Writing advice is everywhere. Everyone seems to have tips on how to improve your writing. But what works for one person may not be the best advice for everyone else.
However, there are a few tips that the most distinguished and respected authors seem to agree on. These tips are not quick fixes. These are proven techniques from professional writers that can really help you improve your writing over the course of your writing career.
1. Write On a Schedule
“I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I am inspired every day at nine o’clock.” – Peter De Vries
The first and most effective way to improve your writing is to write on a schedule.
In order to write well, you must write often and the best way to do this is to set a routine for yourself, though the exact routine may vary from writer to writer.
Some professionals say that you should write every single day, while others give themselves a goal for reaching a weekly word count.
For me, having a weekly goal is more realistic than expecting myself to write every day. I have 3 kids and another business that I run. Daily writing isn’t always possible, but weekly writing is.
Most of us are not at the point yet where our writing career can cover all of our bills and expenses. We have other jobs or sources of income that take up our time.
Writing on the side makes it hard to schedule a daily practice because we are often fitting it in whenever we have the opportunity.
That’s why I set a weekly goal instead of a daily one. However you choose to do it, make sure you set a realistic goal for yourself and write it down.
Having a set goal in writing will help you get in the habit of producing word counts, even when you don’t “feel” like it. Write on a schedule and your writing will improve naturally over time.
2. Read Often
“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” – William Faulkner
The next writing tip is my favorite – To improve your writing, read more.
Trying to produce brilliant writing is pointless if you don’t know what brilliant writing sounds like. Train your mind to recognize good writing by exposing yourself to it regularly.
In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King says that in order to learn to write well, you must read both good works and bad works. Only then will you be capable of recognizing when bad writing shows up in your own work.
And this works both ways. I have noticed that when I am reading something I really enjoy, my own writing sometimes takes on characteristics of that author’s writing style.
This is normal and even quite common for amateur writers. According to King, this is part of developing your own writing style and not something that should discourage you.
In fact, the more you read, the more you will discover about your own style and improve your writing naturally.
3. Don’t let perfectionism stop you
“Resign yourself to writing lots and lots of rubbish. You’ve got to get that out of your system.” – J. K. Rowling
It’s hard to make yourself sit down and write when you feel that what you are writing is terrible. Its easy to avoid it by thinking about what you want to write instead.
But the experts all seem to agree that even if your writing is bad, you need to do it anyway.
From J. K. Rowling and Anne Lamott, to Steven Pressfield and Stephen King, the greats agree that bad writing always comes before the good stuff.
You must sift through the mud and get all the junk out on paper (or keyboard) in order for the few golden nuggets in your writing to eventually come to the surface.
That means you need to keep your perfectionism in check. Perfectionism isn’t actually real, anyway. “Perfection” is really just a fancy word for fear.
When we get stuck in a perfectionist mindset, we are giving in to the apprehension that others will judge our writing and think that we are not good enough. Or worse, that we will judge ourselves and feel like a fraud.
So we protect our fragile egos with this idea that if it’s not perfect, it’s not worth writing.
Stop giving in to the lie, and have to guts to write even when it’s bad!
Professional writers deal with this same fear. They have to fight their own egos just as hard as the rest of us. Some of them deal with it every time they sit down to write a sentence.
The difference is that they recognize the fear for what it is, and they choose to write, anyway.
4. Tell the truth
“All fiction has to be as honest as you can make it.” – Neil Gaiman
Improve your writing by striving to tell teh truth in everything you write.
Honesty and truth are perhaps the most important elements of any well-written story. Honest words speak to the reader’s soul and validate their own thoughts and feelings.
Even in fiction, the best writers are the ones who are not afraid to tell the actual truth, whether or not it’s flattering.
That doesn’t mean that the narrative has to be something that actually happened. It means that whatever happens in the story must feel like it could be possible, no matter how fantastical it actually is.
To tell the truth in your writing, you must observe the world and the people in it authentically and then portray that authenticity as best as you can.
The best writing transports the reader into the story and makes them feel like they are actually a part of it. They can see and feel what the characters see and feel and picture themselves in the scene.
Writing in this way takes lots of practice and feedback from others, which is why if you really want to improve your writing you must show it to people, no matter how scary that may be.
5. Show your emotions
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost
If you want to improve your writing, try digging deeper into the honesty of your emotions.
Emotions give your writing flavor and interest. Showing your own emotions in your work goes hand-in-hand with telling the truth. Good writers are not afraid to show the reader how they really feel.
Sometimes this is hard to do when circumstances have left you feeling unhappy or vulnerable, but your readers have felt those same emotions before. Not only will they understand, but they will find it easier to connect with you and your characters when they see themselves reflected in your writing.
If you want to reach your reader on a deeper level, pull them into the emotion of your story. The best way to do that is to use your own experiences and describe how these emotions have affected you and people you know.
On the flip side, don’t try to write about emotions that you know little about without doing some research. Doing so can lead to flat writing and phony cliches. Instead, talk to a friend or expert who can give you authentic details about that experience.
For instance, if you are writing about someone having an anxiety attack, but that isn’t something you have ever had to deal with, don’t try to describe it on your own. Talk to a few different people who can give you a detailed run-through of what that attack feels like for them.
Having multiple opinions and descriptions of the same type of experience can help you connect with that emotion before you try to write about it.
Remember, if the emotion isn’t real for the writer, readers will see right through it.
6. Take Grammar Seriously
“If you don’t have a rudimentary grasp of how the parts of speech translate into coherent sentences, how can you be certain that you are doing well? How will you know if you are doing ill, for that matter? The answer, of course, is that you can’t, you won’t.” – Stephen King
Improve your grammar and your writing will improve as well.
Grammar is something I think we all hated in school. If we didn’t hate it, most of us brushed it off because it was boring and we convinced ourselves we would deal with it later. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone excited to talk about participles.
However, boring or not, it turns out grammar is important for a few reasons.
Grammar helps you get your point across in a neat and coherent manner. Good grammar makes you sound intelligent and lends credibility to your content. It clarifies your intent and makes the information easy for the reader to consume.
Poor grammar, on the other hand, can give the impression that the writer is lazy or unintelligent. It can even leave the reader feeling frustrated or confused with the information they just read.
What’s worse is that poor grammar is usually more obvious to the reader than to the writer. That’s why proofreading and editing are so important, and why book editors can charge a great deal for their services.
I also recommend using a grammar checker for smaller works and drafts. I use ProWritingAid for my editing, but there are many options available.
If you want more information about self-editing software, sign up for my Writer Resources List and get all the information I have compiled about self-editors and other useful software sent to your email for FREE.
Whether you choose to use a software or ask a friend to look over your writing, make sure you do not skip this step. Good grammar in essential if you want others to take you seriously as a writer.
7. Know what to leave out
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Sometimes improving your writing is as simple as taking out things that don’t need to be there.
As writers, most of us love the details. We spend hours thinking about why our character wears a blue coat instead of a red one and what exactly happened on his way home that made him late for dinner and start an argument with his wife.
These are important details, because they paint the picture in the writer’s mind that allows us to tell the story in a rich and compelling way.
However, even though it’s important for the writer to understand these details, often the reader does not need to know about them.
In fact, these extra details can cloud up the reader’s understanding of the story, and leave them unsure of which things they should focus on as the narrative progresses.
Remember, your reader has not lived in this story nearly as long as you have. They cannot pick up on and remember every detail, and expecting them to do so will only lead to confusion.
This is another reason editing is so important. The initial drafts usually give too much information on unimportant details and leave out the pieces that are most important to the reader.
An editor will help you cut out the extra parts that can distract from the story. A good editor turn the work into something that is more easily digestible for the reader. They will help you kill the “right” darlings, so that your readers can fully enjoy the journey you are taking them on.
Knowing which parts to take out can mean the difference between a story that pulls the reader along, versus one that confuses the reader and prompts them to put it down, unfinished.
8. Prepare your writing space
“[The professional] will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed, and the threshold swept, so the muse may enter and not soil her gown.” – Steven Pressfield
You will produce better writing if you prepare the right space for yourself. This space can and should be unique to you.
Some have an office with a desk where they sit and type the hours away on their laptop. Others like to relax on the back porch and write with a pen and paper journal.
The details of your writing space are not nearly as important as just having one. Most professional writers admit to having a specific spot where they always write, and so should you.
It doesn’t matter which space you choose, but it should be tidy, comfortable, equipped with the right tools and should help you reduce distractions during your writing session.
There are a few reasons why preparing this space is so important.
The first and most obvious is that it reduces interruptions while you’re working and gives you fewer excuses to get up and do something else.
The other reasons are more psychological.
Establishing a designated “writing space” tells your subconscious that sitting down to write is going to be a regular thing. This action encourages you to take your writing habit seriously.
Also, by having a specific place where you do your writing, you help prepare your mind in advance. If you sit down in the same chair every time you write, then eventually just being in that spot will trigger your creativity.
Dedicating a specific place to write will give you an extra boost for building your writing habit and defeating the dreaded writer’s block.
If you would like more tips on how to prepare a workspace that inspires creativity, check out my blog post on it here: 7 Simple Tips to Designing a Workspace that Inspires Creativity
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9. Writing is Magic
“I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment – not entirely human in its origins.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Once you accept that great writing comes from somewhere magical and outside of ourselves, you will open yourself up to amazing things.
Most of us learned in school that magic doesn’t exist. However, the greatest writers don’t agree. Great artists and thinkers throughout history have challenged the notion again and again.
Most influential thinkers believe that there is more to this world than we can see or even comprehend. They argue humans can tap into this greatness from time to time and make extraordinary things happen.
Even the ancient Greeks attributed impressive creative works to something other than ourselves. They called this outside inspiration “The Muse.”
Today, there are as many theories as there are artists. Some call it magic, some call it a different plane of existence, and some call it angels and the divine.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that good writing and art come from someone or something that we do not quite understand.
I think this is as it should be. Humanity has a habit of taking the things we can understand and quantifying them to death. We shrink amazing things down to fit inside a bottle or box that fits our purposes.
Creativity cannot work this way. It must be free!
Creativity in its purest form must maintain its mystery.
Once we accept this mystery, we take a lot of pressure off of ourselves to be “good” or “bad” at our creative work. Instead, we free ourselves up to be conduits for the creativity that wants to travel through us.
If you want to be an influential writer, it will take practice, but it will also require you to relinquish the control you think you have and become a vessel for the creative work that calls you.
There are thousands, maybe even millions, of books and articles out there that will tell you at length how to improve your writing. However, these nine tips from respected authors are the best pieces of advice I have found in my own search for better writing.
If you want to grow as a writer you must write on a schedule, read often, ignore your inner perfectionist, show your emotions, tell the truth, take grammar seriously, know what to leave out, prepare your writing space, and believe in the magic you can bring into this world through your writing.
What is the best writing tip you have ever come across in your writing career? Tell me about it in the comments!