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8 Ways to Improve Your Writing
To start things off, I am not an accomplished novelist, journalist or poet. So far, my professional writing career has only gone as far as a blog and two media internships. However, since the beginning of my Journalism major and creative writing minor, I have learned a lot about the process of writing and what this passion means to me creatively. I have not only learned that there is a future career lying ahead of me, but that writing is something that helps me in a therapeutic way. It puts my thoughts somewhere far enough from my head that I can’t dwell on them, while keeping them close enough to explore once again. That, and there is nothing more exciting than creating a story with no idea of which destination it is going to end. So, whether you are trying to develop your writing as a simple hobby or for career purposes, I’d like to offer some thoughts and tips that really helped sharpen my skills and boost my confidence as a writer.
Write What You Love AND Know
Many writers want to write about crime, war and the outlaw lifestyle because those topics are not only fascinating, but they also sell. I remember when I first started writing short stories; I wanted to write about motorcycle gangs. Perhaps because that was when I had just started watching Sons of Anarchy. That was about as far as my research went: watching a popular television show. Needless to say, those stories ended up reading exactly as they had – a college kid making up fables about motorcycle gangs – because I knew little to nothing about that lifestyle.
To prepare for his book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Hunter S. Thompson did his homework. This included living with the notorious gang for over a year and actually diving into the MC lifestyle. His book came across as authentic because everything surrounding it was authentic: the people, his experience and the facts.
So what I’m trying to say with this is that the best writing comes across when the reader can feel like the author knows what they’re talking about, not taking guesses at what a certain experience would be like. If you want to write a war story, you either have to experience war itself or spend a fair amount of time talking with someone who has. Reading memoirs and watching documentaries can only take you so far. Find something that you love that happens to be part of your lifestyle, you'll be surprised what can end up being a great story.
Join a Workshop
Thinking back, I really believe that my writing improved the most through workshop classes rather than the writing lectures. These classes consisted of 15-20 students and each session we would distribute three of the students’ pieces and spend the entire time talking about them. Being put on the spot like this makes you want to write better because you have an entire room of people to impress, rather than just a professor. Having that many people, with different opinions and tastes, critique your writing not only helps point out small little glitches with your writing, but it also gives you insight on what things strike the readers’ eyes the most. It’s not just the feedback that you get that helps; having the responsibility of critiquing someone else’s work allows you to evaluate your own work more efficiently.
Read, Read and Read Some More
No matter what form of creativity you delve into, everybody needs influences. A guitar player who has never listened to music before can't pick up the instrument and start playing beautifully. The same thing applies to writing. If you want to write short stories, read short stories. If you want to write novels, read novels. Take note of the things that you thought worked and things that you didn’t necessarily care for. Don’t try to mimic your favorite author. Combine the qualities of many authors that inspire you and use them to spice up your unique writing style.
Write Something Every Day
No matter how natural writing may feel to you, it’s a skill that must be practiced and honed on a regular basis. You don’t have to add to that novel or short story that you have been working on every day, but just try to write something. If you don’t have any ideas for a story that day, just write your thoughts down in a journal. As long as you are somehow exercising the process of turning thoughts into words on a regular basis, your writing will improve.
Don't Compare or Contrast Your Writing with Other Authors
I've always been told to never compare my faults or accomplishments with those of other people. I think that this applies to every aspect of life, including writing. Don’t hold your work side to side with the accomplished writing of an author like Stephen King. It will only discourage you. It’s just as stupid as comparing the work of Stephen King to Tom Clancy. One is not better than the other; they are just different writers with different styles. You can surely use other authors as inspiration, but don’t evaluate your work based off what they have accomplished with theirs.
Try to Feel the Emotion You're Conveying
Just like with my point of writing what you know and love, you should be able to understand the emotions that you are trying to convey. If your character is angry, you should know what it is like to be angry and be able to incorporate that into your character’s actions and dialogue. Now I’m not saying to go so far as to leave your significant other so you can know what it feels like to be depressed. But try to relate with the emotion that you’re going for. Think about something that makes you feel that way. One thing I do is I put on a certain genre of music that conveys that emotion for me and start writing.
What Do You Think?
What's your opinion on listening to music while writing?
Be Prepared to Edit and Change Things
Now you should know the process of proofreading and spell checking quite well. However, another thing to keep in mind is that editing also applies to the story itself: facts, dialogue, descriptions, action and structure. There could be a scene that you fell in love with that either needs to be condensed or deleted because it doesn’t work well with the rest of the story. When you finish a draft of your story, look at it as an accomplishment, not a completed project. No matter how perfect and complete it may feel, there is always something to make it better. Think of what else the story needs and what really does not have to be in there.
Hank Moody from Californication said, “...being a writer blows. It’s like having homework every day for the rest of your life.” I pointed out that quote not only because it’s a hilariously pessimistic way of looking at writing, but it also points out the thought of writing as a chore. For the majority of us, mowing the lawn is not exactly fun because we have to do it and we smell bad afterwards. If you hate it enough, you’ll end up with patches of long grass where you didn’t feel like going back and cutting. Writing is the same way; if you do it because you have to – whether it’s for work or school – it will result in something patchy and unappealing. But if you write because you love it, you can create something beautiful and special.