I found this piece of wisdom while skimming through The Elements of Style this week. It resonated with me, not because it serves as a reminder there is no shortcut to hard work, but because it acts as a roadmap of sorts. How often do people tell you to take the long way home, but forget to tell you why it’s so important or how to keep to it?
I think Strunk & White answer that for us if we take the time to look close enough. Let’s break it down into three observations and see what they have to say about the long way home.
Observation One: Invest time into your writing
Time is arguably one of the most precious commodities we have. Once spent, we don’t get it back. That plays a massive part in how we approach our days. If we can save time somewhere, we should, right?
Not everything can be cut short, though.
Developing an ‘ear’ for writing (essentially, your ability to write and write well, and your tone) is something that relies heavily on time. There are different ways you can invest into it, but without time, it’s hard to refine your ear.
Writing is a fusion of practice and instinct. Both are honed by time invested into writing, be that five minutes every other day, or five hours every single day. But without time, it’s hard to develop your ability to form sentences and phrases that flow, that have rhythm. It’s hard to find your unique voice, which is one of the biggest things setting you apart from other authors.
Remember, you get out what you put in.
The more time you carve out for your manuscript, the more refined your ‘ear’ will become
Observation Two: Practice makes reliable
We’ve all heard the saying ‘practice makes perfect’. I disagree. I don’t know about you, but I’m the type of person who ‘masters’ something after countless repetitions, then promptly forgets it five minutes later.
Practice has never made me perfect, but it has made me reliable.
The same goes for my writing.
When there are days and even weeks that pass without a chance to look at my manuscript, my ability to write for long blocks of time atrophies. I lose my ability to ‘snap’ into the writing zone for a small twenty-minute window before work.
In short, I can’t just write. It takes a while to get back into the right headspace. But the more time I invest into my writing, the easier it has become.
I may not always have time to write for long periods. I may not be able to work on my manuscript all the time. But I can develop my writing until it is a skill that is reliable, able to be called on (most times) when I need it, and stronger than before.
You don’t have to be working on your manuscript. It can be a short story that pops into your head. It could be writing a poem or instagram caption. It could be as simple as reading blurbs on the top books in your genre + category, or sitting down to read one of them. Or maybe all of them. You could even write out your favourite book quotes to look at the flow and rhythm behind them.
There are so many ways you can practice your writing, whether you’re short on time or have it in abundance. Either way, it’s something you should be looking into if you can.
Reaching your goal, whether that be publication or something else, is only a small part of your writing journey. If you don’t have a solid foundation and a developing skillset (your writing is always developing), you’ll probably find things difficult later on. A shortcut is nice in the moment if it gets you to your destination faster. But you might just find you have to make up for that saved time later on.
Practice is the only reliable shortcut in writing.
Observation Three: You need a “strong and surefooted” vocabulary
This has got to be my favourite observation. Why? Because it’s basically giving us permission to read!
One of the best ways to have a strong, surefooted vocabulary is to look at the words other authors use.
What do they do that works well?
What phrases and sentences have solid rhythm?
What words resonate with you? Why?
What words are you unfamiliar with?
We’re told to write what we know; that means I’m usually reading something I don’t. Keep a list of all the things that are new to you or resonate with you. Refer back to them as needed. Incorporate those techniques or words into your own writing if they feel natural, but don’t force it.
Think of it like dating: the more dates you go on, the more you get to know yourself, your feelings, your likes and your dislikes, and what you’re looking for in a partner.
The more you read, the more you’ll come to know the same things – especially what you’re looking for in a book.
These become your unique tone and style.
The more true to yourself you are, the stronger your manuscript will be. That creates solid ground for your reader to stand upon, so they can walk, surefooted, through the adventure alongside your protagonist.
We don’t get to keep readers. We only get to carry them with us a short while. So give them something firm they can hold to.
Reading takes time. It can’t be rushed. But it’s essential to our craft. So take the long way home, put your favourite music on, and read 😉
In short, there is no shortcut.
The best way we can serve our readers and strengthen our writing is to put the hard work in now.
It’s never too late to start, either.
But hey, the long way home is usually the scenic one. There might be bumps or turns you don’t want or didn’t see coming, but they can shape your writing into something better than you could have imagined if you let them. The long route is where life happens. It’s where we find our inspiration.
Hoping you enjoy the view,
Tahlia with an H