Tag Archives: advice

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

You want to improve your writing? It’s oh, so easy and oh, so hard.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are reading this blog then you are a writer. Even if you don’t think you can call yourself that, you probably have aspirations for literary greatness, fame, or fortune.

The right kind of greatness, fame, and fortune only comes from those writers who spend their time improving their craft.

By becoming the best writer you can be, then you're more likely to attract readers, agents, and…

How do you get better? Glad you asked!

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

1. Read, read, read.

Read in your genre every chance you get. Try reading the Classics. Read your writing buddies’ stuff. Or read those literary giants that you hated in high school. Don’t just read, breath in language deeply and frequently so that beautiful words are a part of you like oxygen. Need ideas on what to read? This Pinterest board is all about books! 

2. Write. That means write a lot.

Write every day.Make it a ten-minute exercise or 1000 words but have a daily goal and meet it. Rewrite best first lines. Create new characters. Retell an old story. Just write. Need a prompt? This Pinterest Board can help! 

3. Observe.

Sit at your favorite coffee shop and write about every detail you see around you. Or you look at a person and describe them or try to tell their story. Describe the objects around your home. Keen observation skills will make you a great writer. Guess where you can find tips on great observation? 

4. Get a Mentor.

In Online Writing Groups, such as Facebook’s 10 Minute Novelists, you can meet people who are little further ahead of you in your writing journey. Ask them questions. Get them to read your stuff. Receive their feedback graciously.

5. Join A Group.

By hanging around writers who have the same goals as you, you will learn a lot about craftsmanship, character development, plot and setting. Also? Hanging out with other writers is just fun. They rejoice with you when you succeed and buy you drinks when you don’t.

6. Take a Class.

Check out your local library, community college or adult education center for writing classes. Some are even online! By working with an instructor, you will be able to get important feedback and grasp concepts you might not through just educating yourself.  This link has a list of free and not-so-free writing courses!

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7. Read books about writing.

Many famous authors have written books on writing. Check out Robert McKee’s STORY, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, or Stephen King’s On Writing. All of them are my favorites and have helped me improve too.

8. Watch videos.

YouTube has several video classes on creative writing. And K.M. Weiland’s is probably the best. These are an affordable and convenient way for you to improve your story telling skills.

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

9. Be humble and teachable.

No matter how much you’ve written or how many books you’ve sold, there’s always room to improve. And even if you were Pulitzer worthy, you’d still need to know about publishing, marketing, and social media. Be open to learning all you can. Arrogance doesn’t go far in this field.

 10. Expect excellence from yourself.

Creative writing is an art. Show respect for what it is,  respect to other writers and respect the readers by doing your best to be excellent in all you do. That means learn the rules of grammar & spelling and taking the creation of stories seriously.

You can become better. Your dreams deserve it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings or

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Never Say Never: Writing “Rules” That Beg to Be Broken

By Jennifer Worrell

How many of you have heard the old saw, “Write it your way!” or “Write the story you want to read!”

And so you do. And then you’re told…you can’t do that. Only {insert bestselling author names here} can do that. But no one explains why. How did successful writers get that privilege, and who gave it to them? Creative writing is nothing without artistic expression, but that’s impossible to achieve if you’re imprisoned by arbitrary rules.

In search of a like-minded community, I joined far too many online writers’ forums. A lot are great (especially this one!) and can help you through many a muddy spot long into your career. But the winding path to success is unfortunately lined with cracks and road apples. Some advice is so fantastic you’ll want to sing the giver’s praises, while other suggestions will make you wonder if they’d ever read a book. Any book.

For instance, a member of a group I used to frequent asked for guidance on using multiple POV. That’s a tough thing to get right, but plenty of writers have done it successfully, and it’s often the best approach to achieve the greatest impact. (It’s especially popular in Romance and Fantasy.) Though it’s not a technique you’d learn in English 101, it’s not rocket science. It just takes time to finesse and a maybe a few passes out loud to make sure the characters aren’t head-hopping. Yet the first response this poster received was, “That’s not for beginners to try.”

No explanation. No alternative. Just don’t do it.

Never Say Never: Writing Rules That Beg To Be Broken

You know when a cartoon character gets angry and its neck surges red like mercury rising and steam blows out its ears? I was convinced that was about to happen to me. Comments like these are debilitating and should be thrown out the window, impaled with a harpoon, and lit on fire. But first invite me over so I can watch. (I’ll bring marshmallows!)

The fundamentals of fiction writing are invaluable, but too many people use them like walls to box you in.

Our most revered writers kept pushing themselves, playing with fresh ideas until they had something unique, twisting words until they drummed new rhythms into readers’ heads.

If someone has ever tried to crush your spirit by telling you “no,” there’s good news:

  • You don’t need anybody’s permission to write.
  • You don’t need random strangers deciding when you’re ready to take your writing to the next level. That’s your job.
  • You do need decent critique partners/beta readers to tell you if your baby needs its diaper changed. (But hopefully in a much kinder way than that.)

I still struggle with that last one. The wait is nerve-wracking. Receiving harsh criticism, especially when it’s unexpected, will make you question your talent, instincts, and sanity. If “writing is show business for shy people” as crime novelist Lee Child says, then presenting stuff for feedback represents stage fright.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot, despite what detractors say. So what do you do?

  • Don’t shoot for gold.
    Looking at a complex maneuver as a whole can be daunting. Dismantle it into smaller and smaller pieces until the path becomes clear in your mind. Then put it back together at a pace you’re comfortable with. Pretend it’s a relay race. Even though the athletes aren’t running at once, they’ll eventually reach the finish line. The outcome matters more than the time it takes to get there, since that’s the only thing your readers will see. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself. No one creates a novel in one go; they write it a little at a time, tweaking along the way. (Read Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird, considered a sacred tome by many novelists, for more such advice.)
  • Stretch your writing muscles.
    I took dance classes for a number of years. Once, the instructress threw in an advanced step at the end of our set. “You can throw this little thing in here,” she said with a wink and a shrug. No biggie. Just this beautiful flourish you make with your body…meh. Naturally, everyone wanted to give it a whirl. Any idiot could have pegged me as a beginner, but considering I couldn’t pull off a three-point turn without tipping over and hitting the wall, I did a surprisingly decent job at this one move I never knew existed. Maybe the sophisticated technique nagging at you is something you’re just naturally good at. How else will you know?
  • Cut loose.
    If you stick with the basics, eventually a regular reader will tell you, “This sounds like something you’ve done before.” Why not try something different, crazy, weird? If nothing else, it will be a fun exercise. Attempting new things will contribute to your growth as a writer…even if you fail. You’ll soon discover you excel at and what you need more experience in. Writing in a new style never hurt anybody. Upside: if it does, you can write about it!
  • Enlist a posse of betas who can deliver the truth in one breath and cheer you on in the next.
    Having a strong support system is important. If a reader can explain why you didn’t pull something off, consider it a victory. Though it’s no fun admitting you fell short, once you know what the problem is, you can work on fixing it. It may take a while to find your tribe, but trust me…they’re out there. And they’re priceless.

Don’t take no for an answer.

Keep searching until you find a source that can teach you what you want to know. Writing isn’t an exact science. If it were, we’d all have an easier time. But we’d sacrifice poetry, passion, style.

Remember, no one has to see your work until you feel it’s ready.

By then, you’ll have had a lot of practice polishing it up and a lot of chances to study how established writers have nailed it. And isn’t that how anyone masters anything?

Jennifer Worrell is the Assistant to the Dean of Libraries at a private university. She’s convinced being surrounded by books revived her love of writing. In decent weather, you can find her banging away (sometimes muttering profanity) in her “office”: a lawn chair pulled up to a cement wall with a truncated view of Sears (yes, Sears) Tower. Her fiction appears in Literary Orphans Journal, 72 Hours of Insanity: An Anthology of the Games vol. 2, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. She’s working on her first novel. You can follow her unchecked blatherings on Facebook (@JenniferWorrellWriter) and Twitter (@PieLadyChicago).

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice (And How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink)

 

I think I understand why old school writers were heavy drinkers.

I think I understand why some of them fell into dark thoughts, depression or loneliness. I think I understand why writers generally are isolated introverts, hiding from the real world, wrapping themselves up in their imaginary lands, fighting dragons, discovering treasure and falling in love:

They’re hiding from ubiquitous and contradictory writing advice. 

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice and How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink

Single point of view or not? Past tense or not?  Predictable, relatable characters or something unique? Write what you know or write what you don’t know? Publish it immediately to get it out there or rewrite it a million times? And that’s just the craft piece of the puzzle, there’s also the marketing end: Facebook page or not? Use Twitter to promote your book or not? Collect email addresses or not? The opinions never seem to end. If you don’t know what you are doing, (and honestly, few of us do) you’ll probably come away from these well-meaning articles more confused.

Makes me long for simpler times when all you needed was a manual typerwriter. Or a quill.

Writers, as a generalized group already have a tendency for nicotine and alcohol addiction, but I imagine if the writers of a half, whole or two centuries ago had the social media influence that we have today, we may have had fewer masterpieces and more Sylvia Plaths.

That’s one characteristic I share with the dark souls of other eras.  I know that if I become obsessed with what is expected in my favorite genre, what my agent want, what the industry is doing, what my peer groups say, what my critique partners say, what my crazy Aunt Rhonda says, then I turn into a blubbering fool, who can’t write a shopping list.

I discovered this when I sent my manuscript to twenty-five beta testers. Some thought it was too long, some thought it was too short. Some thought it had too many characters, some not enough. Some didn’t understand why I set it in Oklahoma. Some totally got it. One reader, who has absolutely no experience in the publishing industry, decided she wanted to be my editor/agent and insisted that all future changes go through her. My response to her was in an acronym. First it was BS. Then it was ROTFL.

Sometimes, however, when I get conflicting advice, I don’t ROTFL, I panic. I cry. I freak out, thinking that I really don’t know what I’m doing. I slip into that dark place of anxiety and fear that convinces me that the path to happiness goes through pleasing others and not myself. This would be the time, if I were a heavy drinker, I’d reach for the whiskey and toast Hemingway. But this isn’t how writers get better. This only makes things worse.

Perhaps the problem is too many voices? Too much clutter? Too much influence? Maybe it is. So, I’m restricting my circle of influence.  I also receive instruction from reputable sources as I need it. I want to get better by being more intentional in who I learn from and what I learn. This, I hope, will keep that overwhelmed feeling at bay. The next group of beta testers will be people I trust and who will encourage me.

I think when my mind is clear, I’ll be calmer and I’ll be stronger.

I will be a better writer.

What about you? Are you overwhelmed with advice? What do you to do declutter?

The Single Best Writing Advice (Too Bad I Don’t Always Follow It)

We’ve heard it before, write what you know. Or, write every day. Or, READ! READ! READ!

And while that is all very good advice, and you should follow it fervently, it’s still not the best.One of the best pieces of advice I was given in college was this:

The Single Piece of Best Writing Advice

Never compare yourself to others. 

If you do, you’ll compare their strengths to your weaknesses, and you’ll always be the loser.

When I compare myself to other writers, it doesn’t do me a bit of good. I either pick up some frothy bonnet romance and throw it across the room, puffing myself up with thoughts of superiority. My books will have more meaning! I will be more literarily significant! I won’t have any ripped bodices! Or, I will read something breathtakingly good, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog  or Someone Else’s Love Story and moan in despair that I can never achieve what that author has done, so I might as well give up.

I will not compare my novels to this magnificent book. Because first of all, I'm not French.

It also doesn’t help that I’m a bit melodramatic in just about everything I do.

The truth is that if I’ve signed up to be a writer, then I’m already pre-disposed to be melancholy and moody. I’m already insecure. I’m already thinking that living a secluded life like Salinger or a despairing life like Sylvia Plath isn’t all that unreasonable. So this whole business of wallowing in what I’m not is an easy and comfortable occupation at times.

#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14
You can’t love yourself if you’re busy comparing yourself to others.

The truth is, I’m not going to be successful that way. 

I should not look at the accomplishments, styles, sales or rankings of any other writers around me. I shouldn’t compare blogs, compare paths to publication, compare works in progress, compare how many followers I have on Twitter, instead, I should focus only on meeting my goals for the day. One day at a time.

Today’s writers’ market is brutal to the insecure.

Because of the highly competitive market out there, the demand for originality, the constant pressure to be liked, followed, or tweeted is everywhere and it can easily wear away at our self esteem. It wouldn’t take much to find a way that our statistics aren’t good enough. But if we keep looking at the writers around us, we’ll just make ourselves miserable. I’m pretty sure that’s a creativity killer, right there.

You know, it's like comparing apples to or. . .HOLEY MOLEY! That's the biggest orange I've ever seen!

And EVERYONE has advice to follow. 

We need to be secure enough in our own skills, talent and abilities to know what NOT to do, what won’t work for us, or what can wait for another time. We don’t have to read every writing book on the market. We don’t have to create a promotional video. We need to be comfortable in our own skin. 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be teachable. 

It is the poor writer who chooses not to learn. But when I move from teachability to despondency because of my perceived limitations (which is a short trip in my brain) then I’m in trouble.

So, write what you know, write every day and read constantly. But most importantly, just keep your head down and pay attention to you and your work alone.

You may not be the richest or best selling author, you may not be the most famous or win the most awards . . .

But you will be the happiest. And it will show in your work.