How to be a great writer
"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour." - William Blake
Greatness is closer than you think. All it takes is humility, hard-work, and a penetrating eye.
Great writers are able to see the potential all around them. It's all too easy for us to look elsewhere for a 'great' story, having little faith in ourselves and our own world. If we can't see the dramatic all around us we're not looking hard enough. It's only by reining in our boundaries and focusing our attentions close to home we'll really begin on the path of writing something truly great. Here are some ideas on how to do that.
Take yourself seriously
You may think your life has been boring, your experience trivial, your talents limited. Think again. You cannot know everybody, but you can know yourself. Your life, your experience, is as valid as anybody else's. In truth, it's more so, because you know it intimately and it's unique to you. This also applies to your emotional responses to the world around you. Want to know how your characters will react to a certain situation? First ask yourself how you would react.
Don't patronise readers
Take the reading public seriously. Don't dismiss the fact that they'd rather read Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown than your masterpiece as ignorance. They read that stuff because they like it. Read and understand why. If you think you can write better than Messrs. Brown and Larsson then you should be able to assimilate what they are doing successfully into your own writing without compromising.
Don't pander to them either
Respect them, but don't pander to them. You may write something sellable, but you won't write something great.
The moment you think you know it all is the moment you stagnate. To be a great writer you must be forever a student. Always look to learn. Always look to understand. The truth is better formed in a question than an answer. Ask Socrates.
See majesty in the mundane
Greatness is not so much what you write about, but how you write about it. Don't try and write about great things – try and write about things well. Universality is not achieved by talking about great, sweeping, abstract concepts, but by making detailed and personal observations.
Genre, medium, subject-matter are no hindrance
Technique is the first step toward art
Learning the craft will not limit you. Don't kid yourself that it will stifle your imagination or hinder your talent. Understanding the craft of writing will provide you with a platform on which to launch your ideas and provide you with methods to best express them. Of course, some advice is nonsense or irrelevant to the story you want to tell – but it's your job to know the difference. That doesn't mean you don't have to do the graft. It's only when you are truly fluent in the craft that you can transcend it. Or dismiss it.