So, two weeks ago I received a wonderful, thought-provoking comment on Last Night I Dreamed I Was Drowning (the Friday Poetry for that week). It was from Appletaile, who is basically the sweetest person in the entire world and who runs the lovely blog Twist In The Taile, where she talks about writing, books, films, music, and life in general. Definitely worth checking out. :D She asked a question that I thought I should address in a full blog post rather than just in a comment, so here we are!
I'd screenshot her comment, except it keeps turning out all pixelated and gross so I'll just copy and paste instead. ;) Here's what she wrote:
"I was wondering: do you just... practice writing? Is there something that I can do to get better at it, other than sitting down in front of my computer or notebook? ... You see, whilst I do enjoy writing a lot, I feel like I don't really improve as much. (And I'm too scared to go to creative writing club at school.)"
Before I start rambling, may I just disclaim: whenever I reference "writing" in this post, I'm talking about all aspects of writing - novels, poetry, songs, short stories, flash fiction, fanfiction, whatever. It's not really an isolated thing - whatever I learn about writing is applied to everything I write.
Okay, so I'm going to begin at the beginning and address the first aspect of this question. I think I've talked about this way too many times, but just in case I still haven't made it clear enough: yes. I do practise writing. All the time. Always. If you ask my family, they'll know that I am constantly on my computer. I take my notebooks wherever I go. I've been known to borrow pens from strangers in cafes. When I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it. I doodle character sketches. I listen to writing podcasts. Basically, what I'm trying to convey: everything I do is somehow tied to writing.
But with that being said, getting better at writing is not as easy as simply sitting down in front of a computer/notebook for an hour a day and pouring words onto a page. If it were like that, quite frankly, I'd be Tolkein by now. (If only, if only.) There has to be a certain aspect of mindfulness about it - there has to be a milestone you're trying to reach, a goal you're trying to accomplish. It doesn't have to be specific, but it does have to be there. You must go into everything you do knowing that this is an opportunity to hone your craft.
You've probably heard this about 23048120938895 times before, but I'll repeat it again: read. Read everything. Read good things and bad things and things in between. But there's a place for pleasure reading and a place for - as I'll call it - mindful reading. Pleasure reading is exactly what it sounds like: you read because you love it. You read to lose yourself in a different world. That's the kind of reading most people do, and it can have a great, if unconscious, effect on your writing. But sometimes you need to take it a step further and go for mindful reading - the kind of reading where you actually look for specific techniques in the text that you want to use in your own writing.
When I was writing the first draft of Frozen Hearts, this was the kind of reading I used most often. I would bookmark certain passages in the books I read and later go back and see where I could apply those techniques in certain scenes. Sometimes it was little things - gorgeous descriptions, realistic dialogue. Other times it was big things - a scene where a character had died and the author made me cry. I wanted to know how I could have that same effect, pack that same emotional punch. I looked for things in books or music or poetry that truly spoke to me and figured out how to apply them to my own work - using that trick can really help you grow in leaps and bounds.
Also, this is going to be hard for you to hear, but I'm going to say it anyway: you mentioned that you were too scared to go creative writing club at your school? Well, too bad. Go anyway.
I'm 100% serious about this: it sounds harsh, but you should never turn down an opportunity to get better. Whether that's joining a club or a critique group, or buying a writing book that's on sale, or attending a talk on writing - whatever it is, those missed opportunities can really add up. Even if you're scared to death, you will never be the only nervous one there. Chances are, you won't even be the worst one!
Putting yourself out there is one of the most valuable things you can do as a writer, even if it's the most nervewracking thing you've ever attempted in your life. If you must, hold yourself accountable - tell a friend that you've signed up for the club and make sure he or she knows to drag you to wherever it's held on the right day. It really helps to have other people making sure you're doing whatever you promised yourself you'd do.
So those are my most important tips when it comes to writing: learn from the masters, but also learn from your peers. Let writing filter into everything you do. If you truly love it and are passionate about it, then that can be the most rewarding thing you can do for yourself to hone your skills. Don't be afraid to soak up everything - there is always something new to learn!