If you want to improve your writing, you’ve come to the right place. Many articles will tell you to take a class, attend a workshop, or study grammar. But, here are 10 things you can do right now that will help you write better, whether you want to write novels, essays, short stories, a memoir, or something else.
1. Read a book in your genre
Pick a book that is like the one you’re trying to write. Maybe you’ve read it before, maybe you haven’t. Either way, pick it up and read it straight through. Take note of every time you are able to put the book down. Mark every chapter that makes you feel something. Take notes on techniques the author does throughout the novel. Each time you do this, you’re building up your own skillset. The knowledge you gain from reading the pros will only make you a better writer yourself. We are, after all, readers before we are writers.
2. Ask yourself why you are writing the piece
Do you have something you’re trying to say? Did a particular character draw you in to the story? Thinking about why you want to write something and what you have to say is important. It gives you a reason to keep going when you want nothing but to quit. It will give you a reason to cut unnecessary parts. Just because you love a certain paragraph on page 200 doesn’t mean it can carry the piece. You have to give your audience a reason to get there. If you know why you want to write what you do, you’ll be more compelled to get to the ending and so will your audience.
3. Read something you’ve written recently
Ask yourself critical questions. Is this something you, yourself, would want to read? Does it get your point across succinctly? Does it sound like something you’d say? If you’re having problems in any of these areas, chances are you haven’t established your writers voice well enough. Take time to free write every day. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write non-stop. Analyze what you’ve put on the page and think about how you could say it in a better way. Each time that you do this, you’re establishing a voice that is uniquely yours.
4. Pick up a book on writing
Personally, I always recommend The Story Grid. (In fact, you can win a copy by subscribing to my email list and telling me about what you’re currently working on.) But that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Instead, you might want to read Bird by Bird, On Writing, Writing Down the Bones, The Writing Life. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or any of the other books by writers meant to inspire you to get words on the page. I’ve certainly found them helpful. Note, too, that books on craft (rather than just inspiration to write) are invaluable. Try Story Engineering, Wonderbook, Plot and Structure, or any of the other books out there meant to debunk the enigma that is writing. Books like that are bound to get you thinking about what a scene actually is and why it’s important to know that before sitting down at your desk.
5. Take a walk
Seems counter-intuitive am I right? But actually, getting out in nature (even when it’s snowy) is a great way to kickstart your senses. Pay attention to the sun shining against the water. Notice the way the wind sounds in your ears. Do the birds chirp when you walk by? Is there a big tree that sparks your imagination? Just get outside and get moving. Notice all the things around you and let them spark a story.
6. Develop a habit
Schedule your writing in your calendar. Get up a little earlier. Write every day. I know many people will tell you that you don’t have to write every day, and they are right. You should approach writing in a way that works for you. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should write. But, by setting aside time to write every day (and at the same time) you’re telling the world you’re a Professional (capital P). Most importantly, you’re telling yourself that you take yourself seriously. That your writing is important to you and that you’re going to make time for it no matter what. Putting that message out into the Universe is a powerful thing that will come back to reward you in ways you don’t yet know.
7. Call yourself a writer
Stop with all the “aspiring” crap. If you write, you are a writer. Just because you haven’t published anything or gotten paid for your work, doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. Just as developing a habit sends a message to the Universe, so does calling yourself a writer. It changes how you perceive yourself. It makes you take writing seriously in a way you maybe haven’t before. Being a writer simply means you write. What you do with it from there is up to you.
8. Find an editor (or a writing partner)
Good editors are invaluable. I say that not just because I am one, but because I truly believe that an editor can take your work from one level to another while still cutting the amount of time it takes you to get there. Editors know how stories work. They can tell you in real time how to make your story better. And, they are your first cheerleader to get that story on the page (or they should be). A good editor will champion your work. They will help you polish it and turn it into a compelling read that will make people never want to put your book down.
9. Read your work aloud
Reading your words aloud will show you what’s actually working and what isn’t. If you’ve read the same sentence a hundred times in your head, your critical eye is shut off to what it’s actually saying. It’s impossible to know exactly how someone else will read your work unless you step outside your own mind and read it out loud. If you’re stumbling through some sentences, so are other people. Be clear on what you need to fix.
10. Shut off your own editor brain
As an editor, I know firsthand how difficult it is to fight with your brain to get words on the page. If you’re constantly reading what you write in the early stages with a critical eye, you’ll never get all the words on the page. My brain has told me plenty of times that the thing I’m writing isn’t good enough because it’s not perfect on the first draft. That’s not fair. Nothing is perfect on the first draft. But, Resistance will try and trick you in any way it knows how. It will stop you from writing and do so with immense strength. The more scared you are of a project, the more you need to work on it. Just don’t be your own worst enemy in the process.
There. Now get out there an write. The world needs your story. And let me know which of these tips helped you the most.