Mastery Path for Writers: How to Be a Better Writer - Writer's Digest

The Mastery Path: For Writers Who Want to Be Great

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Today we have a guest post from WD author Barbara Baig. Her new book, Spellbinding Sentences, is designed to help writers master the power of the English language. You'll learn the different qualities of words and the many way those words can be combined to craft sentences that hook readers. Below is a sampling of the type of information that you'll learn, using Barbara's concept of The Mastery Path for Writers and practicing to master your writing skills.

Spellbinding Sentences

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These days, everybody’s writing. Poems, memoirs, novels, essays—hundreds of thousands of writers are now dedicated to getting their work out into the world.

But with so many manuscripts to assess, how do agents and editors choose the ones they want? With so many self-published books to survey, how do readers pick one to read?

There are many answers to these questions. Some people will assure you that a great platform is the most important element, or a great story, or an authentic, original voice.

All of these things can contribute to a writer’s success—but there’s something else even more important. If you want to become a successful writer, if you want to be traditionally published, or you want large numbers of people to “look inside” your e-book on Amazon and instantly click the “buy” button, then you have to be able to produce excellent writing, the kind of writing that reaches out and grabs people and pulls them right inside your work and won’t let them go.

In other words, you have to master the power of the English language.

Lots of people have stories to tell, ideas to share. But when it comes to ability with language, they are likely to assume that belongs to only a chosen few—those lucky ones who were born with “talent.” From there it’s an easy step to saying to oneself, “I know I don’t have a lot of talent.”

It’s true that some people can appear to have a natural talent with words. But it turns out there’s always something in their background to account for their abilities: they read voraciously; they wrote constantly as children; they grew up in houses where words were treasured and used well. But even though many of us don’t (or didn't) have these advantages, we can still learn to use language in powerful ways.

The key word in the previous sentence is learn.

If you assume that skill with language is something a person either has or doesn’t have, then you’re stuck. No matter how much you write, you’ll never improve. But if you come to understand that skill with words—like any other skill—is something you can acquire, then you really can set yourself on the path to excellence.

But how do you do that?

The same way athletes and musicians learn their skills: through dedicated, focused practice.

But athletes and musicians are fortunate; their coaches teach them what to practice and how to practice. These coaches take apart complex skills, like hitting a baseball, and show their students how to practice each component skill, one at a time, then how to put the skills together. Aspiring professional athletes and musicians practice each skill and sub-skill thousands and thousands of times, so that the skills become embedded in their muscles and nervous systems. Then, in performance, they can call on their skills without even thinking about them.

This is the approach to learning I have used for many years with my writing students. This is the approach that provides the foundation for my Writer’s Digest books, How to Be a Writerand Spellbinding Sentences. This is the approach I like to call The Mastery Path for Writers.

How to Be a Writer

Using this approach, you train your writer’s mind, just as athletes train their muscles. You learn the different qualities of words and the many ways they can be put together to create powerful sentences. You learn these things, not just by reading about them, but by practicing each technique so it becomes part of you. You also learn by imitating models of excellence—your favorite writers. And then, after all this practice, when you’re writing a draft or revising, you’ll find your mind giving you just the word or the sentence-making technique you need.

This may sound too good to be true, but it’s not. Spellbinding Sentences is based on a course I’ve taught for many years in an MFA program, where I’ve seen students amazed at how much they can learn about words and sentences, and how much their writing can improve.

But you don’t have to be in graduate school to make use of this approach; you don’t even have to have a college degree. The Mastery Path is open to anyone who wants to walk it, anyone who wants to learn, anyone who wants to put time and attention into focused and intentional practice.

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Barbara Baig has been writing and teaching for over three decades. She’s the author of the Writer’s Digest books How To Be a Writer and Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Your Readers. She talks about The Mastery Path for Writers at www.WhereWritersLearn.com.

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