Stimulus is important in a writer’s development. You need to be constantly exposed to new information to evolve. Obvious avenues are residencies, workshops, and schooling. Here, you should be flooded with new information that challenges what you know and compels you to grow. Experience is another great teacher. As writers, you’re writing about things that happen in life. Even if you’re writing something fantastical, you’re still dealing with life – just in a different setting. So, as writers, you should be constantly searching.
Books on writing are another invaluable resource, although some might break the craft of writing too precisely into a science. But they brim with information. And that’s what you thrive on. You don’t have to apply everything you learn – ultimately, you find your own way, your own voice, your own style. If there was one way of writing, reading would be boring. Instead, you are all unique, e.g. Cormac McCarthy relies on sparse description, whilst Inga Simpson’s writing is rich in detail. You all have your own way of doing things.
And you can only learn your own way by doing. This means sitting down and writing. Nobody is going to write a masterpiece first-up. Your first or second or even twentieth or thirtieth story mightn’t work because, for all the information you digest, you still have to apply it to learn how it’s executed, and how it’s executed through the filter of your own style. So you have to write.
Instead of being fearful you’re going to get it wrong, that things won’t turn out, that it might be an unmitigated disaster, you still need to do it, because it’s part of your development. You might think it’s a waste of time to write a story that’s filled with plot-holes, where the motivations are shallow, and the characters are one-dimensional, but it’s not (a waste of time) because through the act of writing, you learn that the story’s filled with plot-holes, the motivations are shallow, and the characters are one-dimensional. Next time, you’ll be conscious of addressing that. Again, it’s a learning experience. You cannot succeed without failing. That doesn’t just apply to writing, but everything in life.
Still, you might feel trepidation. You might be unsure of your abilities, and – for the moment – be unable to participate in workshops or schooling. You mightn’t be able to go away on a big holiday and enjoy a whole new assortment of experiences. You might just be living a normal everyday life. So what do you do?
Reading is one of the best teachers you can find. Writers who aren’t readers are neither bright nor respectful – not respectful because if you’re not reading other authors’ books, why should anybody read yours? As for not being bright, it’s reading that teaches us about structure, plot, characterisation, voice, grammar, punctuation, and more – all the components that constitute a book. You can learn through osmosis, or make a concerted effort to examine why a book works (for you) and, in doing that, you can begin to understand the parameters that must frame your own stories.
Even movies and television series can teach us these lessons, because they’re still about stories – whilst there’s profound differences in the requirements between writing prose and screenwriting, there’s also similarities because you’re still storytelling. You still need structure, you still need plot, you still need characterisation. So, outside of reading, you should watch movies, watch television series, and ask yourself how and why the stories work or don’t work for you, how you’d address the issues, and how you’d do it yourself.
Then take that information and apply it to your own writing.