‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is not; add what is uniquely your own’.
Let me break this quote down into three simple steps.
Step one: Absorb what is useful.
In other words, learn from other writers. What has made them successful? What techniques, style and voice have they used? Read books by successful authors on the art of writing (I recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’). Take what you find useful and incorporate it into your own craft.
Step two: Discard what is not.
To achieve this, you do the reverse of the first step. All of us have read books that we hated. Why? What was ‘wrong’ with it? How did the author write? Was it their plot? Style? Word usage? Book length? Figure out what it is you dislike in other books then be mindful of making those same errors in your own writing.
Step three: Add what is uniquely your own.
This is the hardest of the three steps (I’m sure Bruce Lee would have agreed). How do you add what is uniquely your own? To answer, ask yourself the following question: what comes naturally to you when you write? Everybody is unique, even in their writing. How are you unique? Look over your writing, compare it to other authors. Where do you differ? Is it style? The way you use point of view? Your dialogue? The way you plot your stories? The characters, or lack of, that you use? Do you add something that other authors don’t? Do you discard something that other authors don’t? Sit down and discover what makes your writing unique.
As a final note, remember another Bruce Lee quote: ‘Even today, I dare not say that I have reached a state of achievement. I’m still learning, for learning is boundless’.
The journey for the writer is never finished. You will learn, absorb, discard and add for as long as you write, for the art of writing too is boundless.