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
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.

Tips On Writing With Humor

There are so many facets to creating great fiction.  Here’s one that a lot of people don’t think of often when they’re plotting out their masterpieces, but if you stop and think about some of your favorite reading, it probably has humorous elements. 

Of course, there’s comedy writing itself, but humor can make romance more fun or adventure more delightful.  And even in a horror story, a little counterpoint of humor can make it more horrifying in contrast.  Suspense can be that much more suspenseful in the midst of laughter.  Even a clown can be terrifying, and that’s before Stephen King slaps us in the psyche with one.

So here’s a little perspective on that by funny bone tickler Dan Brotzel, who I ran across on Writer’s Digest as I was blithely skittering around the internet in search of wisdom.  This suffices.

Peruse and use as you’re slaving away over a hot keyboard, and spice up your literary mélange with a little levity…it might be just what your manuscript needs to become that masterpiece.

15 Ways to Write Funnier Fiction

MAY 27, 2019

Short story writer and novelist Dan Brotzel dishes out 15 tips on how to use humor in fiction writing.

It’s amazing how often you hear aspiring writers say: ‘I can’t write humor. I’m not funny.’ While it’s undoubtedly true that some people come across as naturally funnier than others—though often this may be the product of unseen hard work as much as raw talent—I believe that everyone has the potential to be funny. After all, if you can laugh, you have a sense of humor.

The subject of how to find the funny in your writing is one I think about all the time. I’ve spent the last 25 years writing a variety of comic material designed to tickle people’s funny bones—sketches for BBC radio, humorous columns for magazines and newsletters, short stories, and now a comic novel. I was even Asda Christmas cracker joke-writing champion in 2004, a UK prize that’s roughly the equivalent of a comedy Pulitzer*, so I couldn’t really be more qualified.

If you’re interested in getting more humor into your fiction, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way…

Think of comedy as an ingredient, not a genre.

Try not to think of comedy as a genre in its own right that you have to write in all the time. When you think about it, comedy can be found in all sorts of stories and genres. Horror and sci-fi novels can have their funny moments, as can YA, romance, and literary fiction.

So think of humor as one of the tools in your writing toolkit, like tension or strong characterization or voice. It doesn’t have to color everything you do in the way that a true genre does, but it’s a great thing to pull out when the occasion demands.

Think of comedy as a craft, not an inspired gift.

Let go, too, of the idea of funny writers as people who have amazing flights of imagination and deliver great comic revelations from a perspective that you could never possibly emulate. Of course you need ideas and inspiration, but as we’ll see, writing comedy is as much about craft: selecting the right word, paying attention to rhythm and pace, replacing an obvious element of a story with a surprising one.

People who seem to be naturally funny are often actually people who spend their spare time quietly practicing routines and crafting material to themselves. No wonder it sounds so polished when you hear it …

Make yourself laugh first.

As a novelist, you have so many routes to humor. You can create characters with funny traits. You can set up situations that are funny because they’re so unbelievable (farce) or, on the other hand, make us laugh because they’re excruciatingly close to home. You can describe things in funny ways. (“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”—Douglas Adams.) You can use humor as a satirical tool to make powerful points about politics and society.

Whatever route you choose, your attempts at being funny will have more chance of succeeding if they flow from own your own sense of humor. If you don’t make yourself laugh, how can you expect anyone else to find you funny?

Don’t see your fiction as a comedy routine.

What you don’t need to do is act like a stand-up. You don’t need to introduce a crashing boom-boom punchline every paragraph. Humor in fiction is more subtle than that. It arises from character and plot, from an interesting authorial voice, from a unique way of looking at the world.

So there’s no need to go for big belly laughs—aim to make your reader smile instead. Gags are crude, throwaway things; humor in fiction is slower-burning but packs more emotional power. As the comic novelist Muriel Spark once said: “I have a great desire to make people smile—not laugh, but smile. Laughter is too aggressive.”

Facebook Ads – An Excellent Guide

Here’s another great post from Jane Friedman’s blog, and I’ll pause right here to urge you to check out her website.  It has tons of great information and I could bounce around reading blog posts all day and never run out of things to learn.  Of course everything isn’t interesting to everybody, but there’s something there for everybody who writes, in one way or another.  Of special note is her free email newsletter, which may or may not come with a new fascinating tidbit that’s pertinent to you every time, but hey…it’s email so it’s easy to check out and delete if it’s not up your alley.

This post is by book advertising consultant Matt Holmes, and it’s one of the most detailed, thorough, and well-illustrated discussions on marketing how-to I’ve ever seen, particularly for something free to whoever wants to go looking for it.  And you can never have too much free advice.  There’s one very significant thing about advice: you never really know whether it’s any good until after you’ve taken it.  So consider it carefully and remember that even when you get good advice, it’s not going to do much good until you put time and effort and money into it.  It’s advice, not magic.

I’ve only tried running Facebook ads a couple of times, and was unimpressed with the results, but I was trying it on my own, on the fly, without a clue.  Experimenting.  The task is complex, complicated, and daunting to the uninitiated, but made much clearer, right here, by someone with experience and success.

Writing a book is quite a daunting undertaking, too, but when you get done with it, you have to get it out there to people who want to read it or its purpose is never truly fulfilled.  You do that by marketing it, and for most of us — the ones who end up self-publishing — that responsibility falls upon our own shoulders.  And we need all the help we can get.

Here you go!

How Authors Can Leverage Facebook Ads to Sell More Books

June 15, 2021 by Matt Holmes

facebook ads

Today’s post is by book advertising consultant Matt Holmes.

When authors want to advertise their books, three advertising platforms spring to mind for most: Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads.

And while each of these platforms can be amazing in their own right and even more so when used holistically together, without a strong foundation (i.e. a great book that has been edited and proofread, a strong book description, right pricing for your category or genre, a professional-looking book cover that fits in your genre, etc.), no amount of advertising can sell a poor quality book.

Once you have a strong foundation, the truthis that advertising takes time to perfect; it takes testing; it takes patience, persistence, and, ultimately, it takes money.

However, let’s brighten things up.

When you get your ads dialed in, they can truly transform your career.

As an example, my wife is an author of fantasy novels. Before we started advertising her debut series of books, we were lucky if they pulled in $40 per month!

Last month, this same series earned $8,550 in royalties, with $5,200 of profit—and that’s with just one series of three books; the fourth book is due out later this year.

And the advertising platform that did the brunt of the leg work was…

Facebook ads.

Let’s dive into it. Here’s what you’ll learn.

  • Why Facebook offers authors an incredible opportunity to position themselves in front of their ideal readers
  • When to use Facebook ads
  • Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
  • How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
  • My top 5 Facebook ads tips for authors

The Facebook ads opportunity

Facebook’s biggest and most valuable asset is data. As an advertiser on Facebook, you can tap into this data and pinpoint the exact people (readers) you want to reach with your ads.

As an example, if you know your readers:

  • Live in New York
  • Are female
  • Aged between 45 and 55
  • Work as an accountant
  • Have been a newlywed for 6 months
  • Recently moved
  • Enjoy French cuisine
  • Own a dog and a fish
  • And do yoga

You could potentially target them! Now, I wouldn’t recommend being this granular with your targeting; this is just an exaggerated example to show you how much Facebook knows about its user base. In fact, I have seen better results by leaving my targeting fairly open. I trust Facebook enough to go out and find the right people to position the books I’m advertising in front of.

So what sort of targeting should you be doing with your Facebook ads?

Targeting is a big topic and what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. However, myself and many other authors have seen the best results by targeting:

  • Author names
  • Book / series titles
  • TV shows
  • Movies
  • Genres (e.g., romantic fantasy)

As long as your targeting is relevant to the book you’re advertising, it’s worth testing. That’s not to say that every target you test will be a winner, but the more relevant you can be, the higher the chance of your Facebook ads converting into sales and therefore providing you with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS); in other words, profit.

When researching potential targets, I can’t recommend enough that you keep track of all your tests in a spreadsheet. I have built my own Targeting and Tracking spreadsheet which you can use for free; it’s included in my Author Ads Toolkit, which comes with several other valuable resources.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook ads allow you to advertise not just on the Facebook News Feed, although that is where you are likely to see the majority of your traffic coming from, but also on Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Instagram Feed, Facebook Messenger and many more.

Before we move on, let’s first take a quick look at what a Facebook ad actually looks like.

Sample Facebook ad

This is one of the ads I’ve run for my wife’s series of fantasy novels.

If you’ve spent any length of time scrolling on your Facebook News Feed, I’m sure you recognize the layout and style of this ad. As you can see, Facebook wants their ads to fit in with an organic post (i.e., not an ad) that you might see from one of your Facebook friends.

I’ll be walking you through the different assets that make up a Facebook ad, as well as some tips and best practices on how to create scroll-stopping ads.