Let me play contrarian and first preface my remarks by saying that I’ve spoken on this topic to the biggest players in the media. I could say more, but I won’t.
Knowing the Elements of Style, writing daily, and maintaining discipline are good ideas, but plenty of so-so writers follow these common prescriptions and get nowhere. If you want to be a success in the fiction genre, you need to master a host of deceptively complex skills and learn the art of storytelling. Reading the Elements of Style or writing daily take you nowhere if you’re just spinning your wheels and haven’t mastered the fundamentals.
Chefs and carpenters do indeed work on their crafts daily. But before embarking on their own, they typically go through rigorous apprenticeships where they learn the fundamentals from square one. While you can learn the essentials of fiction writing on your own, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete in the major leagues unless you’re abundantly gifted–and I’m talking a natural among millions of wannabes. Like an Olympian, you may have the gift, but you need to hone it.
My suggestion is this: make yourself a student of fiction writing and learn from the masters, not from wannabes in a writer’s group. Some are excellent, but I’ve seen too many such groups descend into energy-sucking animosities and thwarted ambition.
If you’re serious–really serious–seek out a top-flight graduate writing program. The trick is finding the right one, but it’s imperative that you plant yourself in fertile ground and let cross-germination take its course. Writing is no different from other disciplines; you should be studying the masters first, before setting off on your own. Take notes. Tear apart great writing and see what’s going on, what works and how they make it work.
I’m not suggesting higher education is the only way to go. But it will be your fastest route and smoothes a learning curve that otherwise can be quite unforgiving.
If you’ve ever skied, you know that learning the technical fundamentals is essential if you want to aspire to the double-black diamonds. Teach yourself skiing and, with much effort, you might become a very competent skier. Receive training from an amazingly talented pro and your success is much more certain and the trademark headaches of learning vastly reduced.
Nothing about fiction writing is easy, but going solo is typically an Eldoradic proposition.