We all write and we all want to improve our writing skills. Writing is a skill that can be developed with time and practice. Yet, practice without direction is pointless, as you won’t achieve your goal if you don’t have one. If you want to write like your favourite author, or phrase better sentences or simply polish your work, these tips are for you.
Here are 12 ways to take your writing to the next level!
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1. Do Writing Puzzles
Let’s start simple.
Writing puzzles come in many forms, from the word-play apps you can get on your phone to the daily crossword. These puzzles help improve your vocabulary, which in turn, can improve your writing.
Now, for many authors, this isn’t necessary, as they prefer to keep their writing simple. Some writers want to get their message across without having to fish an uncommon word from the vocabulary well at the back of their minds.
Of course, it isn’t a bad thing to do so. All writers gather readers and followers, no matter the words they use
Yet, for other writers, finding the perfect word is not only preferred for their story, but it is necessary for their mentality. The word they are thinking of floats just beneath the surface; obscured, but familiar. It is on the tip of their tongues, but they struggle to think of it, or any other word that might work.
If you are one of those writers, who likes to spice up their descriptions or add a bit more depth and knowledge to their story, then writing puzzles are for you. Of course, you will always pick up new words, or be reminded of certain words, from the books you read, but writing puzzles is another fast and effective way for the same result.
The word-a-day calendars are another method, but for me, they are easy to forget and far less entertaining. With puzzles, there is more challenge, which is always fun.
2. Analyse Your Favourite Writers
You no doubt have one or more authors whose writing style never fails to inspire. It could be the way they phrase descriptions, it could be investing dialogue or the characters which always capture your interest. A writer which has a way of story-telling that makes their tale unforgettable.
In short, it is the writing style that not only appeals to you as a reader, but appeals to you as a writer.
Well, if you didn’t know already, you can always borrow methods of writing from your favourite author/s. You are free to examine a writer’s style, see how it works and then adapt your writing style to include that method. It could be the way you phrase things, or the way your characters speak or it could even inspire the theme of your story.
For example, I am a big fan of subtlety whenever possible, but I don’t shy away from drama when a scene reaches an emotional peak. To learn both forms of writing, I needed to look at authors writing stories similar to mine, in both characters and dialogue. I wanted to see how they convey emotion and character in such simple ways, then learn from another author how they played up the drama in certain scenes.
I examined the structure of their dialogue, then I looked at the descriptions they used and how often they used them. I wanted to find that perfect middle ground between simple structure and over-the-top fluff. Too simple and my characters came off as bland, boring. Too much and they became unbelievable, even annoying.
When I took the time to do this, I slowly saw my style of writing develop. My mind started making the connections to the writing style I desired, making it more natural to write the way I wanted to write.
This is certainly one way you can take your writing to the next level!
3. Challenge Your Imagination with Prompts
I have always encouraged experimentation with writing, be it by trying new ideas that cross your mind or practising other genres. Yet, one way to encourage experimentation is to make use of writing prompts.
Writing prompts are short ideas that can inspire a short story or be used in a short story. A prompt can consist of a plot idea, a description or a piece of dialogue. From this prompt, you create a short story, trying to make sense in a certain number of words.
You can find writing prompts almost anywhere. There are accounts on every form of social media that post prompts almost daily, but one of the best places to find prompts is Pinterest. Pinterest is one of those services where ideas are always posted and I’ve certainly come across many writing prompts while surfing Pinterest casually. I imagine that if you were to specifically search for writing prompts, you would find an endless supply.
While it is completely up to you to decide which prompts to choose, I would encourage tackling prompts that you find the most challenging. I don’t mean picking prompts that you feel have no merit, but rather picking prompts that you believe would be a challenge to include in a story.
Writing stories based on prompts will certainly challenge your imagination, as you will be writing about something you haven’t thought about regularly. You will be tasked with writing something at that moment, a story based on a small excerpt or random idea. Your mind is essentially starting from scratch and you are just running with the plot sequence it develops.
It’s a practice that will develop your writing skills and also speed up your writing process. It will make it easier to get into the flow of writing, avoiding those bothersome periods where you are trying to get back into the swing of things.
If you are a mission-oriented writer, think of short stories and prompts as optional objectives that better equip you for your main mission.
4. Read Through Your Writing Often
If writing becomes difficult and you feel you need to take a break, what better way to spend your time than reading through what you have written?
By reading through your writing, you see the mistakes that are so easy to miss, you stay on track with your story and you keep your inspiration to write up. You can make edits where necessary, develop new ideas and keep yourself invested in your writing project.
You want to read through your writing often when working on a project and especially when returning to an abandoned project. The more work you put into your story, the more time you need to spend reading what you have written. It is easy to contradict yourself over a long period, easier still to repeat yourself.
When’s the best time to read through your work?
Every time you complete a section of your story. You want to feel the satisfaction of completing a section you are happy with and ensure that the next section fits what you are writing.
Another great time to read through your writing is just before you start writing for the day. It reminds you of where you left off and helps you get back into the swing of things. It helps the mind find familiar ground and keeps your focus on the story, rather than anything else that was on your mind before you started writing.
I have found that this is a tip that not only improves my writing but also my mentality for writing.
5. Read Aloud, Act it Out
One of the most enjoyable tips is simply reading your work aloud.
It’s alright to read a section of writing, nod, then move on, but by reading it like a storyteller, or presenting it like a professional, you get a better feel for what you have written. Your ears hear something different to what your eyes read.
While this is a tip that mostly applies to dialogue, it can also help with any other part of your story. Even simple descriptions will read differently. With this added perspective, you can start to adjust your writing until you are happy with it.
In addition, you also take the actions of your characters into account, the pace of your scene. It will help you spot dialogue that is too long, or too short for the piece you have written.
For example, if I am writing a fight scene, I imagine the fight as I read the dialogue in between. I take into account the emotions of the characters, the personality and the speed at which they speak. If I am shooting for a high-pace, gritty fight scene, I don’t want the momentary dialogue to be so long that it disrupts the pacing.
By reading it aloud, I can then adjust the dialogue to something more realistic, to something that fits what I have in mind.
A simple method tip, but some of the best pieces of advice are that simple. Not to mention, it is always fun putting yourself in your character’s shoes.
6. Ask Friends/Family for Opinions
Speaking of perspective, yours is not the only one you have access to.
I understand that for many writers, sharing one’s work is difficult. Most writers are inherently introverted, so perhaps a silent hobby or career such as writing appeals to them. It is no wonder that so many are shy about others seeing their work, especially when it is unfinished and in a rough state.
However, for the writer’s that strive towards a story that they can be proud of, sharing their work is a necessary pain.
Anyone with an opinion can provide some helpful feedback on your writing, whenever you get stuck or need advice on making a scene better. Specifically, you want to ask friends and family members, especially the honest ones. Depending on their taste in writing, you will receive advice that works for your story and advice that doesn’t.
Of course, you will use the advice that you believe has the most merit.
If you are unsure if your character is likeable, ask someone. If you want to make sure a description is clear, ask someone. If you don’t know how to progress a story, again, ask someone.
The big shots in the writing world, the ones with books on the shelves of brand books stores with professionally made covers and publishing companies backing them, all have editors that go through their writing, suggesting changes, or simply making them if they are given that much freedom.
And I’m sure that more sets of eyes have scanned the writer’s book before the editor gets their hands on it.
Don’t be afraid of friendly advice, use it. If it works out, keep it. For lack of a better cliche, I will say this; a little help goes a long way.
7. Set Daily/Weekly Word Goals
A classic piece of advice and I will recommend it to every writer who wants to be more productive!
Personally, writing goals and sticking to a schedule ensures that I am productive. Even when I miss a few days, I find that I still get a lot more done than if I write whenever the planets align and I am in the right mood.
The same advice I have recommended in other articles and to my students, the response is generally the same every time; it works.
Despite its effectiveness, it is not unique advice. You can apply the same advice to any type of work and it will ensure that you get a lot more done. It will train you to write consistently, making it easy to finish stories and novels by specific deadlines.
The only question is, what’s a fair writing goal to strive towards?
The average novel is completed in a space between six months and a year. However, with dedication and consistent daily writing, a novel can be completed in space as short as two months. To find your goal, first, establish a final word count.
It could be 50,000 words, 100,000 or more.
For a more relaxed writing goal, I recommend 10,000 words each month, which is a goal that can easily be met by writing 350 words a day. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? If you like this writing goal, stick to it and work ahead of schedule whenever you feel the most inspired.
However, if you want a challenge, simply double it, maybe even triple it if your fingers fly across the keyboard with ease. Just keep in mind that finishing your novel in a short space of time isn’t a stern requirement. Sticking to your daily/weekly goals should be the focus if you want to be productive.
It is easy to hit burnout if you push yourself over an extended time and can put you off of writing for a long time. Thus, it is more productive to be consistent and comfortable.
8. Understand Your Market
Taking a step away from writing, but not too far away, we need to address your target market.
There are two kinds of writers; the writers who are their target market and the writers who are not their target market. The former, as you can guess, is the most common. A writer often starts writing because they have an idea for a book that appeals to them. At a young age, they believe they will find it on the bookshelves one day, but as they grow older, they realise they are the only ones that will write it.
Thus, a writer inspired by a wonderfully selfish desire is created!
The second type of writer stems from a person who is more interested in the business side of writing. This writer will look at what is doing well, they study it and the readers. The business-oriented gets a grip on the writing and expectations of the readers.
Both forms of writers can learn from the other, but I am going to specifically address what the passionate writer can learn from the business-oriented writer.
A passionate writer will write to their heart's content, designing a book that is made purely for them. It can turn out rather well as a passionate writer will be guided by their every whim to write the story they dream of. It is a novel that can easily appeal to the general audience or similar readers, but just as easily, it could not.
That is because the writer only considers what they want from their story and not what others want. Now, you might think this is perfectly fine, as writing is a form of art and it should be assessed only from the artist's perspective in its creation.
Yet, if art was strictly created for the artist, or a book strictly written for the writer, they would not put it on the market or display. The most successful writers will think about what they want, but they also know what they are doing is creating a product. Like all products, it is only as good as its reception.
Sounds pretty cold, but that is the perspective of a business-oriented writer.
Taking the best of both worlds, a writer can create something they are happy with and their audience is happy with. All the writer needs to do is understand their market and find a middle ground between the different desires.
A business-oriented writer can also derive more enjoyment from the experience if they take their desires into account, not to mention write a more unique piece as a result.
With that said, this tip is simply to encourage a little market research. Read popular books similar to your own, a few fan discussions, see how the book is designed and sold. Applying the same tactics can make your book more appealing, meaning, it will make more sales.
9. Plan Thoroughly, but Ignore Plans Often
It’s a funny tip, but let me explain.
Before starting any project, it is always encouraged to plan. Make your writing goals, establish plot structure, add interesting points, strip away the unnecessary. Write some test scenes, a few short stories, build the world and develop the characters.
Basically, do anything you feel will prepare you to write the novel in your mind.
Once you are finished planning, start writing. When you start writing, do your best to write without looking at your plans. Nothing should be so set in stone, especially a story. You might have a new idea along the way, or the story seems to flow in another direction and flow with it.
Your plot structure, character bios and assorted plans should now be considered vague guides which you occasionally look at when you need to. The process of planning should be considered more valuable than the plans themselves, as the process analysed your ideas and helped make them more concrete.
It puts you in the right mindset, changing your daydream into a solid idea that would make for a great novel.
That mindset should be what sustains your creative flow throughout the writing process, not the plans. That is why this tip is about planning thoroughly, but ignoring your plans often.
10. Manage and Maintain Your Mindset
Speaking of mentality, there are other ways of maintaining it throughout the writing process.
The culmination of all your plans and dreams helped you attain that mentality, but what will help you maintain it are special tools that encourage your imagination. These tools can be music, reference pictures, art, stories and any other form of media that puts you in the right mood.
For example, when writing a pirate story, I would maintain my mindset with swash-buckling music for the energy, a few documentaries on pirates for historical accuracy and regular viewings of Jack Sparrow’s exploits throughout the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.
With all this, it becomes very difficult to slip out of the mindset, as I am constantly reminded and pushed to think about pirates.
You can just as easily apply the same tactics to your writing process. Find the media which appeals to you, inspires you and surround yourself with it. I particularly encourage music for those who struggle to write in absolute silence. Find something atmospheric and easy to tune out, otherwise, it might distract you.
It’s hard to hear your thoughts if your focus is on an energetic part of a good song.
If done in moderation, you maintain your mindset without getting sick and tired of the subject matter.
11. Limit Your Breaks
Even with schedules, word goals and a writing habit in place, you will want to take a break now and then. Sometimes you might not have a choice and something else requires your attention.
Taking a break is encouraged and won’t hurt your productivity...as long as you don’t get too comfortable.
If you get too comfortable, suddenly writing feels less important. You think it's harmless to extend your break, perhaps tackle another hobby, then return to writing. Yet, you are being tricked by the winged fiend on your shoulder and you will struggle to write with the same enthusiasm you had!
That long weekend without writing became a long week without writing!
Now, it will take weeks before you can write with the same passion because you broke the habit. You are back where you started, trying to become that writing machine that you were before the extended break came along.
A crucial tip for writing consistently is to watch yourself when you aren’t writing. I know it’s relaxing, I know taking a break is good for you, but don’t let those reasons become excuses for being unproductive. That is a line that is easy to cross.
12. Keep Your Inspirations in Mind
The final tip to level up your writing is to remind yourself, periodically, why you got into writing in the first place.
Writing, like any beloved career or hobby, is fuelled by passion. When the flame dies out, your entire being rejects writing and you move on to something else. Passion is what keeps you writing, even when the mood isn’t great. In the end, every word you write is because of this passion.
Problem is, it’s annoyingly easy to let that flame disappear in a cough of unimpressive smoke.
The only solution is to keep your inspirations in mind. Remember why you started writing, what part of your heart and soul said ‘you know, I could write a book’ and keep it under strict observation. Whether it was a good book, a movie, a song or even a conversation with someone who brought up the subject, it is something truly valuable.
It can be one thing or many things, but these things are the things that you turn to when you lack inspiration, that’s the thing.
For me, writing inspiration came from many places. It came from artworks that gave my imagination something to go on, it came from a video game I played when I was young, it came from the comforting feeling I felt at the back of a second-hand bookstore, enjoying the quiet as I read the first chapter of an interesting novel. Whenever I need that inspiration, I turn to these many things and they put me back on track.
If something gave you this inspiration, don’t forget it, no matter how small and simple it may seem. You might need it later on your writing journey!
That brings us to the end of this blog post.
It was a long-ish one, but I hope it will be a useful one. These are the lessons I learned that made me a better writer, a productive writer, a happy writer. Thanks to them, I write more than I did before and I feel proud of what I’ve written.
Nothing I write is perfect, but I do smile to myself when I compare my new work to my old work. It’s that satisfying feeling of progress, of growth, that makes writing all the more enjoyable.
I hope that this blog post helps you have the same feeling one day.
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!