I tend not to give writing advice because I’d rather leave it up to the true experts, but I thought I’d share Ten Writing Tips that have worked for me in my writing development. Most of these are not original (I’ll try to give credit where I can), but I’ve found them helpful. Here goes:
- Writing as Practice – I got this idea from Dean Wesley Smith’s YouTube channel, and I couldn’t agree more. Musicians practice every day, so why shouldn’t writers? Think of writing as practice and take the pressure off yourself. Learn while you practice and develop good writing habits.
- Daily Word Count – Set a daily goal and try to reach it. I keep a spreadsheet of my word count, and I’ve been averaging around 2000 words a day. If I keep it up, I’ll have a 60,000-word manuscript by the end of the month. That’s a short novel! It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Don’t wait for inspiration (see tip #1). Just sit down and write every day.
- Immerse Yourself in Language – You won’t improve if you don’t read. Read for pleasure, read for entertainment, but read every day. I read for an hour a day at least, and lately, I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks. Immersing myself in language makes me a better writer because I’ve learned to discern good prose from bad, to hear the musicality in a graceful turn of phrase. I may not be as good as (most of) the books I read, but they’ve given me a target for which to aim.
- Keep a Reading Journal – This sounds a bit nerdy, but I always try to keep a notebook handy, and when I read an interesting phrase or clever use of an active verb or mind-blowing description, I’ll stop what I’m doing and jot it down. Later, that verb that I never considered may find its way into my manuscript. Read (and listen to) good fiction and learn from the best!
- Keep it Active – I didn’t realize how much I was using the passive voice in my writing until I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. Now, I see it everywhere. He also advised against using adverbs, although I see he uses them quite often, at least in his early fiction. The problem with this type of advice is that there seems to be an entire generation of writers who now live in fear of the dreaded adverb or passive voice. Both have their place in the English language. Just don’t overuse them.
- Develop Your Own Style Naturally – One of my reader’s pet peeves is overwritten, purple prose that is trying too darn hard to be “fancy.” If I can’t find the story for all the filigree, I’ll put down the book. Each one of us has a unique voice. An excellent place to start developing yours is by writing clear and clean sentences that advance the story.
- Use All the Senses – Of all the five senses, I tend to neglect the olfactory variety, which is why I place a written reminder at my writing desk to add a smell every two pages or so. Nothing evokes emotion like a scent.
- Mistakes Are Inevitable – When you think of writing as practice, you’ll worry less about making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, so is bad writing at times. I once read a book on skiing that advised to always try to ski just at the point where you are falling. I was bruised by the end of my skiing adventure, but I think I improved more than if I hadn’t pushed myself to the edge. When I sit down for a writing session, I try to force myself to write a little beyond my skill level. Sometimes I surprise myself.
- Write a Clean First Draft – This tip may seem like it’s a contradiction of the previous one, but if you write a sloppy first draft, you may not be able to repair it in the second (or third) go-around when you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. This is why I believe that setting an unrealistic word count can be counter-productive.
- Banish the Critical Voice – Nothing kills the creative spirit like that nagging, critical voice telling you how badly you suck! Save your inner “Karen” for polishing your prose, not in the creation of it. One way to beat the inner critic is by becoming so emotionally involved in your story, feeling it through all your senses, that there’s room in your writing space only for creative discovery!
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment.