This answer was first posted on Goodreads. I updated it a bit.
You should read four books per week. Every week. I mean it when I say it. Four books per week. If you don’t have the sit down time, get into audiobooks, and listen while you drive, cook, clean, eat, shop, and shower.
Seriously. You should be reading four books per week, and they should break down as follows:
- One classic novel outside your genre,
- One popular novel in your genre,
- One book on writing/publishing, and
- One book on a topic new to you.
You must drown yourself in knowledge if you ever hope to master your craft.
Write every single day. At least two hours per day.
Within that time, your first goal should be to write at least 1000 words. (If you have a finished manuscript, you can substitute writing 1000 words for editing 2000.)
With what time you have left over, immerse yourself in deliberate practice. Choose an area you’re weak at—be in characterization, plotting, dialog, metaphor, etc.—and practice.
Practice on one skill for however many days it takes for your to notice a marked improvement, then pick a new area. This kind of practice will skyrocket the speed at which you improve because it offers the tight feedback loops required to improve a skill. Writing is not one skill, but hundreds of little ones put together.
Get feedback from someone new on something new at least once per month. Seek out the advice of well-read friends, local writers’ groups, online writers’ forums, and, when you’re ready, paid editors. Yes, feedback is so important that you should pay for it.
Remember that feedback is only valuable if your putting your best attempts in front of others. Never send anyone anything that isn’t as good as you could possibly make it on your own or else you’re wasting both their time and your own.
Lastly, once you receive their feedback, act on it! Yes, it’s important to take their feedback into your next project, but its more important to do the work of fixing what’s broken in your original piece. No, you don’t need to accept every bit of advice everyone offers, but you should try it on and apply what fits.
Writing is hard work that required constant practice. But in that practice, you can find a lot of joy. Never lose sight of that. Never forget that it took generations to build the great temples, but that most of them still stand as a testament both to the gods above and to the blood and sweat of the people who made them.
That’s what writing is. That’s what you can do.