11 ways to hone your writing craft

11 ways to hone your writing craft | Witty Title Here

No matter how long you’ve been writing, or how good you are at it, there’s always room for growth.

I find that comforting, as I do the idea that no matter how bursting with love your heart may be, there’s always room for more. (D’aww.) With that in mind, here are 11 ways to continue honing your craft as a writer, whether you’re just starting out or have been going at it for years.

1. Read widely

In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Better keep a steadily rotating stack of books on your bedside table, then. While you’re at it, get a library card. Read a lot in your preferred genre, and read books by authors who don’t look like you. Read books with challenging prose. Read books with short, snappy chapters. You’ll be inspired in ways you can’t predict, and your writing will be better for it.

2. Reread

Wait, what? Yup. Turns out you unlock the secrets of great writing when you treat that page-turning drama like the textbook from which your teacher lifted all the test questions verbatim. Read once for enjoyment, then read a second time to study the tricks the author has used to switch perspective, go back in time or drop a major plot twist. A great writer will do these things without you even noticing what’s happening. Go back in search of those pivotal moments or scenes, read slowly and pinpoint the exact sentence or sections that did the work and dissect them word for word. Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work, especially when you make this a regular practice.

“Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work.”

3. Expand your vocabulary

If you read constantly, this will come easily. Don’t just fly over words you’re unfamiliar with. Study them. Context is helpful up to a point, but be sure to look up the words you don’t know or jot them down so you can do it later. (Then write down the definitions so you don’t forget.) You can also check out sites like Otherwordly for a daily dose of unusual words. Won’t it be wonderful to use serein in a sentence? When you learn a new word, you start to see it everywhere, and that’s when its meaning finally soaks in.

4. Seek feedback

When you’ve tweaked and blinked at a piece for too long, it can be near impossible to know if you’re hitting your mark. If you’ve hit that point, it’s best to hand your story or article over to someone who can look at it with fresh eyes. Find a trusted teacher, mentor or friend who will read your work closely and give helpful, honest feedback. Seek out people who read a lot and will say more than just “it’s good!” If you’re looking for feedback on one thing in particular, say so, but be open to suggestion elsewhere, too.

5. Know your weaknesses

What part of the writing process do you dread, or where do you most often get stuck? Instead of avoiding the problem (or getting exasperated every time you write), identify what gives you the most trouble in your writing. If it’s spelling or grammar, seek out a tutor, have a friend proofread your work or read up on Grammar Girl’s quick and dirty tips. If making sense of a rambling, disorganized first draft gives you problems every time you write, spend the extra time mind-mapping and outlining before you get to work. If you fall prey to procrastination or give up too easily, come up with a plan to help you combat those urges. Whether it’s a regimented routine or rewards system, don’t let yourself fall victim to the thoughts and temptations that crop up in moments of weakness.

6. Challenge yourself

Write outside your genre. Set intimidating goals. Tackle the classic novel you never read in high school. Enter a writing contest. Participate in NaNoWriMo. If we only wrote when the conditions and timing were perfect, we’d never write. No excuses.

“Write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words.”

7. Emulate your heroes

One of the best things about writing is that you’re allowed to experiment as much as you want, and that includes letting your work be influenced by the styles of writers you admire. If Joan Didion is your literary crush, spend a couple thousand words on a piercing review of your own psyche. If you love Charles Bukowski’s bare-bones truth bombs, write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words. And if you believe you were Jane Austen in a former life, ask yourself, “What would Jane do?” when writing the final scene in your romance novel. Let yourself be inspired by greatness and see what comes of it.

8. Develop your own voice

There are always a few books in your to-read pile, you’ve studied the greats and you’ve learned all the “rules.” Now forget everything you know and write something only you can, in your voice. That requires not only writing constantly, but cutting out the bullshit or anything that rings false. Your voice is influenced by your gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, beliefs, family, upbringing, where you’re from, who you grew up with, the stories you’ve been told and so on. It’s already in you. Voice is a tricky thing to master because it’s so deceptively simple, but you’ll know it when you’ve written something that feels utterly true. Your voice evolves right along with you, which means you’ll always be developing it in your writing.

9. Revise, revise, revise

Nothing comes out perfect the first time. Let me reiterate: Nothing comes out perfect the first time. This is no reason to be sad or frustrated. Look at it as an opportunity—the opportunity to get better with each draft.

10. Submit and pitch

Congratulations—you’ve written something. Now set it free. Submit your story to a publication or pitch a story to your dream magazine. Open yourself up to the possibility of rejection while keeping faith that you will be validated. Don’t keep it to yourself.

11. Write every day

Make the time.

 

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Comments

  1. Developing your own unique voice is hard, but it’s also so rewarding! There’s is an amazing sense of accomplishment when you get your thoughts out exactly in the way you intended. That’s the essence of writing to me, and the addictive quality that makes me go back for more time and time again.
    I completely agree with what you said about rereading. The second (or third, or fourth) time is when you can try to figure out why the author is so amazing. It’s like a treasure hunt, really fun and a great learning experience!

  2. I absolutely love this entire post!

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