become a better writer in 2012

I wrote my face off in 2011.

Both professionally and personally, I wrote more words this past year than any other in my life. I can now honestly tell people at parties that I’m a writer and not have it be some part I’m playing in my mind. I’ve worked my entire life to get to this point, and now it’s real.

And yet…

Anyone who manipulates words for a living will tell you that satisfaction is fleeting. You’re only as good as the next thing you write. It’s even truer in this era of blogs, social media, tablets, etc. Content has consistently been about change, but not since the invention of the printing press has content seen change on this grand a scale. A thought—even a good one—may only have a shelf life of a few seconds if not carefully crafted to withstand the onslaught of limited attention spans and ubiquitous smart phones.

So, what is a writer to do amid all of this?

The best advice anyone has ever given me about my craft came from the movie Throw Momma From the Train. Billy Crystal’s character Larry tells his writing class at the end of a session, “Remember, a writer writes always.”

Here are a few things that I learned in 2011 that might help writers do that even better in 2012.

1. Write Often

Once my 7-year-old niece expressed an interest in being a writer earlier this year, I sent her pens, pencils, and a horde of notebooks. She had all of them filled up by Thanksgiving. All writers should be doing this. Screw lame excuses like writer’s block, fatigue, and laziness. Just write down as many thoughts as you can a day. Some times good ideas will come of it, other times, not so much.

As my colleague Andrew correctly pointed out recently, failure is good. Except when it’s the failure of not writing. Go out and buy as many notebooks as possible with the intention of filling all of them up by the end of 2012. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

2. Read Everything

I should have told you to grab as many books, newspapers, and magazines while you were out. I’m assuming you might have some kind of electronic device that makes that easier, so just stick around and listen. READ EVERYTHING. Great writers are great readers. Reading in and out of your comfort zone is only going to clarify the your beliefs and add depth and understanding to your writing.

I have a limited understanding of math and science, but I read something on either topic at least once a day. This certainly came in handy when I was asked to write not one, but two stories about diamond planets this year. I’ll say it again: READ EVERYTHING.

3. Accept Constructive Criticism and Editing

Listen, you are not the smartest writer in the room. And if you realize that you are, get out of that room. Editors have the ability to make your work stronger, and not just by fixing your poor use of commas. Writing can be an intensely personal act, but someone editing your content should not be taken as a personal attack. Another pair of eyes can do wonders in honing the message you want to send out to the world. Instead of rebelling against the powers that be, work with them to ensure your voice is the strongest it can possibly be.

4. Get Social

Everyone has a story. Interact with enough people to learn as many stories as possible. Even if you’re not working on an assignment, interview someone, anyone, even a family member. The more you learn how other people react to the world, the better you’ll be at writing about it. Engage with people on social media as much as possible. These conversation or debates will generate new ideas for you, as well as making you better connected to this new age of media.

5. Be Hungry

You have to want to learn new things everyday. If you don’t have the answer to the question, go to every length to ensure you get it before the sun goes down. There is nothing worse than a writer who only halfheartedly works at his or her craft. The written word is a treasure, one that demands utter devotion and passion. No one is going to force you to do any of this. You have to want it in your gut. You’ve got to want to be great at this. There’s a reason some of our greatest writers went bat-sh*t crazy. There’s a price to be paid for sure, but nothing is as gratifying as hearing someone say, “Yeah, I dug that.” Stay as hungry as possible and the rest will take care of itself.

With that, I wish you Godspeed and good luck.

Go write. Always.

[Image: the italian voice]