What makes great writers GREAT! Three Things:
1) Great writers read
2) Great writers write
3) Great writers bleed
Great Writers Read:
I am reading more this year than in years past. I read a good amount of picture books and business books, but I struggle to read and find good middle grade books. I work fulltime. I have an entire life outside of writing. I am a dad, a learning resource center coordinator, and a writer. I write at four in the morning. I write at least two pages a day, but I read very little. I read mostly to my daughter. We curl up on the couch and we read books and books and more books together. But when it comes to middle grade and young adult, I struggle to find good reading material. And when I do manage to pick something up I like, I struggle to engage with the material amidst all the distractions that come with being a father, writer, and employee.
I desire to be a great reader because reading helps embed the writing craft into our being. I currently reside in the state of Minnesota. in this state they speak with this annoying northern accent. Yes, I think the accent ugly. How I wish I lived in England and could pick up that elegant sophisticated way of speaking, but I live in Minnesota where I am surrounded by long Os and nasal vowels. I have acquired the accent and speak like a Minnesotan. I say “you know,” and “you betcha,” and a slew of other colloquial phrases. Why? Because I am immersed in Minnesota. The same is true for writing. If you want to write with clarity, write beautiful sentences strung with pearls of beautiful words, then read, read, and read. Very soon your writing will also be influenced by the structure, cadence, and vision of the masters. But reading will only provide you with “head knowledge.” it will only help you know what to do. After all, we can read and know all we want about how lovely British people speak, but until we actually practice the accent, purse our lips as if we are eating sour grapes, and start all our vowels by touching the tip of our tongues to the back of our teeth will we finally be able to speak with accent of the gods.
Great Writers Write:
After we are consistently reading then and only then do we apply what we’ve learned to the page. Writing is not as easy as it looks. I have read hundreds of picture books. I’ve even critiqued writers on what they should have done; but when I’ve tried to write the book I know children will love, I struggle immensely. Great writers write and write often. I’ve been slowly studying the works and processes of great writers and, shockingly enough, I find that they write often. We in the writing world call this, the Writing Craft. It is a craft. But writing is like doing difficult math problems, the more you practice math the easier it is. For some reason people think writing is different. Reading is different than math, but the art of writing is closely akin. For writing, like math, is based in logic: punctuation, grammar, spelling, structure. These are all logical left brain processes. Teaching our brains the logic of good writing comes with consistent practice. If I want to be a great writer I actually need to write.
Great Writers Bleed:
What do I mean by bleed? My, you say, that sounds painful. Yes, I say, it is.
Have you ever emotionally bled? Bared your soul to someone, told them a memory so happy you cried? Told someone a secret so shameful you sweat buckets? Writing is the same way. Great writers know how to expose their hearts. Do you know how to expose your heart?
I recently just finished a draft of a middle grade novel and allowed my mother to read it. My mother usually reads my work typos and spelling errors but while reading this book she struggled. She saw what was happening, saw the family secrets that I was telling and struggled to separate herself from the content. “I thought it was just a story,” she told me, “Until I understood what was really happening.”
What I had managed to do was open up my heart. I do not know if it is a great story. I do not know if I wrote that book well, but I do know that I did something that I have struggled to do all my writing life, open myself up and bleed on the page. If anyone were to read a book by Daniel Bernstrom they would see me. They would be reading my soul. When writing comes from within and bleeds out it means that words are truly alive. Life is carried by blood, so also is emotional life carried by a willing writer who opens himself up and confesses the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, the triumphs and failures.
Do I make it seem to easy? That’s because you are reading. Now, as Jesus Christ once said after the parable of the Good Samaratian, “Go and do likewise.”
Read, Write, and Bleed.