth to bring to their work right from the start. I definitely don’t think late-life writing means you have any less chance of success than an early-life writer.

      • Jan Satterlee says

        I am so glad to hear that coming to the writing game later in life isn’t a drawback–or I’d be in serious trouble!
        I started on a MG novel about six years ago, rewrote it many times then took an online course on creative writing, which was very helpful. I used everything I learned to improve my novel, but it still wasn’t up to par. Then I found this site and bought your books on outlining and structuring–my novel is now being completely revamped and I’m totally loving it!
        One of the more helpful things I did was to make a list of “What if” questions–wow! That sent me in a direction I’d never dreamed!
        Thank you–thank you!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I’m so glad the books have been helpful! The “what if” questions are one of my favorite parts of the process. Never know what you’ll come up with!

  5. My journey parallels your own, although I have a degree in journalism, which probably contributed to my “matter-of-fact” style more than anything. I got frustrated because the publishers of Nancy Drew weren’t putting them out as fast as I could read them, and decided to write my own (very bad) fan fiction. I haven’t taken any WD courses, but have read a lot of books (probably not as many as you!) on writing, and read a lot in the genres I write in. Joining critique groups over the years have definitely helped me greatly, but you have to be cognizant of when you’ve outgrown the group. Sometimes groups grow stagnant, and you have to be willing to leave, at least for the critical part of the group. Still can be good to stay with them for camaraderie. 🙂 But I digress…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Beyond forums, a writer’s group is something I’ve never participated in, but mostly just because it’s not my scene or my style. I work better alone than with others–especially during the early drafting stages.

  6. I’ve stated writing very young (as a child, really) mimicking stories that teachers and family recounted me, or stories I watched on tv and for a long long time I mimicked my favourite writers. Then as a teenager, I started exchanging my stories with friends who also wrote, and that was a first very important step for me.
    Much later, I read about the craft (eyes-opening, really) and joined critique groups, which is the single thing that made my ability to tell stories improve dramatically.

    So, from my experience, I’d say read read read a lot and what you love the most, what you’re most likely to write, learn from people more expert than you. And confront yourself with others, always, don’t be afraid to learn from anyone, because everyone has something to offer. Be open-minded and willing to listen.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I read Star Wars novels like a fiend when I was young. No surprise many of my early story ideas were Star Wars rip-offs!

  7. I love the simplicity! Although it’s still cool to take courses in college, I can see what you’re saying about people getting too hung up over it. Many of the most famous writers of all time followed your advice more or less without fancy degrees.

  8. I am so much of a plotter that I have a hard time “just writing”, so one thing I try to do is write down certain notes – ones that are longer or more involved – as if they are very short stories of their own. In doing this, I find that small details regarding other related aspects are brought to life as well. The funny thing about this is that when I let the writing flow during such developments, it very quickly turns into at least a full page of what could be summarized in a few short sentences. Usually, what I end up doing is I write these point form summaries down at the bottom when all is said in done, as I will more than likely need to do a quick review of it at a later time. I find this a lot easier than trying to convince myself to actually go on writing something akin to a short story that is subject to change by the time I begin writing on the very next page.

    Another interesting thing about the way these developments come to life is that whenever I read over the entire thing, more ideas flow because not only is it a review of a portion of my story, it is also an exercise in getting the wheels turning. Nine times out of ten, when I read over a long note like this, I end up adding to it (which is similar to my issue with “just writing” something I hope to be a finished product at some point in time). Sometimes, reading over my own notes keeps me awake at night, excited to read and edit the next one. I suppose this is a result of the nature of the ever-growing beast that I have created – any given one of these notes could probably be a short story in itself if I were to allow it to be.

    Long story short, I “just write” big long story notes and put brief summaries at the top or bottom. This lets me review the guts when I need to, while seeing the underlying and/or accompanying elements when I can.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Funny how that works, isn’t it? Sometimes we have to trick our brains into being creative.

      • In particular, I have to trick myself by convincing my mind that it’s only a note, so who cares about grammar and such. I’m pretty sure my first draft will come to fruition in a manner similar this. I use yWriter, so I’ll simply use Scene Content. I’m pretty certain that if I attempt to write it in Word, I might start to lose track like I tend to. It’ll be like writing very descriptive notes, only in action rather than reaction/info dumps, complete with dialog!

        That is my master plan. Hope it works!

        For the record, I am obsessive compulsive, and a relentless perfectionist. I love reading your posts on this page, and I also love watching your videos on YouTube, because all of the insight you put forward gives me more of a baseline to follow than one of my own that I am constantly changing and getting frustrated with. Thank you for everything you do 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          So glad you’re finding the blog helpful!

          • I’d also like to mention that I absolutely appreciate your stalwart efforts to reply to nearly every post from your guests. Those efforts alone speak in great volumes for your dedication.

            I am so glad to have finally stumbled upon this well of information. As recent as it was, it amazes me how far my WIP (as well as my general lore and other stored ideas, etc) have come ever since.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            I’m so glad you’re finding it useful! I learn lots from people’s comments as well.

  9. I first started writing when I grew too old for all the horse storys I loved to read when I was a kid. When I grew older I wanted storys with characters my age, not younger, and storys more suited for me. And even today I feel like there are almost no horse-storys for adults or young adults at all. So basically I wrote the storys I wanted to read. Now, after many years, I finally reached step 2 – study the craft. Thanks for your inspiring and helpful website, it became a huge part of my “step 2”.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I started reading horse stories too: Walter Farley, Will James, the Saddle Club, Thoroughbred. Good memories. 🙂

  10. Hello,
    Love your article and your guidance in crafting the art of writing. You have helped me before. As to how I started writing it was because I did not have a camera. Silly perhaps, however I was taught to read and write before I ever enter the educational system. (I am the only one I know that was kicked out of kindergarten and place into another grade level.) I was intrigued by cameras, the use of them froze moments in time to recall memories. So it is, I started drawing pictures and writing about the moments and people that I wanted to remember.
    Artwork, graphite drawings, water colorings, and oil painting, has been part of my life and a portion of my income. As for writing stories, I kept them hidden. My imagination went on to write short stories and eventually novels. Throughout the years, many years, I have accumulated many drafts of stories, non-fiction and fiction. I never gave thought to having any of my work published. I am toying with that idea now. I will admit that I have done gratis work in writing and illustrations for procedure books in hospitals, newspapers, and other forms.
    I have always been an avid reader, mostly of the classics. You mention once of wanting to read all the classics. My age puts me ahead of you because I have read and reread most of the classic writings. Yes, I even reread, again, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (I am the one who has a Great Pyrenees, 150 pound dog, named Bronte.) I reread Jane Eyre because of your insightful annotations which I found fascinating. I applaud your mentoring for other writers. Please keep of the good work!
    Jan

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      How interesting! My earliest stories (dozens of them) were all based on pictures, mostly of horses-themed decorative plates. Most of the plates had titles, so I’d write a story based on the picture and title.

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