Every year, I vow to write more and write better. Sounds easy peasy, doesn’t it? The truth is, becoming a better writer takes time, work, and commitment – and when you add that to the countless hours we already spend on our current writing projects and day-to-day commitments, putting even more work in can feel daunting.
Suddenly, your “simple” goal to improve your craft no longer feels do-able, let alone desirable or attainable. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and so many of us struggle to protect whatever precious writing time we can find.
No two writers are the same. How we define “better writer” changes as our careers evolve. You may want to know how to write good dialogue, how to get better at creative writing, or simply get more words down on the page.
Yet, I’ve never met a writer who didn’t want to improve their craft. Writers are strivers and dreamers – my favourite people – and that’s why I’m here to share my top tips on how I’ve become a better writer.
Make A List Of Your Writing Goals
Artistic paths differ from writer to writer. So, let’s start by making a list of your writing goals, big and small.
This list is for your eyes only so feel free to go for the gold and the glory. Don’t hold back. You want to win the Nobel Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature? Sure, why not, don’t we all in our heart of hearts?
Propose Action Steps To Support Your Writing Goals
Okay, now that you’ve compiled a list, let’s go over each goal one by one. What actions can you take to support your goal of becoming a better writer? Think of it as your personal GPS. Map out the route to get there. Step by step.
For example, if your goal is more production and more publications, but you fear rejection (who doesn’t?) then being a better writer might involve putting yourself out there and submitting your work to more opportunities.
How to improve your writing could also mean increasing your productivity and output – writing more pages – which we all know has been difficult during this pandemic.
Perhaps you’ve always been shy about self-promotion and how to be a good writer for you means improving your sales and reaching a wider audience. What are some steps you could take to increase sales? Network?
If ‘writing in another genre’ made it on your list, now might be the perfect time to take that risk and invest in yourself. Pursue that new interest that keeps you awake at night and take that course you’ve always had your eye on. Check out the creative writing classes Jericho Writers offers here.
Becoming a better writer takes courage, faith, and action. When in doubt, remember, it and you are worth it.
Carve Out Sacred Writing Time
A writer writes. Ideally, as often as possible. I know life is messy yet the only way to become a better writer is to carve out some time to write. Establish a routine. It can be thirty minutes a day. One hour a day. Five hours a week. Your routine might vary week to week. I know mine does. This is why I plan ahead.
Look at your schedule next week, find the pockets of time and book appointments with your muse. Act like it’s a hot date. Show up.
Hold this time sacred. That is, put your cell phone in another room and don’t check your email or your social media feeds. In fact, just turn off the Wi-Fi and write.
At the end of the week, if you honoured all your “dates” with your muse, please treat yourself. A little chocolate. A leisurely walk in the park. Even that new notebook you had your eye on. This serves to remind you a writer’s life is rewarding.
Be A Voracious Reader
It may be a cliché but it’s true, if you don’t read a lot, you won’t improve your writing. Read as much as possible. Read the classics, the award winners, the up-and-comers, the off-beat, self-published, and commercial. Read magazines and newspapers. There’s a wealth of information out there waiting for you to discover and grab hold of it.
One time I read an article about the difficulties of finding organ donors, and for some reason, a lightbulb flicked on and kept flickering until I wrote a play that explores that topic. This has happened more than once, and it always feels like magic.
That book you couldn’t put down, that you had to read from start to finish – what was it about that story that grabbed you? What made it a page-turner? Was it the point of view, the story structure, the gorgeous language, the plot?
Take note of the books you couldn’t finish too. Why did you lose interest? Perhaps you were too stressed, too tired, and should give it another read later? If that’s not the case, what would you have done differently?
We can learn so much from other writers and stories that are not our own, and it can all lead to becoming better writers.
Document Your Ideas
Writers are curious observers so be sure to carry a handy notebook wherever you go so you can jot down ideas. It may be:
- Swatches of dialogue or a bizarre turn of phrase you overhear that spark intrigue.
- What someone was wearing…or not wearing.
- A street sign or joke that made you laugh out loud.
- A scenario that made your blood curl.
- Unusual or annoying mannerisms that might inform one of your characters.
- That musical phrase you keep humming.
- Secrets spilt at that family gathering.
Keep a writing pad near your bedside. Sometimes a weird dream will jolt me awake and I need to write down the details before I forget.
Of course, you can use your smartphone to make notes, record audio notes, and take photos as well.
- Capture the vivid colours that surrounded you.
- Record the sound of the beach.
- Make a note of how the Hunter’s Moon glowed that night.
- Take a photo of that statue or landmark that inspires you to do further research.
Life is full of wonder and delight. It’s our job to live it and write it.
Find A Writing Buddy
Writing is a solitary profession, but we don’t have to go it alone. Having a writing friend can be tremendously uplifting in these unsteady times. I have a few writing buddies and we check in with each other regularly. We share resources, what we’re working on, our ups and downs, what we’ve done to advance our careers, and what we hope to do in the next week or two. We hold each other accountable in an honest, supportive, and kind relationship.
Choose wisely. Your writing buddy should be someone who has your best interests at heart, and vice versa. We rarely succeed at the same time or the same rate, so it’s essential to pair up with someone you respect and trust.
Write To Win, Place, Or Show
Writing contests provide excellent opportunities to improve your craft, create new work, and have fun. These contests often offer prompts or themes that ignite and stretch our imagination. The fact that these opportunities come with deadlines is a bonus – added encouragement to stick to our writing routines.
I usually choose contests where there are no or low submission fees, but that is a personal choice. Everyone should do their own cost/benefit analyses and compare those results to their goals and finances. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs. While rewards vary from opportunity to opportunity – publication, reading, production or a cash prize – the overall goal remains the same: to challenge ourselves and become better writers.
‘No’ Is Simply A Number
I love American baseball because it showed me a new, healthier way to accept that dreaded word – “failure.” Professional baseball players strike out a lot. In fact, they strike out 70% more often than they hit. If they hit three out of ten balls, they end up in the Hall of Fame. That’s right, three out of ten and you’re in the Hall of Fame.
Like baseball, the arts is also a business of frustration and failure. You will receive more “no’s” than “yesses.” It is very much a numbers game. The more we submit, the more we step up to the plate, the more likely we will get hits. If we’re lucky, we knock it out of the park and end up on some bestseller lists. The trick is to keep showing up at the plate.
Rejection still hurts and Imposter Syndrome is very real, but one way to soften the blow is to think of each “no” as a pass. Yes, a pass, because many times that’s what it is. A question of fit or taste. Not a reflection on the quality of your work. Maybe the literary magazine just published a story with a similar theme, or an agent is looking for something specific. When a pass shows up in your email box, make it a policy to send out another request or pitch.
Beating up on yourself never helps, never leads to your best work. I know, I am my own Tiger Mom. Alligators are known for their tough skin; good writers are known for their resilience.
Whenever I feel myself falling down that rabbit hole, I pull myself back up with Norman Lear’s motto: “Over and Next.” Norman Lear is an American television and film writer who has created, written, and produced over 100 shows.
Listen To Feedback
Now, if we get repetitive feedback that pinpoints a specific area that needs work, then consider that a blessing. That’s information we can process and use to improve our next draft. Perhaps there’s an unclear plot jump and the timeline is confusing to readers. Maybe the dialogue feels stilted and strains credibility because we inadvertently head hopped. Put these notes on your list of goals. Brainstorm the action steps you can tackle your revision. Find resources. Reach out. Outline. Rewrite. You got this.
Keep writing, rewriting, and sending work out. Three hits out of ten. That’s what we should all be aiming for.
Remember your voice and your vision are gifts to the world. Cherish and nurture those gifts. Court your muse. When you’re feeling blue, keep your eye on the prize. Talent is unstoppable. Three out of ten. Over and next!
I’m so happy you want to become a better writer. Me, too. I hope my tips inspire you to be the best writer you can be, and show you there are so many ways we can keep on becoming better. So many resources are available, too, at your fingertips, starting right here. We don’t have to do it alone. We form a community and do this together. We can even have fun along our journey. The writer’s life is rewarding when we stay curious, stay resilient, and we keep getting better.
Our writing goals change as we become better writers and our careers evolve, but one thing never changes: You know
best better. See you at the Writer’s Hall of Fame!
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