How to become a better writer
Is it your dream to become a writer? Finish that book you’ve been thinking about? Or finally write that children’s story? That’s great! You’re in the right place.
One of my biggest passions is writing and another is helping emerging writers, such as yourself, grow and develop their writing abilities.
I’ve worked with clients from all over the world, helping them grow their story ideas, perfect their dialogue, fine tune their content and learn the valuable skill of editing. (Editing your own work is probably the hardest and most important skill for writers to learn!)
I’ve been a freelance writer for over ten years now and it’s the best job I’ve every had.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
— Richard Bach
Writing is interesting, exciting, and can be very financially rewarding eventually! It wasn’t easy when I started off. In fact, I tried and failed in a lot of my writing attempts.
I always dreamed of being a fiction writer, and although I have won awards and a scholarship for my fiction, non-fiction has become my career and is what I now enjoy the most.
My very first job was writing a regular column in a small local newspaper. I wasn’t paid, but I was getting published!
People came up to me in the street and excitedly told me how much they loved my writing. Others sent me small gifts in the mail. A teenage girl actually pinned one of my articles to her bedroom wall! I couldn’t believe the impact my little weekly reflections were having on people.
This is the power of writing. I wasn’t a qualified journalist. I never studied English at University. I was an ex-teacher and an at-home mum. But my words were making a difference to peoples lives.
We all have something to share. For you it might be a children’s book, an article or the story of your life. I would encourage you to share it. When you are passionate about an idea, it impacts people.
So what can you do to improve you writing?
The best way to improve your writing is by reading great writing in your genre. Each area of writing is has its own style and techniques. Writing a children’s book for 5-7 year olds needs completely different skills (obviously) to writing an article about fishing.
Read great kids books if you want to write for children. Ask your local librarian what the top ones are and study them.
If you want to win short stories competitions there are many fantastic collections of incredible short stories. Read the winners’ stories from competitions you’d like to enter and take note of the length, style, dialogue and topics they use.
Basically, read, read, read.
The top 4 mistakes new writers make
Thinking that the first thing they write will get published.
It probably won’t. But you will learn a lot by writing it, editing it and doing your best to perfect it. Then put that piece aside (I know you love it) and write something else.
If it’s a novel and you’ve poured three years of your life into it then, sure, try publishing it. Just remember that only around 1% of books are actually published traditionally now.
If this is your first-ever piece of writing, just wait a little while before you self-publish. Many self-published books are low-quality and don’t sell.
It makes me cringe when new writers get desperate to publish and spend thousands on vanity publishers. They get swept up in the excitement of seeing their book in print only to then be devastated when no-one buys a copy, except their mum.
Self-publishing is not necessarily a way to easy sales.
Thinking that the first draft is perfect
It’s not. Mine’s not. J.K. Rowling’s was not. Jane Austen’s was not. Yours is not.
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.Octavia E Butler
That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
Most good writers will go over and over their content many times. Sometimes hundreds of times.
The best thing you can do is leave your work for a few days and then do the following:
- Read it aloud.
- Cut out anything unnecessary.
- Check your sequencing, think about your plot, and look at it with a critical eye. Is that paragraph in the right place? Do you need more dialogue? Would it sound better in third person instead of first?
- Then leave it again.
- Repeat your edit. Read it aloud.
- Perfect your wording. Can a better phrase be used? A better word?
- Repeat editing until you are happy with it.
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”Stephen KinG
Editing and then editing (and then editing again) is the best thing you can spend time learning to do as a new writer.
Being too wordy
Many new writers try to sound sophisticated in their writing by using a lot of very creative phrases, beautiful metaphors and unusual words.
This is part of the appeal of writing isn’t it? The crafting of beautiful language.
If you are writing a literary fiction then that’s fantastic. For some other genres, creative language can work well.
Unfortunately, for many other types of writing it just comes across as amateur, unnecessarily wordy and difficult to read.
Find your natural voice. Don’t try to be someone you’re not in your writing.
Telling rather than showing in fiction
This is an incredibly common mistake that new writers make. If your content is reading like an outline, rather than a story, you might be doing this.
I’ll give you an example because it’s the easiest way for me to explain this idea.
Jane woke up. It was early morning. She was tired from working on her novel till late. She got ready for work as fast as she could but, sadly, she missed the bus again.
Jane stretched and rolled over to turn off her alarm clock. 5:30am. Why did she always have to get up so early? She pulled off the covers, swung her legs over the side of her bed and groaned. That's it. She was never staying up until midnight writing, ever again. Her novel would probably never get finished at this rate anyway. Jane pulled on her clothes and stumbled toward the kitchen. She slapped peanut butter on two slices of bread. That would have to do. She could always grab something else at work. Racing out the front door, Jane was just in time to spot the back end of a yellow bus turning the corner at the end of her street. Her bus.
Showing takes longer but it paints a picture in your reader’s mind and brings them along with your character, as if they are sitting right there in the room.
One way you could think of showing is “If I creating a movie and needed to explain to the actors what I wanted them to do, how would I do that?”
(There are times where telling is appropriate to use though too. It’s just knowing when to use it!)
Why getting a mentor is the best investment you’ll make
If you’d like to develop your writing it’s a good idea to get a mentor. There is nothing more valuable that investing in yourself and your dreams.
If you are serious about pursuing your writing dream then individualised feedback from a mentor is the next step. It will progresses your writing skills more than anything else.
Early in my writing career I was incredibly lucky to have two wonderful mentors: one for fiction and one for non-fiction. Their help and guidance was invaluable.
I attended writing workshops, read books on writing techniques, and did writing exercises but my mentors made the biggest impact by far.
There are many fantastic manuscript assessors and writing coaching around.
Or, if you’d like to chat with me about your work I’d love to hear about it. Go here to see how to contact me.
In the meantime, keep writing!