I've heard it said many ways.
Your first five books are junk. You have to write a million words of garbage before you write anything good. It takes five years to learn to plot a novel. Learning to become an author requires as much time and effort as learning to become a brain surgeon.
So I put in the time and effort. But am I getting better?
I've been writing stories since third grade, but I wasn't serious about it until eleven years ago. To see if I really wanted to become a writer I took a year off writing any kind of fiction. It nearly killed me! I was counting the days until the ban was up. And then I sat down and wrote something.
It was terrible. I was so out of practice.
I learned two things. Yes, I want to do this, and constant practice counts!
For the next several years I tried to figure out how to do it on my own. I got better, but not much. Not until I started going to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. Yes, practice counts, but so does training. Being a self-taught writer got me far enough that I could sell a short story or two, but I had a lot to learn if I wanted to be a novelist. Going to an excellent workshop gave me the momentum and the skills to start scaling the cliffs of publishing.
So, practice and training are good, but now that I'm revising my fourth full manuscript I'm wondering if I've really improved as a writer. My first drafts still stink in the same ways they always have. They're confusing. I use a lot of passive voice. I never say a thing about how the characters are feeling. Act two always opens with a long meandering stretch of utter boredom. Maybe that's the way it will always be.
What's different now? I've learned how to look at the raw material that bubbles up from my brain and make it better. I hope I'm more able to divide the slush from the sparkle, clear away the bad and add more good.
And all I have to do to convince myself that I'm improving is to go back and read something I wrote a few years ago. Oh gar, did I really write that? Yes, thankfully, I am getting better.
What's helped you get better as a writer?