Improving Your Writing Skills
by Nadine Ducca
If I knew then what I know now…
Back when I was a teen, fiction writing meant mixing some words together and finito, another completed scene! Writing meant giving my imagination a free pass and seeing where it would take me (the result usually ended up drenched in purple prose). I thought that my writing would improve if I simply practiced more. I guess my logic was on the right track, but something was missing. How can you improve by yourself if you don’t have anyone to guide you? Constant practice is essential in becoming a successful author, but it’s not the only thing you should rely on. After a couple years of serious writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are four basic pieces of advice every aspiring author should know:
1) Read everything: Good books, bad books. If you can discern between good and bad literature, great! Don’t plagiarize other authors, but pay attention to how they show a scene, how they express the story on the page. See where and how they end their chapters. What moves you? Why? Go back and revise the scene and find the parts that especially caught your attention. What about the dialogue? And the nuances hidden in the action?
2) Study: We use textbooks when studying languages, chemistry and mathematics, so why not use textbooks to study how to write? Why not sign up for a course? If you are an aspiring author but have trouble finding where to start, enrolling in a writing course can help boost your confidence and keep you motivated—as well as guide you in the right direction! An added bonus of taking a course is that you might meet other people who share your passion, and there’s nothing better than that! You can also find oodles (don’t you just love that word?) of writing tips and information on the Internet. There are hundreds of blogs run by authors who do everything they can to help anyone with an itch for writing. The Twitter hashtag #writetip can also help you find links to interesting writing advice. If you would like some recommendations on books for honing your craft, there are several posts on my blog:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
The Emotion Thesaurus
Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint
Starve Better (guest review by Steven Young)
3) Share: Friends and family can feel like either a blessing or a curse. Some will indiscriminately love everything you do, while others will be critical down to the final period. Neither situation will help you grow much as an author. In my opinion, the only people who can offer you real support are those who have no direct relationship with you or the story—but a great desire to help. “Where can I find these glorious people you speak of?” you might ask. Shed your shyness and join a writing group. Critique Circle is a fabulous one (you can find me there). Put your work in front of CC’s critical eye and get ready for a whirlpool of constructive feedback. But beware! You have to be prepared to accept criticism. Not everybody is going to like what you submit, and you have to understand that. However, every critique is done with the best intentions, so don’t immediately disregard a comment because it makes you uncomfortable. If you join a writing group, you also have to be ready to give critiques. I’ve learned as much giving critiques as receiving them, which leads me to my final point.
4) Help others: Don’t keep it all for yourself! Giving back is part of the beauty of sharing your writing. Give critiques, read other authors’ work, and be kind and helpful. You won’t just be helping your peers; you’ll also grow as a writer.You wouldn’t imagine how much you can learn from critiquing other people’s work. It’s usually easier to catch mistakes in someone else’s writing. Let’s face it: you know your own story so well that you actually have greater chances of letting things slip by you. It happens to all of us: we read what we think is there—not what’s really there. By critiquing, you become more aware of possible issues that might appear in your writing. For example, as a critiquer, I’ve encountered submissions where the point of view shifts drastically mid-scene, or where the verb tenses hop back and forth between past and present. Because I’ve seen these issues in other people’s work, and because I’ve pointed them out and offered suggestions to improve them, I’ve become more aware of them, and never let them slip into my own text. The best part of this is that you help out another writer. You forge a relationship; a friendship. And that, folks, is priceless.
What do you think? What else can authors do to improve their writing? I’d love to read your suggestions!
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Genre – Science Fiction/Fantasy
Rating – Adult