Top Ten Ways To Dramatically Improve Your Writing
by Cheryl Rainfield, the award-winning author of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED, 2003
Write about what you care about. Write about what moves you, what touches you in some way. The more you care about something, the more passion there will be in your writing–and the readers will feel that. Write the kind of stories you like to read. Don’t try to write something because it’s the current trend–write what is important to you, and your writing will likely find a home.
Learn the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. Intuition is helpful, but when you open yourself up to writing technique, your writing will improve. Just like any other artist, there are techniques that will hone your style and voice. Read some good how-to books on writing fiction, peruse the articles online, or take a course. Submerge yourself in technique until it becomes a part of you–a part that you draw on, and twist to fit your own voice. Take only what works for you and discard the rest.
Learn the way you work best, and stick to that, build on it. Every writer is different. Just because a method worked for one writer doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Don’t try to force yourself into rules or a mold that doesn’t feel right, just because someone else says it’s the only way to write, edit, get ideas, etc. Reject all advice, including mine, if it doesn’t work for you. Listen to your intuition–and write the way you need to.
Write. Just get what’s inside you out onto paper. Don’t judge it, don’t censor it, just write. Allow yourself to write “badly.” The time to polish your work, to really pull it together, is when you do revisions.
Edit your work. A lot of writing well is about revising. Don’t just submit a first draft, or even a second one. Revise your manuscript until it feels right. Learn about ways to edit. A great book for this is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King (New York: Harper Collins, 1993). You can also check out these articles as a stating point: Self-Editing by Lori Handeland and Editing Fiction by Lee Masterson and Tina Morgan. Give yourself time between edits; put your work away until you can see it with fresh eyes. Your writing will benefit. And learn when to leave your writing alone, when you’ve revised it enough.
Read your work out loud when you edit it. Often our ears will hear things that our minds don’t when we read silently to ourselves. Reading aloud is also an excellent way to spot dialogue that sounds forced. Listen to how the sentences sound when you read them aloud. Listen to the rhythm. If you find yourself stumbling over a word or phrase, or the rhythm is off, go back to that spot and work on it until it sounds right.
Find a reader you trust to give you honest, helpful feedback–not someone who only praises your work, but someone who gives you praise and honest feedback–and listen to them. This doesn’t mean that you make every change they suggest–but it does mean that you give each piece of feedback real thought. Make sure your reader gives you a mixture of praise and criticism. We all need to know what we’re doing well.
Join a writers’ critique group, in person or online. If all you get is negative or critical feedback, leave the group and find another one. But if you get a balance of encouragement and helpful feedback, stay and listen. You don’t have to take every suggestion–in fact, you wouldn’t want to–but listening to the responses and sorting through them can give you some genuinely helpful advice, and help you see things that you wouldn’t have alone. You can also learn a lot listening to other people’s work being critiqued.
Read a lot. Read everything that appeals to you, and most especially the genre that you love and are writing in. You will develop a feel for the genre, and you’ll build your own voice. You can learn from badly written books as well as well-written ones, by observing what didn’t work and why. Read both classics and current material; you’ll learn from both. Try to read with a writer’s eye. Read a book the first time for pleasure, the second time to note how they did things–or make a mental or written note as you go along.
Set deadlines for yourself, to keep yourself writing. Set reasonable goals; don’t set yourself up to fail. If you work better with an outside deadline, tell a writing friend your goal for the day, week, or month–and remember to check in with them. Or tell your partner, a friend, or even your editor, when you’ll be done a certain chapter, or the entire manuscript. Remember to also be kind to yourself, and to keep hold of your love for writing. It won’t help your writing if you work yourself too hard or beat yourself up if you don’t achieve your goal–but it also doesn’t help to let deadline after deadline slip by. Try to keep on track–the track that works for you.
Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED
If you like this article, you may post it on your website or use it in your print publication, as long as you provide a link back to my site (http://www.CherylRainfield.com), and credit me. I’d also really like to know where you put my article, but you don’t have to let me know in order to use it.