You’re here because you want to write. You want to write good things. Things that resonate. Things that matter. But to do that, you have to write them. And writing’s hard—don’t worry, we feel the same way.
It’s why we’ve compiled eight tips to help broaden your knowledge of the craft, and make writing that next awesome project a little bit easier. This article’s long, but then, so is a novel: we promise it’ll be worth the read.
Speaking of reading. . .
1. Read Religiously
It’s our first tip. Good writers are good readers. Period. How do you know if your work deserves to go on the bookstore shelf if you don’t know what’s on the shelf? Consider this. Someone comes up to you and says:
“Hey, I have this super cool idea for a new story. It’s about a girl that lives in this dystopian society that’s been divided into districts. Her district is really bad; to help feed her family, she sneaks out to hunt stuff in the woods. In this world, every four years two people from each district are thrown into a contest where they have to kill each other, and the winner—”
By now, you’re thinking, dude, you’re describing The Hunger Games, it’s been done! If you didn’t think this, you just proved our point—you need to read more.
But not just more. If you want to write fantastic stuff, you need to read fantastic stuff. In all genres. Otherwise, you get tunnel vision. It’s like only eating cake—Yeah, cake’s good, but if you tried something new, like cookies, you could make a cookie cake, or a cake with chocolate chips. . .okay, maybe we just want cake.
But seriously. Read Literary Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Poetry, Short Stories—devour everything you can. There’s so many tasty ingredients out there to help you bake your own writing cake. Oh, side note: we’re offering a free Fiction Cake booklet right now. Okay, no more cake.
By reading everything, not only will you help yourself, but you’ll help support your fellow writers. It’s part of being a good literary citizen.
Along with reading, you need to. . .
2. Write. A Lot.
That’s right. It seems obvious. If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Pro tennis players say to be a master, you need to hit at least a million balls. Writing’s the same. Write a million words. A million words is about ten books. Brandon Sanderson, a bestselling fantasy author, wrote ten books before he got published. We’re not trying to discourage you. Your first book could be a masterpiece—but a masterpiece still has to be created. We’re talking to you, Writer-Who-Writes-the-First-Chapter-and-Moves-on-to-Something-Else.
But don’t just write books. Our reading advice applies here: Write everything. Write short stories: it’ll teach you about length, arc, and structural integrity. Write poetry: it’ll teach you about transitions and sounds of language. Write travel articles: it’ll teach you how to craft beautiful descriptions.
Write different genres, too. Same advice we gave for reading. Maybe you only like writing Fantasy. Well, try writing Romance. You might be really good at it. I started off writing fantasy. Guess what? My fantasy sucked. It was bland, cliche, and predictable. Then I wrote about a guy who breaks stuff in a grocery stuff, and it got published.
Genre’s a problem word, though. Don’t feel like you need to conform to what ‘Romance’ is, or ‘Fantasy.’ The cool part about writing and reading different stuff is you can blend them: Write a Sci-Fi-Horror-Romance. Write a Poem-Fantasy, with a dash of Mystery. Break the wheel. Make a Carrot-Mustard cake. Okay, don’t do that.
You’re smart. You probably knew these two tips already.
But this next tip you probably didn’t. . .
3. Craft Commitment
There’s no better way to improve as a writer than to consume stuff ABOUT writing.
Read How to Write Books: The Artful Edit, The First Five Pages, The Emotional Craft of Writing, On Writing.
Listen to Writing Podcasts: Writing Excuses, Grammar Girl, Inside Creative Writing.
Go to Writing Events: conferences, author readings, poetry open-mic nights.
Learning about the writing craft is IMPORTANT if you want to be a better writer. By diving into these, you’ll learn Master-level Concepts from published authors, editors, and agents. Stuff like How to Establish Effective Character Arcs, Scenes & Beats, and Structuring Metaphorical Integrity.
And the best part? Most of this stuff is free. It’s like having a master key to the Writing Treasure Cave you didn’t know existed.
This next tip is a bit strange. . .
4. Be A Writing Serial Killer.
Stay with us here.
So, you love your work. We know because we love ours, too. Those characters you ripped out of Imagination Land and brought to life. That awesome setting with millennials of history, or a cool magic system. That insane plot twist in Chapter Eight. All that stuff you spend hours thinking about, outlining, typing, deleting.
Love is why we write in the first place: the problem is we can love things that are broken. And love is blind. It blinds us to our broken writing. You need to learn to look past your blind-love to the raw writing lurking beneath.
You need to be a writing serial killer.
Detach yourself from your work. Treat that draft like your next kill. Scenes are exposed necks; the plot is a beating heart—what’s the best place to cut? Toss that story on the butcher block and go to town. That totally-awesome-but-irrelevant-hobby you gave your character? Murder it with glee. Shed no tears. Jack the Ripper didn’t show mercy, and neither should you.
Kill what you must for the good of your story. Do you know how much murdering F. Scott Fitzgerald did to The Great Gatsby? He cut the throats of the most beautiful sentences. Executed entire chapters. Butchered hundreds of pages. And you know what? We think The Great Gatsby turned out pretty okay.
You’re probably thinking: Well, how do I know where to cut?
The answer. . .
5. Find Readers
Look for beta readers. Join writing workshops. Convince Grandma to read that steamy new sex scene in your work in progress—okay, don’t do that. The point is, you need other eyes on your work.
It’s part of that love is blind thing. You’re the creator, the one who spent hours serenading the words, falling in love under the moonlight. In the face of that, you can’t recognize that they’re a toxic, terrible person. Or you don’t want to. Or you know it, but you can’t accept it because of that moonlight thing. New eyes, like an honest friend, will tell you what you’ve been ignoring and give you the strength to change.
Not only will you read other people’s new stuff, which makes you a better writer and literary citizen, but other eyes on your work is cool. They’ll tell you how wonderful that sentence you spent hours crafting is. How real your characters feel.
And they’ll tell you when something’s broken.
Which means. . .
6. Learn to Love Feedback
You’re smart. You’ve written all kinds of stuff. Good stuff. But remember the ‘Love Blinds You to Broken Writing’ thing up above? Well, sometimes it isn’t love blinding you: you’re just blind.
Luckily, you can listen.
Unfortunately, you’re not a perfect writer. None of us are. Eventually, your beta reader, workshop partner, or Grandma is going to say something bad about your work. But don’t don your Entitled Author Armor and howl about ‘artistic license’ when someone says, ‘This plot line doesn’t make sense.’
But I spent hours on that plot line! They’re attacking me! No, they’re helping you. If you’re a Writing Serial Killer, it’s like they’re letting you know you missed the carotid artery; they aren’t saying you’re a bad serial killer, they just want to help make you a better one.
So take that feedback. Own it. Use it to craft a more awesome plot line next time. Use it to be a better Writing Serial Killer.
But what if the plot line DOES make sense, and the reader’s feedback is wrong?
Don’t worry, this will happen. It’s why you need to. . .
Analyzing isn’t just for market trends and finance charts. It’s a writer skill—a big one. First, analyze your work as best you can. Identify what’s awesome. Identify what’s broken. Then, when Grandma or that workshop guy says something, analyze what they say. What do they mean? Did you know this already?
Is it a specific critique, like a character inconsistency? Or is it general, like how you use an adverb for every dialogue tag (don’t do that, by the way).
Let’s pretend Grandma said to you, ‘Hey, on page three, you said this character is blue, but on page four, you said they’re red. What gives, sunny?’
Analyze. Maybe you made a mistake and your character should always be blue. Maybe they should always be red. Wait, would red be better for this character? Or blue? Is it a problem if they go from blue to red? Maybe they were supposed to. Maybe blue to red is the character’s arc.
After identifying if it’s a problem or not, ask yourself this: Why is Grandma pointing this out? Maybe Grandma genuinely helped you—or maybe Grandma doesn’t like blue. Maybe she wants to read stories about red stuff. Here, Grandma is imposing what SHE wants your story to be, not trying to fix a real problem.
If you’re good at analyzing, you’ll know the difference. Maybe blue to red is fine. Nothing needs to be fixed.
But don’t just analyze your work. Analyze everything. If you watch a movie, analyze why you like it. Is it because of the atmosphere? The unicorns? The character’s slide from hero to villain?
Analyze why don’t you like it, too. Is it the obvious foreshadowing? Start off too slow? The unicorns?
By analyzing why something is good or bad, you’ll know what’s good and bad in YOUR writing. BOOM. You’re already a better writer.
Also, analyzing is one of the major skills literature and creative writing majors develop in school. Becoming a better analyzer is why your teachers made you write that essay you hated.
Speaking of school. . .
8. Pursue A Degree in Creative Writing
It’s our last tip.
School’s not for everybody. We get it. It’s a lot of money, time, and effort. But we also know that it’s a sure-fire way to make you a better writer, so it has to be mentioned.
By going to school, you’ll develop all the major skills—analyzing, reading, writing—and you’ll get access to workshops and beta readers with other writers at your skill level. You’ll receive advice from published, award-winning, famous authors. You’ll end it with an English degree that can earn you a job and some serious money. In fact, people with English degrees are now considered more employable than people with engineering equivalents.
You don’t necessarily need to do an English degree, either. What’s cool about Creative Writing graduate programs is that they’ll take everybody. Scientists. Psychologists. Historians. They want good stories, no matter who’s telling them.
So go to school for whatever you want. Then do Creative Writing.
Or don’t. Luckily, writing is the most accessible hobby on Earth. You don’t need to commit anything to it but time.
WHICH MEANS YOU SHOULD CLOSE THIS ARTICLE AND GET WRITING.
We believe in you.