Writing is something we all do, every day of our lives. We compose emails, social media posts, write heartfelt letters to friends and family or crisp missives to business associates. Some people are gifted wordsmiths, delighting everyone with their talent, and yet they don’t think of themselves as possessing any special writing skills. Others know they’re writers, because they are published authors or popular bloggers. No matter how⎯or if, you see yourself as a contender in the literary world, you can’t escape the fact that you are a writer. And in the course of writing day to day, you’ve collected valuable tips and strategies for being better at it. If you’re like me, you’re always thrilled to find a new piece of advice, or a tip or technique that you can add to your arsenal. Here are seven of my favorite tips for being a better writer:
Don’t dream about it, agonize over it, or talk about it. Do it. Writing, like standup comedy or skydiving, is best done by doing. Sure, you want to be prepared and well-informed about the risks and benefits prior to the experience, but don’t hold back and obsess on every little detail of planning and preparation before you get started, or you run the risk of getting bogged down in perfectionism and the resulting procrastination that can block your process. Instead, jump in and go crazy. Really let yourself go, leave your ego in the backseat and don’t let it drive. Your process will guide you, and the process of writing generates new ideas as you go.
Write with an audience in mind. When you write to a potential reader, you automatically become more conversational, flexible and realistic in your dialogue and description. Be intimate. I visualize a friend who knows me well and who would never judge me, but will be honest and call me on my B.S. And this friend is funny; gets my sense of humor. When I do this, it’s easy to get into the flow. Personally, I write to an audience of one at a time. I never envision a collective audience of readers or I tend to be stilted or phony.
Make use of tools that improve quality and work with an editor. Spelling, grammar, correct punctuation and illustrious vocabulary are all available through a variety of channels. The internet has brought all the manuals of style and reference books to within a click’s distance. Word processing programs have spell check and every other possible device to ensure excellence. Keep a thesaurus and dictionary on hand. Beyond that stage, work with an editor. Every writer needs a second set of eyes, or as many sets of eyes as possible to read, proofread and then do it all again.
Write about what you know, and what you love. When you’re writing, you’re communicating your innermost feelings and ideas on the page. You want it to sizzle and reverberate with passion and authenticity. A writing project is intimate, it’s your partner. Choose to write about something you can live with. When I wrote Never Give in to Fear, I had to wake up with it in the morning and go to sleep with it at night. Some of the things I described in my memoir were painful to recount. But I knew my story, and I love the fact that I’ve come back. The telling required me reliving some very traumatic experiences from long ago, but I knew it was necessary to relive those things in order for the description to hit the page, genuine and raw. I lived in peace with the book, because I’d already gone through a process of forgiving, making amends and creating a new lifestyle, so I felt safe through it all, in that present moment.
Associate with positive people, and get rid of any negative influences. Writing is a work of the soul. You want to take very good care of yourself and be sure that your environment is supportive. Don’t listen to naysayers who speak from their own fear. Instead, stick with the winners: positive thinkers, preferably writers who share the experience and will offer honest feedback, share pointers, and lead by example.
Description and detail, action and excitement are essential. Paint the scene with your words. Let the reader experience the entire moment, hour, day, or year through all five senses. Bring it all to life. The more detailed the description, the better. The character jumped in the car? What kind of car? What was the make, the year, the condition of the chassis, how did the engine sound? Did it sputter, or purr? Action verbs create action in your story. Avoid passive voice at all costs. Keep your description fit and muscular, if it gets soft and flabby it won’t carry your story.
Never give in to fear. Banish fear from your writing environment. Fear, more than any other obstacle, can hold you back from the fun, the satisfaction and the glorious discovery that writing brings. Whenever the scaredy-cat, monster-under-the-bed doubts and negative statements rise up in your consciousness, recognize them for the irrational, creativity-crushing lies that they are and push them aside. Don’t be afraid to write badly, you can always go back later and edit out any parts you don’t like. The main thing is to write, write, write until you find your rhythm, attitude and voice. Just get that first outline down, and paddle it out into the waves of creation, and keep riding those waves till you get your first draft done. After that, you hone and refine and polish and destroy and create some more until you have what you recognize as your work.
Here’s a quote from acclaimed author Frank Herbert’s Dune series: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” I love that quote. I hope you do, too. And I hope your writing will grow, multiply, amaze, and thrill your readers. Enjoy the process.