Do you have an idea for a book, but aren’t sure if you have what it takes to put your idea down on paper? Have you been writing for years, but are looking for better results? In book publishing, editors can do a great deal to polish your final product – but they can’t turn bad writing into good writing.
Writing skills go far beyond grammar, vocabulary, and language skills – although those are all necessary too. It’s also about organizing ideas in a way that is easy for readers to understand and enjoy. And especially for fiction writers, writing skills include the ability to portray characters, emotions, and events in ways that are believable and captivating for readers.
There are some golden rules you can rely on. To make sure you’re applying those rules properly, you need to practice constantly, get feedback from other writers, and not give up on a draft that doesn’t turn out the way you hope the first time. But this process will also help you gain the less tangible creative tools and instincts that will help make you a skilled, and hopefully bestselling, author.
Immerse yourself in writing
This doesn’t just mean writing constantly, although that will certainly help. It also means reading constantly. Read all kinds of different material, from articles and blogs to novels and non-fiction. You can focus on the genre in which you plan to write yourself, but don’t limit yourself to that. You might learn something from another genre that you can integrate into your own – this can help your writing stand out from the competition. For example, if you’re writing a romance novel, but can learn how to create suspense and tension from mystery writers, it will help you write something that can stand out within its genre.
Some of this is passive – if you read enough, you may find yourself absorbing good writing practices, and that’s part of what makes this tip so important. But you can learn even more by actively observing and even dissecting elements like word choice, sentence structure, and the rhythm of language and storytelling from your favorite authors.
As we mentioned, you’ll want to practice writing as well. Start a journal, write articles, short stories, perhaps even write letters or emails to friends and family to keep in touch instead of chatting or talking on the phone. Reread them and perfect them as much as possible. When possible, get some feedback.
If you make this a daily practice, writing will start to feel easier and more natural.
Use a style guide and thesaurus
A thesaurus will help you avoid repeating the same words over and over again, and will lead to more varied and interesting writing. A style guide will help you resolve a wide range of grammar and style questions as you write, such as when to capitalize a job title, or the right way to use a semicolon.
There are great online resources for both, but having a print version of a style guide is a good idea. Many style guides are highly specialized, but The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a widely favored choice for general writing.
Take a class, or join a group
There are a lot of variations on this one, but the idea is to get feedback from other writers – ideally at least some of which will have more experience than you. How to approach this depends on what’s available in your area, your current skills and experience as a writer, your personal writing goals, and the time and money resources available to you.
If you’re starting without much writing experience, and have the time and resources, a beginner class is a good idea. For more advanced writers, a wide variety of more specialized classes are available. In either case, there will be range of classes at different price ranges. Check your local colleges, universities, schools, and libraries. You’ll want to do a little research on the teacher to make sure they have some experience and expertise in whatever subject you’re teaching – especially if you’re looking into more advanced, specialized classes.
Remember, you can take writing classes online to improve your writing skills if you can’t find any near you!
As we discuss in our writing groups blog, you can also opt for a peer-based, workshop-style writing group if you have one in your area. This could cost less and be easier to work into a busy schedule, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get good advice or a sense of the fundamentals of good writing. Some writers find this peer-based approach more helpful for a creative pursuit like writing than a traditional class. But it might be a better option for aspiring authors who are a bit more seasoned in their basic writing skills, and have the experience and confidence to spot bad advice.