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    If you cannot read all your books...fondle them---peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.

     - Winston Churchill


The best way to become a good baseball player is to play baseball. The best way to become a skilled musician is to play your instrument. The best way to gain skill as a writer is to write. Yet before you write, you must read, just as before becoming a musician you listen and come to appreciate music. As a child, when we all learned to talk, we began as mimics. We listened to mom and dad, and to other adults, or sometimes even to other children. So we said nothing original, a practice many writers continue well into their careers. We listened and got an idea of what was going on, before we spoke - alas, this is a talent lost to many adults. Even after speaking, we continued to listen. So it went with speaking, so it must go with writing.

Good writers are well read. There may be exceptions to this, as there are exceptions to nearly anything; but it is essentially true. Good writers also have something to say, otherwise why bother? You will find that the vast majority of writers are well read, love to read, and are insatiable. The very best love the language and enjoy playing, crafting, and creating with words, the way a great chef uses spices.

I have always loved to read. Ever since Doctor Seuss lit the fuse when I was just a few years old, I realized that books were wonderful things. One commentator described books as the ability to hold a man’s mind in your hand. I don’t completely agree with this; but I have always found books to be wonderful containers by which experience, tradition, knowledge, or imagination could be transferred into that storehouse between my ears.

You don’t need to be a genius or particularly gifted with creativity in order to be a writer, any more than you need these things in order to be an engineer. In both cases, what you do need is a reasonable amount of intelligence, and to learn the tools of the trade, work hard, and then act. In the case of the writer, to act means to write. Now genius and creativity are wonderful qualities in an engineer or a writer, and make for superior efforts in both. But many engineers and writers succeed with little of either quality. None succeed without hard work and action.

Rather than try to repeat the very good advice given elsewhere, I direct interested parties to check out my links to Jerry Pournelle's advice on writing, and then to similar advice by Robert Heinlein.  

Opportunities to write:

Create a web page

If you must do a blog, then do a blog. I have always considered a traditional website to be far superior to a blog for honing writing skills. It is also cheap. If you have internet access, then your provider probably has a web space included for you. If not, there are a number of free services out there, though most will put ads on your site. A paid website, with no ads, starts at around $50 a year - $1 a week. If you also decide to create your own domain, you will have unlimited email addresses, which you can create at will. Most web hosts support style sheets, comment pages, shopping carts, and various other bells and whistles.

A website is your voice. It is an opportunity to put your words out in public. Find subjects you love and write about them. Are you a gardener? Then share your love of gardening, and allow it to add to your love of writing. Are you moved by current political, social, or science issues? Write about them.  Expressing yourself on a website where the world might read your words gets you used to the idea of writing for others. This is not like journaling, in which you write exclusively for yourself. 

Comment on web sites and newspaper sites

Put your opinion out there. Others will challenge it, and you may respond in defense, or merely note how other people feel about your comments. This will also help you to develop a thick skin about your writing. You will be called a fascist, or a bleeding heart. You will be accused of selfishness, stupidity, dishonesty, craziness, and just about anything else. It might even be true; but who cares?

Most web sites and newspapers will limit the number of words or characters used in your comment. This can be a great training for those who find their love of words makes them a bit too verbose. In love, it is better to pick the right woman, than form dalliances with many who are not quite right, or completely unsuitable. In writing, the same might be said of words. In both, you don't want to allow a roving eye to replace quality with quantity.

The first time you are called a lunatic, a genius, threatened with death, or promised undying love should be considered a badge of honor. It is proof that you are able to write in a way that moves people. Once you have learned to do this, you have given yourself a gift. Once you have overcome the obstacles to writing regularly and expressing yourself publicly, you have given the world a gift.

Join a writer’s group

This, in all honesty, is a must. You need to talk to other writers, you need to have others comment on your work, and most important you need to have a reason to write on a regular basis. It is also very helpful to comment and critique the work of others. It may make self-critique come more easily. Some groups are free, while others cost money.

While the critique can help, the main benefit of a writers group is that it forces you to write complete finished works on a certain schedule, and exposes your writing to others. Websites, journals, and newspapers do not demand this level of attention.

Get on Facebook or some other such service, and try to comment every day.

Why not? Everyone else is doing it, and it’s free.  I am on Facebook; but it’s not my favorite way to reach people. For one thing it is a web-wide version of short attention span theater. A cross between a diary and a post-it note. Twitter is even worse.