Strangers, I have been a writer for basically my entire life. As soon as I found out it was a thing you could do for a job, it has been my dream. I wrote stories whenever I got the chance. When we were asked to journal, other kids wrote about things they did but I made up stories. I even had an ongoing series about kid detectives in the second grade! When we had to pick things we wrote for a portfolio of sorts in the third grade, all my pieces were stories. Even when I thought I wanted to be a pop star (a misguided career path at best), I was still writing stories. I started a series in the fifth grade about teenage secret agents. By high school, I had written four stories in the series and outlined two. (And honestly, it’s something I may even come back to someday. It’s got some potential.) I took three creative writing classes in high school because I loved it so much. And yet, for all of this, I’ve still written some really bad stories. I didn’t think they were bad at the time, but as I got older and perfected my craft, they looked less and less impressive (*side-eyes everything I wrote in high school*). And that’s why I’m here today. You’re going to write things that aren’t necessarily great. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have real potential. Over the course of my life, I have cultivated a list of five tips that will help any aspiring writer improve their craft and become one step closer to feeling like maybe, just maybe, they could write that magnum opus they’ve always dreamed.
- Take writing classes.- Writing, like any talent, is something you’re born with. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from taking classes in the subject. In my experience, college courses have been the most beneficial, but not everyone has that luxury. You can take a class at your local rec center or find some online. It’s important to take these classes because you don’t just write; you learn about the craft of writing. You learn about why certain things work while others don’t, what information should be included or left out, and what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. For example, I’ve learned that I often prioritize character over setting. While character-driven stories are perfectly fine, the setting shouldn’t suffer as a result. You also learn a lot about editing, a very important aspect of writing. If you find you have an affinity for a certain type of writing (fiction, non-fiction, or poetry), take a class that is specific to that field so you can learn more in-depth about that style of writing. You will see yourself improve by leaps and bounds once you start learning.
- Read. A lot.- One of the simplest ways to improve as a writer is simply to read a lot of books. You learn how sentences flow and get a better understanding of grammar. It also introduces you to many different writing styles, some of which you may want to try your own hand in. Lastly, it familiarizes you to what is out there, so you can more easily find a way to stand out or do something different.
- Read a bad book.- As I mentioned briefly earlier, one of the most important aspects of writing is editing. Reading something you know is bad will help hone this skill. Personally, I used Fifty Shades of Grey (although, I did give up about a third of the way through). I focused mainly on the writing and what things I thought could be changed. For example, there is a scene towards the beginning where we get a page break and are told that Ana goes to work at the hardware store, spends a few hours there, then goes home. Then there is another page break. This is an example of something that should be cut. It adds nothing to the story and therefore is unnecessary. There are much more seamless ways of informing the reader that Ana works in a hardware store. This paragraph takes you out of the action and comes across as forced, rather than expositional. Practicing editing on a bad book will help you recognize these issues in your own writing and give you better ideas on how to fix it.
- Read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.- While on the surface level this book seems to be a collection of brief narratives on his time in the Vietnam War, you soon discover this book is about so much more. Firstly, the order in which the pieces are placed affects your reading of the memoir. Secondly, O’Brien brings up the point again and again of story truths vs. real truths. He freely admits that not everything in this book happened the way it happened; however, the feeling in the book is true. And, even if it didn’t happen to him, it happened to somebody. That is what makes these pieces story truths. They are tidied up and rearranged so the reader will be able to feel and experience what he felt and experienced. This is something that can and should be utilized in any kind of writing. Fiction books rely almost entirely on story truths, being made-up stories. Non-fiction and poetry often find a good balance between story truths and real truths in order to get their point across. As long as the end result is achieved, it is technically still the truth.
- Never stop writing.- If you want to keep your writing skills sharp, you cannot stop writing. Even when you have no ideas, write something. That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. I don’t have any ideas for a story yet, but I want to remain good at my craft. So, I write about other things (namely, books and music). There are lots of other great ways to do this. Writing fan fiction is an excellent way to practice your craft. You get to focus more on your writing style than the characters, since they already exist. However, you still have to concern yourself with keeping the characters in character and the story canon-compliant (yes, this does still adhere in many ways to alternate universe fics). I once had an ongoing series about my friends and I (and the Jonas Brothers) at Hogwarts. While they weren’t intended to be good, they kept me writing and practicing continuity. Like anything else, if you don’t keep practicing, your skills will get rusty.
If you follow these tips, I promise you will become a better writer. They’ve worked for me: they helped me find my voice, perfect my style, and determine what I’m best and worst at. Try them and soon you’ll be passing these tips on to the next aspiring writer you meet.