10 Tips to Become a Better Writer
Ever since I published my first novel, people have been asking me what they should do if they, too, wish to write a novel. A worthy question, and one that I’ve thought about. Allow me to distill my best advice to ten things that I think will put you on the right path.
1. Set goals for yourself.
If you want to become a better writer, the first thing you need to do is figure out what that vague, fuzzy idea of “a better writer” means to you. Does being a better writer mean getting more acceptances at literary magazines or getting into a conference? Does it mean a kind response from the friend you entrusted to read your draft? Does it mean fewer squiggly grammar-check lines as you type? The more specific you are, the better you can plan to fulfill your goal. My goal in my new book The Latecomers Fan Club was pacing. The feedback I got on my first book was that I should speed up the beginning. That was concrete and specific and I was able to tackle it. If I merely set out with trying to be a better writer, I wouldn’t have known where to place my efforts.
2. Finish what you start.
In a direct corollary to setting goals, if you want to be a better writer, it’s important to follow through on a story. Get to the words “The End.” If you want to be a writer, you probably have dozens of ideas, any one of which could make a great story. Unfortunately, if you start a new one every day but never finish any of them, you won’t break from the ranks of the aspiring into the ranks of the writers. I suggest setting a deadline and daily/weekly word count goal. You can take the NaNoWriMo approach of 1667 words per day for 30 days to finish a draft of a novel, or 1000 words a day for two months, or 1000 words five days a week for three months, or 300 words a day for a year, but whatever you decide, follow through!
3. Read a lot.
I have been astounded to hear many people say that want to write a book but that they don’t read much. Why would a person want to create something he or she wouldn’t even consume? It’s like a vegetarian grilling steaks for supper. Besides, the best way to learn to write is to study the writing of others. Which brings me to number 4:
4. Find literary role models.
Not just buddies who also like to write or even a few teachers, but role models whose works you adore. What are you favorite books, the ones you’ve read over and over and that you always come back to? Turn to those books and study them. How do they work? Is the dialogue sizzling? Is the setting so real you feel like you’ve visited it? What do you love in those books? Pin down specific features you admire and then imitate. I know what you’re thinking. Imitation is a dirty word. Or is it? Imitation is the foundation of learning. Before being original, we must imitate.
5. Be quiet.
Eavesdrop. What do real people sound like when they converse? Take cues from real life when writing dialogue. Notice how often people fail to respond to each other, how often one questions is answered by another irrelevant question. Most conversations are actually two people talking at each other. Written dialogue should sound like real dialogue.
6. Know when to silence your inner editor.
Sometimes our inner editors are mean and spiteful. They tell us our writing sucks, our stories are boring, and no one likes us. At those times, we must shut our inner editors away where we can’t hear them. We wouldn’t listen to someone else talk to us that way, and we shouldn’t talk to ourselves that way either. When your inner editor makes personal attacks, lock her in the closet and then keep writing.
7. Know when to listen to your inner editor.
Conversely, sometimes our inner editors are wise and helpful. When they tell us that a time sequence is not clear, or that a character is being too contradictory, or that we may have gotten carried away with fancy prose, they might just be on to something. In other words, when our inner editors offer specific, constructive criticism, like a kind friend, we should listen. When my inner editor told me, after two whole drafts of the Latecomers Fan Club, that the book would be better in third person (I had originally written in first), I didn’t want to face another complete rewrite, but the suggestion was so specific and clear that I had to try, and guess what—my inner editor was completely right. The book is much better now.
8. Accept criticism graciously.
This is a direct correlation to 6 & 7. When you are given feedback, even if you disagree with it, say thank you to the person who spent time considering your work. If someone bothered to criticize you, even if it feels bad to hear the criticism, there must be something worthwhile in your work, or there’d be no reason to comment at all. There’s nothing worse than a piece of literature that leaves a reader with absolutely nothing to say.
9. Be open-minded.
If you really want to be a better writer, you must go beyond graciously saying thank you to feedback. You have to be willing to really hear the feedback and evaluate its relevance to your writing and goals. When your kneejerk reaction is to dismiss feedback, pause. Take a breath. Consider it again. You may still decide it’s bad advice for you, but you may also learn something important about your writing style. A number of friends told me the first fifty pages of my first book Watch Me Disappear were nice but a bit slow moving. I knew this advice came from people who cared, so I took it to heart and in writing my next book, I focused on the action of the first fifty pages instead of just setting up characters and setting. Do I try to heed all the bits of advice that come my way? No. For instance I choose to ignore the agent who told me my stories were not saleable. That wasn’t constructive or helpful, so I didn’t need to worry about it.
10. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
I find that in writing and in life, I always do well to keep it simple.
What is it about guys with guitars in their hands that makes them so irresistible, even when they are obviously self-centered jerks? If Abby and Maggie could answer that question, maybe they could finally get over Nathaniel. There’s just something about him when he picks up his guitar and gets behind the microphone, something that makes sensible women act like teenyboppers instead of rational, self-respecting adults.
Abby was first sucked in by Nathaniel’s rock ‘n roll swagger four years ago when a drunken fling turned into a series of drunken hook-ups that became something like a relationship. Now, as New Year’s Eve promises a fresh start, she wants to believe he’s finally going to grow up and take their relationship seriously.
What does Nathaniel hope the New Year will bring? An escape from the disappointing realities of his life. He’s thirty-four years old and he’s barely making ends meet as an adjunct philosophy professor, which was always only a backup plan anyway. Nathaniel’s real goal was always to make his living as a musician, but his band, The Latecomers, broke up a couple of years ago, and he hasn’t picked up his guitar in months.
When he decides to spend the holiday with some high school friends instead of hanging out at the bar where Abby works, he gets the happy surprise of reuniting with his long-lost friend Maggie. Newly divorced, Maggie has just moved back to her mother’s house to regroup. Nathaniel and Maggie were supposed to be the ones who left Worcester forever to conquer the world. He was going to be a rock star. She was going to take the world of art by storm. He’s never gotten farther than Boston, and her best efforts only left her broke and heartbroken.
As they ring in the New Year together, Nathaniel decides it’s time to take control of his life and to start making his dreams come true. He thinks the first step will be easy. All he needs to do is break up with Abby and finally admit his feelings for Maggie. But the New Year has more surprises in store, and nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Genre – Women’s Literature
Rating – PG-13
Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.