So, you want to be a writer, do ya? And I’m assuming you want to be a good writer, maybe even a great one. But there’s more to writing than just, well, writing. Writing is hard, but there’s a few things you can do to make it a little easier.
- Get Readin’
In order to be a good writer you’ve got to be a good reader. So, unsubscribe from Netflix. Cancel your cable. Smash your television with a baseball bat. Because you’re going to want to quit watching and start reading. Read everything. Read all the time. I can’t emphasize this enough. Read. Read. Read. It will help you write in ways you can’t even imagine.
- Write What You Know
Write from a place of knowledge. If you want to write about something you don’t know, research it! The internet is a wonderful place where you can go to learn whatever you like. And, if you are into leaving your house, there are beautiful places called book stores (or libraries if you’re on a budget) full of books about anything and everything just waiting to be read. Educate yourself and the words will come.
- Be Specific, B-E SPECIFIC
Specificity in writing is what will lend credibility to your words. And you want to be credible. You want your reader to believe you so that you don’t have to work so hard. In fiction, you’ll need to create a universe that suspends disbelief and that means leaving details, like breadcrumbs, that lead your reader to a place where they are eating out of the palm of your hand. In nonfiction, you’ll need to maintain the contract of truth with the reader. You can do this by planting facts disguised as details to let the reader continue to believe you. Set the stage with unique details that do work–that characterize and/or situate. Use details that really sweat. A single, sweaty detail will go a long, long way.
- Be Sincere
The only person you should ever try to write like is you. You might admire an author’s style, and that’s fine. You might steal from a certain author’s bag of tricks, and that is also fine. You might take inspiration from an author in any number of ways, all of which are fine. What isn’t fine is trying so hard to imitate another writer’s voice that you lose your own. A reader can tell when you’re being true to yourself and sincere, raw, honest writing is always what he or she will connect with the most.
- Be Selective
All details are not made equal when it comes to writing stories. There are certain parts that aren’t relevant to the narrative, and including them can create confusion for readers. They might not know what to focus on if there are too many things going on. So, you need to know what to leave out. You need to know what to emphasize and what to play down. You need to lead the reader towards the things that matter and neglect to mention the things that don’t. This will make your story clear and understandable. That’s not to say you should avoid figurative language–by all means, employ your full bag of literary tricks. But be wary of overusing them and take care to avoid writing something because it sounds pretty and not because it matters to the narrative.
- Show, Don’t Tell
Stephen King believes that the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I tend to agree with him. Not all adverbs are hellish, though, It’s only the ones ending in –ly that I find tiresome. I will admit that –ly adverbs have their place, but I think they need to be used sparingly and only in instances where they really sweat. Search for –ly adverbs in your prose and just try writing the sentence without it. Nine times out of ten you’ll end up with a better, more vivid, more accurate piece of writing.
- Get Writin’
Write all the time. When you’re not reading, be writing. Carve time out of every day to sit down, distraction free, and just let yourself write. You might put out three pages of garbage, you might end up six words of pure gold. It doesn’t really matter what you write as long as your putting something down on the page. Every single word gets you closer to greatness. Start building a good writing practice now and you will thank yourself later.
Make friends with other writers. And make sure you make friends with other writers whose opinions you trust. It’s okay to have your mum or dad or sister or best friend as your first reader, but they might not be the people who will honestly tell you when something isn’t working. That’s where a great workshop group will come in–a group of people, writers, who will let you know when something is unclear, unnecessary, or just plain bad. They will also be able to tell you what is working and why, and that’s the type of feedback that is really invaluable as a writer. It can be a little bit scary sending your work out into the world but having a supportive network of writer friends will serve to ease the pain.
- Revise, Revise, Revise.
Revising is the most important part of writing. It’s also the most difficult. Revising is more than just correcting grammar, switching word choice, or adding a paragraph or two–that’d be line editing. Revising is closer to rewriting. When you revise, you look at the whole concept of the story and then how each section of the piece serves that. It might mean you rearrange scenes, cut scenes, create scenes. It might mean you scrap the whole piece and start again. It might mean a lot of things, and revising means different things to different people. But you’re not doing it right if you aren’t re-imagining the entire story. Revising is really tearing your story apart and putting it back together better.
These aren’t rules, or guidelines, or laws. They’re just suggestions. The biggest thing you need to remember? Start writing and keep writing.
Keep, keep writing.