Becoming a Better Writer

I’m all about helping people and giving advice, and, well, I’m cheap.  There, I said it.  And I know a lot of other writers are, too, because the world of writing is not a get-rich-quick kind of place for the teeming masses.  There are the shining few who make big money with what looks like not a lot of effort, but that’s pretty deceptive.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of knowledge to make being successful look easy.  And then there are those who struggle and sweat to make any headway at all.  Those are the ones who can use all the free advice they can get, and that most assuredly includes me.

So here’s a little plug for Reedsy.  It’s an author services firm and it hooks up writers with editors, cover designers, ghost writers, marketers, and all manner of folks who can help you in the world of self-publishing.  They don’t do everything for free, of course, but they do have a lot of stuff on their website that doesn’t cost a penny to use or peruse and learn from.  They have tons of articles on their blog that give out advice, and a newsletter you can sign up for to keep getting more.  They have free apps for editing your book.  They have free publishing webinars.  So it’s a good place for you to go check out and see what you can find.  Spend a ton of money or not a dime, but learn and use what works for you.

Here’s one of the blog posts that offers a lot of tips on becoming a better writer.  Nothing is magic about advice…you have to think about it and most of it requires that you expend a fair amount of time and effort, but that’s the whole point about succeeding in anything.  Most of the advice may be nothing new or startling, but it’s at least a reinforcement of areas where you might be slacking off a bit or that have slipped your mind, and a little extra prodding would be very useful to a lot of us.  Yeah, including me.

Take a look, wander around the site, see what you can find, and keep on writing!

(From the blog on Reedsy.com)
Posted on Feb 11, 2021

How to Become a Better Writer: 20 Hacks and Tips

Practically speaking, writing is just about putting one word after another. But as anyone who’s struggled with the question of how to become a better writer will tell you, there are sometimes entire worlds of frustration compressed in the seconds between setting each word down. If that sounds familiar, or you’re simply trying to improve your craft without the existential writerly despair, we’ve got 20 essential tips to share with you.

1. Actually write

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve greatness in any skill. Even if you only put in two hours more per week than usual, any increase in thetime you spend writing will accelerate your improvement. And sure, new vocabulary won’t miraculously descend upon you just because you spent an hour writing poetry (like some kind of video game level-up), but inhabiting the mental space of writing for a while longer comes with some serious benefits:

  • You’ll get to know your own writing habits better, e.g. the time of day when you’re most productive, or the location where you’re most inspired to write;
  • You’ll develop writerly discipline (an essential skill if you ever hope to write a book or another long form project); 💪
  • You’ll stick around long enough for new ideas to occur to you (especially helpful if you’re a pantser, not a plotter).

2. Watch out for repetition (and annihilate it)

One practical way to become a better writer is by consciously analyzing your writing to identify repetitive patterns. This is hard to do during the drafting process, but it’s mercifully simple in retrospect. So dig out some past writing samples (creative nonfiction, poems, short stories — anything will do), grab some coloring pencils or highlighters, and mark every instance of repetitive language.

Study your words on multiple levels:

  • The lexical level, i.e. specific verbs, adverbs or adjectives you might be repeating (are your characters constantly grinning?);
  • The sentence structure level, like if all your examples come in threes;
  • The narrative structure level, like if you unwittingly but consistently lapse into new flashbacks.

The point of this exercise is to identify your personal linguistic reflexes — known in linguistics as your “idiolect”. In terms of language use, it’s your fingerprint, and familiarizing yourself with it can help you identify repetition and edit it out of your writing.

3. Weed out clichés 

Clichés are every writer’s stumbling block, ever an uphill battle — though the battle has its ups and its downs, and what matters most is not the destination, but the friends we made along the way. You get our point, hopefully: clichés are lazy, overly familiar, platitudinous, and often boring. Every time you use a cliché, you’re wasting an opportunity to be original and authentic. 

Primarily, our issue with clichés is no moral qualm about authenticity. It’s the simple fact that they completely drain your writing of its ability to be memorable. Lifeless, it falls to the ground, faceless and forgotten.

4. Aim for clean, filler-free prose

While we’re discussing lazy, unmemorable writing, this is a reminder that fillers are another literary ‘bad habit’ to actively resist. Cluttering up your prose, these short words sneakily crawl into your writing and distract your reader from the essence of your point. 

In her free Reedsy course on self-editing, Lisa Lepki identifies the most common words in the English language as the culprits of literary clutter. Lisa advises writers to avoid “meandering around [their sentences’] meaning”, and offers this sentence as a wordy example:

“Andy went over to the far end of the playground to see if there was a rake that he could use to tidy up all of the leaves that had fallen down in the night.”

Lisa offers this distilled alternative:

“Mountains of leaves had fallen overnight, so Andy checked the playground for a rake.

5. Read: the literary equivalent of osmosis

In his widely celebrated memoir, On Writing, Stephen King suggests that “the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.”

On the level of vocabulary, sentence structure, and rhythm, the “ease and intimacy” King talks about occurs subliminally, beneath the surface of your consciousness, quietly sharpening your perceptive skills. On the level of plot or structure, you actively discover the creative strategies of other writers. Now aware of what others are doing with their words, you become a native to that “country of the writer”. 

Ultimately, the more wonderful things you feed your brain, the richer the pool of knowledge your creativity will be able to draw from.

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