I have been writing seriously for eleven years. I’ve been writing novels for only five years, and I self-published my debut novel less than two years ago. I still have a lot to learn about being a writer and being an author. I still feel like a little kid sat at my dad’s giant computer and mashing the keyboard until a story appeared on Notepad.
But I’ve made progress from those days eleven years ago. And I’ve done a lot of things that I know have helped me get here.
So, here are five things I do to become a better writer.
Obvious, right? But so many people are focused on every little piece of advice and all kinds of different writing tips and tricks that they actually forget that all they need to do is put some words on a page. They’re the most essential thing that you need to ‘learn’ how to write. Not all the words are going to be good. No one has to read them. You can just throw them away after you’re done.
I needed to write a lot to learn and to be able to experiment with language. I wanted to chase a bunch of exciting ideas that I didn’t think anyone would want to read. I would not be writing how I am today if I didn’t have thousands of ‘practice words’ in the deep dark depths of my Documents folder.
I learn how to edit and rewrite
Following on from actually writing, learning how to mould those first drafts into something better is equally – maybe even more – important. Almost everything I’ve learned about writing has been from rewriting and editing. Being able to put words on a page is good, but books are more about rewriting than writing.
I enter competitions
Because, as someone who has spent a majority of their life in school, I’m still obsessed with comparisons. Being ranked in a competition showed me how someone else viewed my work in comparison to others, and I could read others and discover what I did and didn’t like about their writing and apply it to myself.
I also entered competitions (shoutout to Movellas) because their were guides and prompts to narrow down what I could write about and help me break through writers’ block and also because I’m motivated by prizes.
I learned to hush my inner critic
Not silence it completely, because my own thoughts and feelings are still important, but just quiet down the negatives ones that would usually be consuming. It’s knowing the balance between listening and taking on advice and picking which bits you want to listen to. It’s knowing that there’s so much to learn and know and remember and everyone’s advice will contradict, so it’s good to focus on the opinions of a small group of people.
I read everything I can
I read ebooks on every train to and from college for a year and I spent many years before that reading paperbacks in the middle of the night with my phone torch on. Books are the best teachers, and this also links back to the competitions part a little. If I get stuck writing something such as an action scene, I’ll read back through a couple of my favourite books’ action scenes and analyse them. Dialogue. Characterisation. Description. I’ll do this for any kind of scene I get stuck on.
I also need so I know what things are being overdone or trending or popular or avoided, what’s happening amongst published authors, and because it keeps me sane. And I can buy books and pretend that it’s for ‘research’.
So, what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given? Did you use it or just file it away somewhere for future use?