In the last few months, I have dedicated a portion of my time to reading more about writing and looking at different things I can do to be a better writer. The following are things I found that have made a big impression on me on my journey of discovery, and wanted to share them with any who might share the same love of writing that I do. Enjoy!
Read, read, read
Reading is the fastest and best way for a writer to become better at his or her craft. I once heard somewhere that a truly avid writer is always in the middle of reading a book and will never be caught saying, “Um… well, I’m between books right now.” Read everything and anything, but mostly read books that are written by writers for writers. Below are a list of books that I have recently acquired that I have found to be treasure troves of information.
The Art of Fiction by: John Gardner
It explains the techniques of good fiction writing and is quite the humorous read too. He helps explain what fiction is and how you can make it work for you in terms that anyone can understand.
What If? By: Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
An excellent source of writing exercises for a writer at any stage. Do one of these a day or a few every week and get those creative juices flowing!
The College Handbook of Creative Writing by: Robert DeMaria
This is a book that breaks down each element of writing (plot, dialogue, characterization, tone, ect.) and explains how they work and how to use them properly. It’s a great source to learn proper techniques and brush up on ones you’re already good at.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by: Renni Browne and Dave King
If you are like me and have problems with editing your own work, look no further than here. It helps turn your manuscript into a color collage as you edit and pulls all those nasty mistakes to the surface. It will be your new best friend.
Writing Fiction by: Gotham Writers’ Workshop Faculty
It’s another wonderful source of how to write fiction by looking at each element of writing in detail and exercises to put lessons into practice.
The Elements of Style by: William Strunk Jr.
It has everything a writer needs in terms of language and some aspects of style and presentation. It’s a must have for any serious writer.
Manuscript Makeover by: Elizabeth Lyons
This will help you get that manuscript ready for the editor by showing you common techniques, grammar and punctuation mistakes and how to correct them.
Another great source for the serious writer is to read Writer’s Digest. The magazine is full of great articles on what writer’s should know and may want to know. It also holds multiple writing contests throughout the year, offers online writing workshops, and much more. I recently read an article published on the site by Jenna Glatzer entitled What Editor’s Won’t Tell You (But We Will). I found it to be illuminating.
Also, read a variety of things. Don’t stick to one genre or read too much in the area you write or you may find yourself channeling that writer’s style. Have you read any Charles Dickens, Ayn Rand, William Shakespeare, James Clavell, O Henry? Or how about horror, romance, science fiction, pulp fiction, westerns, fantasy, courtroom dramas, ect.? If you haven’t made a reading list, make one now!
Is there a particular genre you don’t like? Why? Look deeper and see what lies beneath. You might dislike it, but it doesn’t stop the writing from being noteworthy, something to think about.
Write, write, write
If you want to be a good writer then you have to write, and you should do it everyday. Even if it sounds bad and you know it will go in the trash, even if it’s a muddle of nothing that grates on your mental ears, do it anyways. This unleashing of the inner trash and emotional bog will help you get past some of the hang-ups that keep you from being a great writer. It also gives you practice. Every word you write gets you that much closer to being better at your craft, because you have to write bad to know what good writing really is like.
Make goals and a schedule
Make up goals that you want to reach as a writer. Think of some short term (that you want to complete in a few weeks, in a few months) and then think of long term (what you want done in the next year, where you want to be in five years). This will keep you focused on where you want to go and give you a driving purpose behind your writing.
Also make up a schedule of when you will be able to write. Time gets away from us all. If you don’t make time for writing, it certainly won’t make time for you. Come up with times that you can spend a solid hour (if you can) or more to write. Some can only manage to do 15 minutes here or there, and that’s fine. Do what you can when you can, but know in advance times of the day that work for you and be ready to write at that time. Have your pen, paper, laptop, or whatever ready to go.
Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy. It eats at your time and leaves you frustrated because of your own shortcomings. It’s what will hold you back from realizing your full potential and if it isn’t reigned in can completely destroy your self confidence and ability to get things done. Most people struggle with it at some time or other, for me I find it a constant battle that goes from glorious peaks to devastating valleys in a dizzying fashion.
A good friend of mine, frootbat31, recently posted a blog on this topic and I found it helpful. She basically spoke of just getting the project started and it would compel you to want to finish the dreaded task. She also posted a link to an article by Timothy A. Pychyl entitled Just Get Started from the web site psychologytoday.com.
Believe in yourself
Believe that you can be a great writer and you will be. It’s all in having the confidence in your own abilities and reaching them by knowing you will get there. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised at how hard we can be on ourselves. For some, like me, it becomes a reflex to always go to that place that says, “You’re no good. Your stuff stinks and you’ll never be what you want to be.” If you imagine yourself successful you will be, if you imagine yourself a failure you will be.
Something I have recently been doing is meditation. It helps calm the mind and releases the stress of everyday. In meditation, you focus on the breath and push all other thoughts from the mind. When you do this, you create a few minutes of complete stress free time that isn’t being constantly bombarded by the thousands of thoughts that go through your mind at any given time. You’d be surprised at the amount of quiet strength you find at doing this for only a few minutes a day.
You can also do this to help you focus on something, like writing or any other project that you want to complete, by taking a few minutes each day to envision yourself actually completing said task(s). It’s about getting your mind in the right place to do what you need to get the task done and allowing yourself to be successful even if for the time being it’s only in your head. What a self-confident boaster that is!
Helping others helps yourself
This one may not be for everyone, but in my experience I have found it immensely helpful when I help others. This has never been truer than in writing. I think some of most revealing moments have been while reaching out to other fellow writers. You can do this in a number of ways; offer to critique other writer’s works, be encouraging when others are feeling down or lost about their work, pass on helpful information that has worked for you (you never know when it might turn the light on for someone). It’s also a great way to get out of a funk and get you writing again!
Join a writing group
I’ve been a member of the Western Maryland Writer’s group for a little over two years now and am glad for every movement I’ve spent, at meetings. It has really been the catalyst that moved my writing from a passing fancy to something I would love to do as a career. Every meeting I attend motivates me to write.
If you haven’t already, finding a writing group is a must to any serious writer. If you are lucky enough to find a good group, it will be an invaluable resource to tap into. A group not only supplies important information about writing, but also acts as a support group through the good and bad times of writing. Having a place you can go with questions, concerns, or simply a shoulder to cry on makes all the difference in the world.
Keep challenging yourself
Never be satisfied with the status quo. If you feel comfortable with your writing then mix it up a little, try writing in a different genre than usual, write from a point of view you’ve haven’t written before (male, female, a dog, a table), or focus on a trouble area (dialogue, plot, characterization, meeting deadlines). It not only helps to push you, but keeps things interesting. It isn’t until the limits are pushed that you know what you are truly capable of doing.