5 Tips To Improve Your Writing
Hello, lovelies! I’ve been wanting to make this post for quite some time now, particularly with NaNoWriMo creeping up, but I haven’t really been sure I’m the proper person to make this post. And, of course, it’s already been made multiple times elsewhere on the internet. But then— who is qualified to make this post? A professor? A published author? A frequent, popular blogger? Why not me?
Alternatively, you can Google some tips for writing, too. But they’re very general writing tips about how to be a more productive writer, on the assumption that the more you write the better you become. In theory, this is true. The more you do something the better you become. In practice, well, I can tell you that no matter how much I play volleyball, I’m still terrible.
If all you’re doing is writing constantly without recognizing the mistakes you’re making, then your writing isn’t going to grow or get any better. So, with that in mind I’ve compiled a list of things that have helped me to grow leaps and bounds in the space of only a few months.
- Read, read, read. Okay, so this one does’t seem like it’s anything to do with writing, but honestly, if you’re not reading, you’re missing out. A good writer is a well-read writer. You should be just as impassioned about reading as you are with your writing and all those books will also help you to develop a sense of how you should be writing. What works? What doesn’t work? What sounds awkward in your head? Was that paragraph too wordy for you, and did you skip it? These are all things you come to understand through reading.
- Don’t be afraid to edit. Your first draft is the basis for something beautiful. That does not mean it is beautiful. Recognize that all that flowery language will likely need to be cut down and made clear. That scene you absolutely love, where Person A and Person B are reminiscing in a scented bath, all nekkid and glorious? That’s all needless backstory and glistening skin, so you’ll have to kill that little darling. Love them and cherish them… and then murder them.
“Love them and cherish them… and then murder them.”
- Take the criticism… with a grain of salt. Critique partners are aaaaaamaziiiiiing. I can’t say it enough. Having someone who is willing to read your work and point out areas that are confusing to them, areas that may need improvement, is such a boon. They’ll help you out before your work ever reaches an editor and point out those pesky plot holes you may have missed paving. Be careful! Someone who says they can find nothing wrong with your writing is about as useful as the person who says, “This is crap,” with no other input. Be mindful of the kind of advice and feedback you’re getting and don’t feel you have to take every single suggestion to heart. It’s still your work— you have final say.
- Check for passive voice. I’m bad at this one, but I’m getting better. My first few chapters dripped with passive voice and I didn’t even realize it until it was pointed out to me (remember what I said about critique partners?) So, there’s active voice and passive voice— what’s the difference? I could explain, but I’ll just use this handy definition and example from Dictionary.com:
One of the two “voices” of verbs… A verb is in the passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. For example, in “The ball was thrown by the pitcher,” the ball (the subject) receives the action of the verb, and was thrown is in the passive voice. The same sentence cast in the active voice would be, “The pitcher threw the ball.” Note: It is usually preferable to use the active voice wherever possible; because it gives a sense of immediacy to the sentence.
- Check for filtering language. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of this. *raises hand at once* I’m probably the worst with filtering language. Things like, he felt, he saw, he thought, etc. Even in third person, this is very distancing and takes a reader out of the scene. The reader already knows whose head we’re in (or should know) so there’s no reason to add it in. Instead of saying, “He saw the light shine through the doorway.” try “The light shone through the doorway.” Bonus? This helps lowers word count and leaves room for more awesome.
So, there we have it. Want to be a better writer? Try the above. I’m 99% certain these five things I’ve listed will improve your writing. Want to see if it’ll improve it immediately? Read your work and check for passive voice and filtering language. Here’s a list of filtering to get you started— how many crop up in your work? Did you know they were there?
- to see
- to realize
- to seem
- to watch
- to wonder
- to think
- to feel
Want to know my worst ones? To realize and to feel. Those always get me. Bah! But combing through my manuscripts searching for them has really improved my writing and I’m more aware of them as I write, too. My word count dropped and I’ve suddenly got room to expand on things! Maybe one of those darlings I murdered can be resurrected and made useful.
These are habits I picked up while padding word count meters to reach goals, which ties into my previous post on the ugly truth of word count goals. In trying to meet them, I tossed in as much padding as I could— how can you make a sentence longer? Filtering words and passive voice. But those aren’t good habits to have and breaking them can be tough. I did this for years. I wish I hadn’t. But, you live and learn.
Oh! And if you’re wondering how you can go about finding a critique partner, check #CPMatch on Twitter, or check out WendyHeard.com to participate and be matched! (Seriously, Wendy Heard is a godsend, an angel in disguise, I swear it.)
So here’s to learning, lovelies! Have a spoopy day!