We know that most of the writing in the slush pile is dreadful; and that the less able writers are often simply unable to understand how their writing is bad, or precisely how bad it is.
We know that writers’ message boards and peer review sites can be of questionable value when the writers who populate them aren’t very good at their craft; and while some paid-for editorial and critique services can be useful, others are simply appalling and many writers just can’t afford to pay for them, regardless of the quality.
There are writing groups but the dynamics might not be right for everybody and here we are back to that problem of the general standard of talent and ability of the writers who attend. Writing MAs can be useful but aren’t without their issues either.
Self-help books might be the answer for some: there are plenty of books which offer advice on how to write more books—although you have to be careful here, too, as there are plenty of dubious value.
So how can writers really learn to write well? By reading other people’s books, and plenty of them. The classics, which show what endures; the big sellers, which help us understand storytelling, pacing and plot; and the books which win literary prizes which demonstrate subtlety and depth.
Reading is something that writers just can’t skimp on. While it’s nice to build up your own personal library if you can afford it, there’s no need to buy new books: use your local library, if it’s still open; buy your books second-hand; or use Book Crossing. Just write every day, and read more often than you write, and your writing will improve.