Does Writing Make You a Better Writer?

Does the simple act of writing make you a better writer? I’m of two minds about this. Here’s my reasoning.

I’m usually reading two books at the same time–one in the day time from which I may be taking notes or by which I am otherwise fully absorbed, and one book for pleasure during which I don’t mind falling asleep mid-paragraph.* Depending on the combination of books, this can make for some interesting juxtapositions.

I just finished re-reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. When I first read this book, I hadn’t yet published my first novel. Now I’ve published one, written another, and am deeply immersed in writing more. The second time reading this, the information made far more sense. I could better understand what the author was getting at and how to apply it to my works in progress. By writing, I was learning not only how to write, but also how better to learn to write.

The other book I’m reading is Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward. I have no issues with Mr. Woodward’s exhaustively researched content, and who am I to argue with a man who has received nearly every major American journalism award and written or co-authored eighteen nonfiction books, all national bestsellers? But the thing is, Fear isn’t a very well written book. At times I couldn’t tell whether the statements made were hyperbole or facts–he doesn’t tell me. Sometimes he jumps around in time to give an example and loses me in the transition. In other places, I can’t tell who’s saying or doing what. It’s all a bit sloppy.

Maybe Woodward is one of those guys that people don’t dare edit. Anne Rice got unreadable when that happened to her. Or maybe Woodward is a better researcher than writer, and no one cares how he delivers the goods as long as he does. But it seems, if you write that much you ought to get better and better. In fairness, maybe he has. I haven’t read his earliest books.

So my opinion, if anyone cares: writing might make you a better writer over time if you take advice and listen to your advisers and editors. Writing alone won’t necessarily improve your craft unless you’re getting feedback as you go. Perhaps our president could learn from that. Do you suppose he reads my blog?

* My best ever bedtime book was Principles of Biochemistry by Albert I. Lehninger. I loved biochemistry, but for some reason, every time I opened that book at night, I would fall asleep.  There was something solid and comforting about the book and its content. When Dr. Lehninger came to Kansas City for a lecture, I was going to take my copy for him to sign, but it was an early edition with hand corrections, and I thought he might be insulted. Yes, I am a nerd.

Image: The Capital and I, in different times. By Jonathan Hutchins.