Looking to become a better writer and not too sure where to start? Well, we’ve gleaned the advice of some successful authors and emerging writers to see what they offer for developing successful habits and routines.
So, let’s get right to their inspirational words of wisdom.
Turn off the TV and read as much as possible
From ultra successful author Stephen King, this is his No. 1 tip. Describing TV as “poisonous to creativity”, Mr. King urges new writers to look within themselves to find their creative muse. And in order to be a writer “you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
So, turn of the TV (and the online shows) and let your imagination run free.
Be willing to write really badly
Writer Jennifer Egan suggests allowing yourself to purge all the “bad writing” inside as a preventative measure for writer’s block. She makes the key point that a writer will need to “give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well.”
Acknowledging that you have some “bad stuff” inside doesn’t make you a bad writer. And permitting the bad writing to surface clears space for the good writing to emerge. Don’t make the mistake of trying to hide or stuff the badness, because it will emerge in other ways. Just allow it to come forth, then let it go and move on to your natural brilliance.
Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs
This is advertising giant David Ogilvy’s recipe for simplicity. To cut through the white noise clamoring for your readers’ attention, be concise, to the point, and clear in your writing – in as few words as possible.
Chunk down your writing project into manageable bits
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott instructs the aspiring writer in the practice of chunking. This is the process of breaking down large projects or goals into their main components, and those components into smaller individual tasks.
By whittling down the project down to bite sized bits, you’ll arrive at the starting point. And then it’s simply a matter of methodically tackling each task individually, then moving on to the next. In this manner, you always know the next step to take which is key in busting overwhelm.
We found this thread over at Quora.com on how to become a better writer. Blogger and author James Altucher gives us this gem on being honest in our writing: “Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says.”
Giving voice to those inner thoughts can be controversial for sure, but writing isn’t for the squeamish. If you can’t be honest, you’re not delivering value, and without value your readers will flee.
Use definitive deadlines
In the same thread, bestseller Ben Mezrich uses the practice of personal deadlines to “stay out of trouble and avoid procrastination”. Another sound practice to avoid the daze of overwhelm with all its delay tactics, excuses and unfinished pieces. Determine a page or word count in advance and finish writing when you’ve reached it.
It’s like having a mental countdown clock; as you reach each interim milestone you know progress is being made. This is particularly effective when used with the chunking practice in point #4.
Read everything you write aloud
Another answer on the Quora thread, this time from Ethan Anderson. “Why? Because punctuation is for breaths, and paragraphs are for discrete units.”
Reading aloud is a very effective method to recognize when you’re getting too wordy. If you find your mind getting to the point before your eyes do, it’s time for some discerning editing. It’s also a great way to improve the rhythm and pace of your writing.
Drop the “thought” verbs
Again from Quora, this time from Gurshabad Grover who shared this tip from writer Chuck Palahniuk. “From this point forward — at least for the next half year — you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: ‘thinks’, ‘knows’, ‘understands’, ‘realizes’, ‘believes’, ‘wants’, ‘remembers’, ‘imagines’, ‘desires’, and a hundred others you love to use.”
Seems harsh, doesn’t it? But, Mr. Palahniuk asserts that by using “specific sensory detail”, actions and sensory details, your writing will become stronger. This is the basis of “show, don’t tell” concept for writing – let your characters physical actions and words show what they’re thinking.
Brush up your observation skills
A solid majority of the writers we’ve researched for this piece have a variation of this one, but Margaret Davidson sums it up nicely in A Guide for Newspaper Stringers: “A good writer is a good observer — of people, surroundings, ideas and trends, and the general flotsam and jetsam of the world around.”
Without keen observation, you can’t capture the excitement and interest of life. Use it to broaden the emotional nuances of your words and convey depth and understanding to your characters’ actions.
Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously
And finally to wrap up the post, the above tip from author Lev Grossman seemed appropriate. Take what works for you and throw away the rest – with perseverance, you’ll find your own voice and develop routines that work for you. And you never know, maybe someday a blogger will be quoting your tips for becoming a better writer.