I was in my first writing class at the university level, Day One.
I had my notebook, my pen poised over clean white, narrow-ruled paper (because I can't write on wide-ruled paper; I've tried, it doesn't work) and was ready to hear the MAGIC WORDS from my professor that would tell me how to write. How to get all those half-formed stories out of my head and rounded out, how to make magic with words. I'd written things before - my first story was about my sister getting eaten by a witch - there will be another blog post about that - but never felt as if I knew what I was doing, never felt as if I was actually a writer.
We spent the first class reading, which confused me but I figured maybe his point was that we needed to know what good writing was before we could do it. (I have since come to realize that yes, that's exactly right - and what I tell my students as well.)
Day Two. Again I sat eagerly poised over my still pristine notebook.
The professor stood in front of the class and said 'Now I want you to write a story.'
I thought 'yes, here we go... he's going to tell us how.'
But he didn't. In fact, instead, he said 'Class dismissed. Go home, write a story.'
Anger and confusion hit me, and a bit of righteous indignation. I raised my hand and spoke before he called on me.
'But how? I don't know how to write a story. That's why I'm here, to learn. How do I write a story?'
And he smiled. And he said 'Just write. That's how you learn.'
I was still a little angry and quite unsure that this dude knew what he was talking about. But I went home, opened up my notebook and began to write. And a story came out. And I finished it. And it felt easy. And when I was done I stared at it and started to cry. Because I'd written an actual story and it wasn't bad. And somehow, I knew that those words my professor had said, had changed everything.
I use those same words in every writing class I teach, and when I sit down to work on my own projects. Read good writing. Read about writing. Read writing you love, and writing you hate.
Then buy a notebook that makes you want to pick up a pen.
And then: Just write.
Yes there are other steps and other questions to be answered: what is good writing, why, what makes it good, how do I know, how do I make mine good instead of bad, what are the rules, what techniques are there to keep writing, how do I manage writers block, what to do when the story won't flow... and a hundred more. Those are what we deal with after the first step.
First, though: Just write. That's how you learn.