Every writer I know wants to be a better writer. Who wouldn’t want to write perfectly polished first drafts that go straight from manuscript form to the New York Times bestseller list? It would save a lot of time and heartache.
Unfortunately that is not the case. Whether you’re a seasoned pro with a bookshelf of bestsellers or a budding author struggling to finish your inaugural first draft, there is still room for improvement because, like people, our language is always changing.
You don’t have to go back to college or attend an online class to improve your writing. Achieving this is rather easy, but it takes discipline and a willingness to follow through. Here are some easy ways to improve your writing, regardless of your skill level.
1. Own Your Style – Grammar and spelling are the two things readers nitpick the most when reading your work. Some contemporary literary types will tell you it’s okay to start a sentence with the word “and” or “but” and end a sentence with a preposition such as “for” or “at“.
While the narrator in my Treasure Pines series might state something like “And for the most part, it was true.“, you will never, ever hear, “But she wasn’t sure where she put it at.” The only time you should use these things in your novel is in dialogue.
2. Ditch the Passive Voice – Passive voice weakens literary writing. (It also fills it with zombies.) While passive voice is more accepted in conversational writing, like dialogue or blog posts, try to keep it out of your book. A lot of people don’t know when they’re using passive voice, but this video helps you learn how to recognize it. Don’t let the zombies win!
3. Read – The best writers are also readers. Reading helps you know what you want in your own writing. More importantly, it helps you know what you want to avoid.
4. Join a Writing Group – Look for a group on a site like Meetup or search on your social media network of choice. Put the word out there that you’re looking for other writers. You could even start your own group. Trust me. If you build a writing group, writers will join.
5. Do You Plot or Pants? – During a Facebook conversation with Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of Midwives, I asked him about his outline process. He said he doesn’t use one. He’s a total “pantser”, writing by the seat of his pants from Page 1 until The End. It’s okay to be a pantser and for some, like Chris Bohjalian, it works great.
Other authors prefer to outline. I’m one of these people. While I’ve pants’ed every short story I’ve ever written (and don’t see that changing), I’m a die hard plotter when it comes to writing anything over a couple of thousand words. J. K. Rowling is also a plotter.
If you’re a die-hard plotter, change things up and try pantsing. And if you’re a pantser, then try a loose outline, such as a mind map or a timeline. You don’t have to stick with it, but trying something new can take your writing to the next level.
6. Find an Editor – Finish your first draft and put it through a site like After the Deadline to get initial feedback on your writing. Accept that your first draft is probably 35% total crap that’s never going to make it to the final version that goes to print, and find yourself an editor. HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS would never have reached the beta reading stage without the help of Sheila from Sage Editing.
7. Ditch Your Laptop – Silence your phone. Go somewhere with horrible cell service and no WiFi. Take a notebook and a couple of ink pens, and write. Write whatever pops into your head. Make lists. Write about what you see, hear, and smell. You’ll be surprised at what detail you can add to your writing by doing this. As much as I love my laptop, this is one of my favorite things to do.
What other methods to improve your writing would you add to this list? Is there any you disagree with? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!