From beginners sitting down to write their first story to experienced authors working on a third or fourth book, everyone has the potential to improve their writing skills. That’s part of the challenge and joy of creative work. If you are serious about becoming a better writer, you will always be looking for opportunities to grow. Here’s a list of expert writing tips and tricks to guide your journey.
1. Write less, but do it often
In other words: write a little bit every day. When you’re trying to develop a solid writing practice, short, frequent writing sessions are more effective than long, infrequent sessions. That’s because mastering a skill is all about developing a habit, which means repetition and discipline. To get in the habit of writing, block out time each day (even 30 minutes) and make it a priority.
2. Stay focused
Distraction is a persistent and powerful enemy when you are cultivating any creative practice, so you’ve got to train your focus. Once you settle into a writing session, resist the urge to get up for coffee, water the plants, check emails, or scroll through social media. Even a small disruption can take away precious minutes of attention and interrupt your flow. For the best results, remove the biggest temptations before you begin writing (silence your phone and close any open windows on your computer).
3. Read as much as possible
Successful writers have clocked countless hours studying other authors. If you want to become a better writer, you should read a variety of books, make notes when you find writing you love, and think about what excites you. Also, notice what causes you to lose interest in books—the language? the plot? the characters? Getting familiar with different styles of writing will help you discover new techniques and develop your own voice as a writer.
4. Organize your ideas
Though some writing sessions will be more open-ended, make sure you are writing with a purpose before you get too far along on a project. That could mean creating an outline and following it as you write. Or you may finish a few pages and then review the storyline or main arguments for gaps in logic. The trick is to zoom out from your pages periodically to ensure that you are organizing your ideas in a clear, meaningful way.
5. Set goals
Writing goals look different for every author depending on experience, genre, deadlines, and discipline. If you’re serious about becoming a better writer, it’s important to set goals for yourself and stick to them. Maybe it’s reaching a minimum page count or word count each day, or finishing a chapter by the end of the week. Just keep your goals realistic and measurable, so you can build momentum. The more progress you see, the more confident you’ll become.
6. Use strong descriptive language
First off, eliminate clichés (happy as a clam, nerves of steel, cotton candy clouds, etc.). These overly familiar phrases will quickly bore readers. Second, avoid passive verbs (he was given an ultimatum, hard work is being done, she was overjoyed), and replace them with active verbs (his boss delivered an ultimatum, the chefs worked hard, she squealed with joy). Always look for ways to reveal a character’s personality by describing their actions rather than explaining emotions (She meticulously arranged the spices while waiting for the phone call.)
7. Avoid editing as you go
While you definitely want to reserve time for editing and find readers who can provide feedback, the most effective time to make revisions is not mid-sentence. Writing and editing require different mindsets. Use momentum to your advantage, and go with the flow when you’re in the writing zone. Allow yourself to finish the draft before dissecting it.
8. Reward yourself
On days when you have longer writing sessions, be sure to give your mind a rest every few hours so you can recharge. The last thing you want to do is write to the point of total exhaustion and frustration (i.e. burnout). The solution? When you meet a daily, weekly, or monthly goal, take a moment to reward yourself. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Treat yourself to a snack. Building positive reinforcement into your practice will keep you motivated, and in the long run, help you become a better writer.
9. Stop worrying
Everyone has fears, doubts, and insecurities about how their work will be received—but all that worry will not make you a better writer. If you start spinning out or feeling negative, take deep breaths, pick up a book, go for a jog, and reset. Finding ways to quiet the critical voice in your head will help you make room for more creative and productive thoughts.
10. Embrace challenges and take risks
Many great works of literature exist because the authors took a creative risk or defied expectations. If you’re in a rut, try writing at a new time of day or in a new location. Explore writing in a different style or genre. Increase your daily quota a few days a week. Dedicate one writing session a week to creative writing exercises to keep your language skills fresh. By challenging yourself, you just might discover a new technique or project idea.
11. Ask for feedback
It’s hard to ask for help, and even harder to hear feedback on writing you care about. Learning how to accept constructive criticism may be one of the trickiest parts of growing as a writer, but revision is key and no one can do it alone. We are all too close to our work to evaluate it thoroughly and objectively. Find a peer, a professional editor, or a writing group to help you revise—and see what a difference it makes.
12. Write what you love
Aspiring writers often ask, How do you become an effective author? It takes time and effort to build new skills and productive habits, but it’s also crucial to write what you love. When you feel strongly about your subject, it shows. So another great question is, Are you excited to see how your story unfolds? If the answer is no, chances are your reader won’t be interested either. If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track! Stay in the moment while you’re writing, and let yourself enjoy the process.
Are you wrapping up a writing project and ready to take the next step? Find a book-making tool to fit your project.