Writing goes from good to great when the author becomes aware.
When I first started writing, I was able to write in an interesting and engaging way that readers enjoyed. It was partly my natural inclination for humor – being funny involves not letting the subject matter get boring. (I didn’t say I was always successful at that.)
I was very young, so the topics were not super weighty to begin with. When I put out my first couple of books, the writing was good, the stories were engaging, but it lacked a few things. Better editing, better deleting, and some polish, for sure.
My latest stuff has been told to me — by people who’ve been reading my stuff for a while now — as much improved. (It wasn’t a backhanded insult, either!)
The difference is. I listened to and embraced the input from writers who were better than me. That’s what the meme “read more, write more” is all about.
They weren’t better storytellers. Some were simply better at different aspects of a story than I was. And by embracing what they brought to the table, figuring out how to understand what they were trying to tell me and then trying to express it in my subsequent writing, my work improved. (I would say it improved dramatically. Sorry, early book buyers!) Some of the things they asked me to do were things that they knew a reader might not even perceive as being a problem, but when you get done with the book and you’re trying to decide if it was great or good or whatever, some of those little differences make ALL the difference.
So I listen, I learn, I practice, and I employ. It’s hard work because we let it be hard work. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
I don’t want to diminish the capacity of luck in the equation, either. I’ve talked about that. It’s a factor, plain and simple. (So are connections. If you have them, use them. And fuck you for having them.) But at the end of the day, if you write from your heart, and if you write true and honest, and if you write something compelling and interesting, you can be proud of what you did no matter what its “success” is.
On the other hand, none of us would turn away being named a New York Times bestselling author, would we? So there’s that.
But I believe it starts with the awakening, the awareness. Til then, it can never be great.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.