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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How to be a better Writer in 4 Easy Steps

That's all it takes! You have more fingers than this has steps!
4 Easy Steps being a fairly relative assessment of easy and, perhaps, "steps", becoming a better writer is really as simple as knowing how to approach a solution. To be cliche but apt, no one is perfect and no writer is a perfect writer. Becoming better at our craft is something that we should all struggle towards. Sure, I'm sure there are those of us out there who can say "good enough!" and rest on our authorial laurels. But even to them, I would say pick up your butt and resist the temptation to embrace laziness. The act of writing, being a solitary one by nature, requires self-reflection as well as a willingness to put yourself out there and seek critique.
Let’s face it: seeking criticism is pretty much the antithesis of laziness, going against our basic instincts as humans. It is the opposite of protecting yourself. It is exposing yourself* to people who may not like you or what you have made. And that’s pretty scary.
But a writer cannot sit at their old-timey typewriter, alone, hunched over the keys, hacking away without any self-awareness. A writer needs to know where they struggle so that they can fight to become better.

Step One: Put Yourself Out There
Like, really out there. Take baby steps if you have to: find willing friends to read through some pages for you and provide their feedback. But the ultimate goal is to get the feedback of fellow writers and potential readers. You’re going to need to go to strangers.
Yes, I know it is daunting, but as a writer you need to be able to communicate with people who don’t know you. You might have the most honest and critical friends in the world who would totally tell you if your outfit looked stupid, but they’re still people who get you. People who know what you’re saying, you know what I’m saying? That’s not what you need.
I recommend CritiqueCircle.com. Clean up a few pages/chapters and submit your work for critique, and be prepared for the honest, stranger-written feedback to flow in. Then, once you’re done kicking things and berating anyone who doesn’t like what you’ve written (and there will be a few) sit down and think about it. Take in the criticism, decide what you’ve learned, and then proceed to step number two.

Step Two: Write How You Don’t Know
It’s time to put the feedback into practice. And I do mean practice. As humans, we like to do things that we’re good at. It makes us feel good about ourselves to shine. There’s nothing wrong with that: writing shiny things is great! But polishing up the not-so-shiny stuff is also critical, and it takes a lot of work.
That’s why I encourage you to write how you don’t know. Similar to writing what you don’t know (also good advice) writing how you don’t know is all about honing in on those things your not-so-good at until you become better.
Not good at dialogue? Write a short story of nothing but dialogue.
Not good at description? Practice writing a description of where you are right now.
Perhaps action is where you struggle? Time for you to get your character into a fight.
Not so great at word choice? Try your hand at some poetry.
Everyone knows that practice makes maybe-not-perfect-but-certainly-a-lot-better. Time for you to build-up your punier writing muscles until they’re up to snuff.

Step Three: Put it to Work
Now that you’ve made some improvement on your weak spots, it’s time to put these newfound skills to work. It’s time identify those areas of weak writing in your manuscript and make them better.
Depending on the length of your manuscript, this could take a lot of work. But doesn’t your writing deserve your dedication? Good writing isn’t done in the first draft. Good writing happens in the editing process. Be prepared to take two, three or ten or more times longer to edit your work than it took to write it.

Step Four: Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Got all that? Steps one through three checked off? Good. Now go back to step one and start over again.
Becoming better writers is an ongoing process. At no point will you ever be able to say, “I’ve done it. I’ve achieved perfection. There is nothing I can improve.” There will always be a way to become better, and we should always be striving for betterment. We owe it to ourselves, our readers and, most importantly, our work.

Now put your new knowledge to work, and write in a new way!
Where do you struggle as a writer? Or are you unsure?
Take a few minutes to think of an area where your writing needs improvement, or think of a genre or style you don’t often write in. Do you struggle with character interaction? Have you never written a newspaper article?

Once you’ve identified this, start writing something that focuses on this weak or underused writing skill. Start out with 15 minutes on the timer — and add more if you need to! This should be hard. Once you’re done, share your work below!


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