February 11, 2021 by Sarra Cannon
Getting started as a writer is hard enough, but once you’ve gotten started and are getting words on the page, how do you get better?
Of course, the clear answer here is, “Keep Writing”. And that’s the truth. That’s the number one tip, for sure, because you learn by doing. The more you write, the better you will become over time.
But what other steps can you take to improve your writing over time? How can you actively move toward writing books that make readers stay up late in the night?
While writing books of your own is one of the best ways to improve your writing, it’s also incredibly important to read, watch, and otherwise consume stories written by other people.
This can come in many forms. Television. Games. Movies. Manga. Podcasts. And of course, Books.
I’m a firm believer that if you want to write great characters and great stories, you need to have a fundamental understanding of what makes a story great. If you’ve been reading and watching movies or consuming stories in one way or another your entire life, it’s likely you already have a deep understanding and intuitive sense of how stories flow.
But how often have you pulled apart a story and studied its parts?
For me, this was the one thing that took me to the next level in storytelling (and continues to help me every day). Analyzing stories and figuring out where the Act One climax takes place, how the character arc progresses, and how conflict builds over time is like taking a masterclass every single time you watch a movie or read a book.
I highly recommend reading and consuming as many stories in your chosen genre as possible so that you understand what readers are drawn to, what tropes are overdone, how certain relationships are handled, and what unspoken rules no one ever seems to cross.
But I also recommend reading widely. Read more diverse books and characters. Challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn.
Sometimes you meet a fellow writer who says I don’t want to read craft books because they’ll constrain me or it will hold me back…
Now I know that everybody has their own process, but I honestly truly believe that the more you learn about writing, the better of a writer you’ll be.
When you get to know about how stories have been put together for centuries, if not longer, you’ll have more freedom, because you can work within those boundaries. Things become a lot more solid in your storytelling, the pacing gets better, the understanding of where things twist, in turn, improves.
Learning how things have been done and how other authors have done certain things like handling dialogue or description settings, you will understand all the different ways around it, and you will actually become a better writer over time.
So, like I was saying, every autthor has their own process.
Some of us love to plot everything our and sit down and write the story. Others have an idea, then sit down at the keyboard and table and just write. Many of us are a hybrid of the two, like me, who plot and at the keyboard, let intuition take over. That’s your writing process.
But what’s your best process handling edits, when you get started? What’s your process for getting that to someone that might give feedback? The more you begin to understand and improve your own process, the better off you are going to be and the more efficient of a writer you’re going to be.
This also includes knowing your best time to write and timing of your releases.
For instance I have friends who write 10, 12, books a year, and who, once they have finished the one book, head straight into the next book the following day. I can’t do that. I need time to decompress after finishing one book before heading into the next. And I know that now about myself.
That’s just one example of how knowing your own process and paying attention to how you feel throughout the writing process, can help improve the better writer. Because once you come to the table or to the keyboard with your best self, you will also have your best words.
Nothing will kill your creativity and your true joy and mastery of a book than writing something that you don’t really care about.
But in this day and age where you can get your books to market pretty much overnight, it is very easy to get drawn into this idea of this is what sells, therefore this is what I need to write.
Now I know I’m going to give some controversial advice, but it comes truly from heart. Write what lights you up. And if you can find the place where you can find the most marketable thing to write that you also love to write, that is your sweet spot.
Pour your love into it and that will make you a better writer.
There are lots of ways to get feed back, but one that will help you improve your writing, is to find critique partners and beta readers, and working with editors.
A critique partner is someone who, ideally, will make help you become a better writer, by offering feedback and tips on your writing style or your plot.
You can find critique partners in writings groups like RWA or NaNoWriMo. That’s where I found my first partners, and quickly learned the style of feedback I needed. When you’re thinking about getting feedback from someone, pay attention to the way the comments make you feel and whether they’re just criticizing, or whether they’re actually trying to help you improve your writing, which is what you want.
Even if you can’t find a critique partner, start working with an editor as soon as your work is done. Or even someone in your household, who love you , annd supports you on your journey of being a writer.
Someone else’s eyes on your book and your work can help improve it drastically because they will be able to see your strengths and weaknesses in ways that you can’t, and that helps you become a better writer.
Of course, this could be really hard to do by yourself, but you know know what comes really easily to you and what is like pulling teeth.
For instance, maybe you’re really good at dialogue, it just flows out of you and you can set a scene perfectly with what your characters are saying or thinking. On the other hand, maybe you aren’t so great with description, or setting the ambience.
Make a list of all these things, what you’re good at and what you need improvement on. Then go back to those craft books and videos I mentioned in Tip #2, and study the advice other authors give on helping you to improve.
This can be hard advice to hear, but this is one of the most important points I’m giving you today: Finish your book.
And yes, to the end.
You will learn more by finishing your novel than you would by writing 100 novels that never get past the midpoint. If you hit a roadblock in your book and stop writing, and go straight onto the next shiny object over there, you’ll never improve your writing.
Once you finish a book and go back and edit it, it will give you the skills you need in story arc, character development, pacing and so on. Even if you finish the novel and then scrap it, just the process of writing to the end will improve your skill as a writer exponentially.
These are the seven tips I have to help improve your skill as a writer and I hope you enjoyed the video.
If you would like to know more about any of these tips, let me know in the comments and I can create a more in-depth video on the topic.
And be sure to stay tuned for my series on how to choose ideas for your writing. It will be up in the next few weeks with a brand new workbook!
I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.