- Books, Literature, and Writing
Advice: 10 Tips on How to Become a Better Writer
A writer's stance on what writers tend to miss.
There is no one rule that will make any piece of writing perfect, or any writer the best. If so, writing wouldn't be much of a craft. Most writers begin stabbing in the dark until they hit a few things. Some writers stumble into large objects quickly. Most writers, though, have to work their way through the darkness, and they have to learn the hard way how to become a better writer. After experience editing college newspapers and literary magazines, I've come up with the most common bugs I see in writing and a list of tips to help any writer improve.
1.True, everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer.
Picking up a novel and saying, "I could have written this," does not grant a person writing merit. The fact is, you didn't write the book. Most people who send me stories admit to not writing much, or briefly skimming the writing before handing me a piece of work. If you do not write at least somewhat regularly, I am sorry, but you are not a writer. Becoming a better writer is a long-term goal.
A person doesn't use band-aids every few weeks and call herself a doctor.
Through experimentation and practice, each writer develops a specific voice. To anyone with a relatively familiar background in writing, this is common sense. Any major writer has a distinct style, just like famous musicians have particular sounds. A great writer develops an identifiable body of work. Writing well is not an innate quality, but one that is learned with time. That means writing regularly is what makes someone a writer, and helps someone become a better writer.
2.The world you create should be more believable than the one you live in.
A lot of writers come to me with well-hatched plots and thought out characters, but in a black void of indistinct blurriness. On the other hand, there is Exterion 17 with the race of Olmarchs. No matter what the setting, it has to be adequately understood by the reader. For a writer, that should mean extensive research. Becoming a better writer, again, is a long term investment.
J.R.R. Tolkien developed an entire language and drew maps of the world he built. He wrote out a history and timeline, as well as developing familial ties within large communities. He wrote books to build the world for a book.
It is not necessary to write to that depth, though it shouldn't hurt. Think of writing non-fiction. Just because you are the only person with unlimited access to the world you have contrived doesn't mean whatever you say goes. True, there are freedoms of a writer, but they are limited to the level of belief or acceptance of the audience. You can write for yourself, sure, but if you want to write for other people, then write something that takes them away to a place they believe. Becoming a better writer is also about having insight and empathy with your audience.
3.The ever-present stereotypes and gender roles are like cursing.
This leads me to point number three to becoming a better writer. When authors go to write something believable, they tend to reach out for what they know. This can lead to a heavy reliance on the dreaded stereotypes. As an editor, every time I come across "He gazed into her ocean blue eyes," or "The way her wheat colored hair," I cringe and cut. While accurate descriptions and certain story details are important when writing, how a writer gets those details across is a majority of the art.
Sometimes you can even work within a stereotype, though fresh writing is always better. For example:
a. "To Bill, her eyes shone like diamonds."
b. "The glint of her eyes cut Bill like glass."
There is a clear difference in the writing between both sentences, including mood and characterization, but both refer to "eyes being like a diamond." Again, fresh and inventive writing is better than recycled (not that recycling is bad).
As well as stereotypes, gender roles are out in modern writing. It's one thing if you are writing a story about 1860's England and you put the character in the expectations of the time, but if you are writing an adventure story where the prince saves the damsel in distress (a lovely little stereotype), do not assume that everyone will just accept it as the normal writing. It worked for Disney for a long time, but now that writing is old. Even video games have plenty of strong female and male characters. The same goes for romantic stories, because men fall in love too. Any writer can move out of the respectable Jane Austen witty and lovable female narrator. Don't be afraid to let a Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley take the voice.
Becoming a better writer is, again, about your audience. Write realistically, but believably.
4.A character is a vessel, and it has to be full.
If a person ordered a bottle of wine, and the waiter brought out a half full bottle, the customer would complain it was half empty. The waiter could easily say, "well you didn't give enough information," or "but look at how full it also is, half full!"
As a writer, you should not give anyone that half empty feeling. Defending yourself by relying on the reader having previous information is not a good writing strategy. Sure, you know Bill lost his forth finger on the right in Vietnam, but unless you write that down, no one else will know.
To become a better writer, and one of the best, give your audience enough of everything in your writing.
The difficulty is separating a writer's mind from what ends up on the paper. Another problem is a reliance on physical description to help the reader make assumptions. For example, if I write about a tall, blonde character with a dark tan and a Gucci bag, the reader will make assumptions. So I wrote about a mildly specific person in relation to any other character I could have made, but that is not enough. I have only narrowed the readers focus down to any person who fits that description.
If you assumed I wrote about a girl, which I never specified, it proves that readers and writers alike are trained to make quick assumptions based on details. The writer, unlike the reader, is heavily required to be aware of that, and make sure that the assumptions don't contradict the writing.
5.The importance rests in the details, so don't hide them.
Mystery is alluring. All of us secretly want to be Sherlock Holmes or Monk. On the other hand, great detectives have an eye for very fine details in a world they've lived within their entire lives (even if fictitiously). The reader does not have that luxury while reading what you write. Don't just write "Maria drank her warm wine." What type of wine? Red or white? From the spirits shop down the street or the bottle from her wedding? The details, including brand, give the reader an idea of what the writer has with them. This can determine an overall lookout, perspective and is an enormous piece of characterization.
When you write, imagine yourself in the spot of the narrator, and by that, realize that when you see your roommate take out a bottle of juice, you notice if it is off-brand. A writer notices if the character drinks Yuengling or Pabst.
Becoming a better writer, again, comes with painting a better picture for the audience. The clearer the picture, the better the assumptions, and the more connective the writing.
6.Waste not, want not, because writing is about balance.
Now, detail is surely important when writing, but too much detail will make a reader shut the cover on your freshly printed book. The way to go about your writing is to remember that every word is important. The choice an author makes bends and molds the flow and mood of a story. A great example of how important word choice comes through a look at twentieth century analytic philosophy. It sounds scary on the surface, but philosophers such as Russell and Wittgenstein spent large amounts of time discussing language, meaning and words. Even Russell's theory of descriptions identifies the enormous difference between "the" and "a." This article can't adequately explain, but the point to get across is that each word should be polished and chosen when writing, not used.
Precision doesn't mean a person better write each word only after hours of careful concentration, but it means to be self aware when writing. There should be nothing worthless in a story. If a writer gives a character a broken leg, it should have some purpose. Even if Bill just has to help Maria get up the stairs in the beginning. Give each detail a job. As well, cut details that are unemployed.
To help become a better writer, analyze each part of the story for purpose and content. Even if the writing in a sentence sounds cool or witty, if the writing does not add to the overall story, kill your darlings and cut.
7.Edit until you are writing through the paper.
Editors don't normally get angry about a few small errors, especially in first drafts. Even books get published with grammatical errors. It is about going through as a reader and finding the faults in your own writing. To do this, a writer should wait a week to edit a piece, just to separate herself from the work. Learning the differences in major mistakes (there/their/they're) is necessary to a writer. Any person should learn how a tool works before starting to hammer at wooden planks with a screwdriver.
Mistakes are acceptable (or exceptable). Just know, in almost all cases, a teacher, editor, or general reader can tell the difference between writing that has been edited and one that was written and handed in without even a skimming.
Use your friends or join a class. I understand social anxiety and fear of rejection, but if you love your writing and want it to be its best, you can get over fear. Find a few honest and intelligent writers or normal people with free time and ask for help. Go to online forums (cautiously) for advice on work. Reach out!
Becoming a better writer is about learning you are not the best writer, especially on the first go. Don't paint the walls and then leave the empty cans and splash sheets all over the floor. Clean it up!
8.Nothing as a whole is new, but instead it can be fresh.
Love, zombies, monsters, aliens, robots, androids, monkey-men, mad scientists, the end of the world and man-eating tomatoes; everything has been written in some way or another. Although this can aim directly at science fiction writers, I think it goes for all writers. Every so often a new series will burst open as everyone begins to explore it, but even then it is already being created and becoming antiquated . So how do people still write memorable stories?
It's all about learning to separate plot from everything else.
Sure, plot is important in writing. Characters without anything going on are just mannequins. That doesn't mean plot is the most important part of writing, and in fact, it is one of the least important details to many writers. Conflict comes from characters, or it will if the characters are distinct in writing. Even your best friend doesn't always agree with you. People fight naturally. So instead of relying on the plot to create something new, look to your characters and their interactions. Do you think J.K. Rowling was the first to write about wizards? Of course not, but her characters, they are what readers connect to and remember. The way they interacted with the world around them drew millions of readers. So don't start trying to think of a plot and base an entire story on that alone when writing. Look into where a character is at a time and figure out what he would do, not what a plot dictates he do.
To become a better writer, learn to let characters make decisions more than just plot.
9.Deep is great, but not many people go deep-ocean fishing.
Imitation will inevitably happen in writing. When a person paints a tree, she bases it off of the trees she has seen. There is a difference between painting a palm tree and weeping willow. The painter will paint what she's seen. In turn, a writer tends to write what he's read.
On one hand, that means it is important to read a good amount, and it also means what you read will make a large difference in your writing. I tend to stress classics in English and European literature for starters, but sometimes that can be a problem too. I'm sure at least some others have seen the result: stories written in misused Middle English or with rich, British narrators on a large estate, etc.
So here's the point. It is true you mimic writing from what you read, hopefully for the better. Each writer has to try not to do this too much, because otherwise you end up becoming a copy of writing that is probably better than its copies. Read a lot, more than anyone around you reads. It is studying style and voice and description and everything you want to do: writing. Learn from those writers who have succeeded as well as the failures. See what people like and don't like. Try to find merit in the darkest of works and fault in the greatest writing. Get such a large perception that you are forced to create yourself as an individual writing menagerie or be crushed beneath the pressure of every other style you've read.
To become a better writer, read better writers.
10.Choose a narrator like a person chooses a spouse.
Understand, if you don't know who is telling a story, the inconsistencies will promptly abound. Is it a ghost looking back on her death or a man still dealing with the death of his wife? The Outsiders is a good example, because it is put in a context. Similarly, the movie American History X is a great example of perspective writing. The narrator can be a character, and be careful which you choose. In a large work you can use multiple narrators, or any writer can rely on the third person. Just don't let a story suffer at the hands of a narrator. You are the writer, you are in control, but so is the voice you give your writing.
Is the story about the character's inner struggle? Is he unreliable? Does that gives power to the story, or does that just cause more difficulty? Learn the focus of what you're writing, and then find the voice that will become the best to explore.
Now, these are only a few general tips to become a better writer. Write more, that is the best advice I can give anybody. Listen more, see more, and experience new things. Writing is about telling someone something through words, be it a story about the grandeur of the universe or a recipe for chocolate chunk brownies. Don't be afraid, but also be cautious. Writing is about devotion and creation.
To become a better writer, get invested. Connect to the world, and connect to your work. Even the fact that your are looking for answers is a good start. Now go read/write/explore!