It’s hard to imagine anyone starting the writing process without a few tips to help them along the way. Writing is a complex task that involves many different skills, so it’s no surprise that writers often seek the advice of experts. Of course, there are many different experts out there on all sorts of topics, so it can be hard to know who to listen to. To make things easier for you, we’ve put together a list of the ultimate writing tips, from the best writers and best experts around.
- 1 Go out into the world and learn
- 2 Practice your craft
- 3 Concept is king
- 4 Good grammar makes everything easier
- 5 Clean out the deadwood
- 6 Be proactive
- 7 Use people around you as your collaborators
- 8 Get feedback early
- 9 Revisit your fears
- 10 Find out your personal truth
- 11 Build something of value
- 12 Use social media
- 13 Listen to your readers and change your books
- 14 Crowdfunding is pretty cool
- 15 Join the Commaful Storytelling Community
Go out into the world and learn
Thankfully, you don’t need to attend a fancy school to learn how to write – you just need to go out and write to learn. Once you know how to write, the next best thing to do is to lock yourself up in a darkened room and practice, practice, practice. Write, rewrite, and write again. You’ll find the perfect words by committing to learning how to write. This process, along with studying the world around you, is virtually guaranteed to make you a better writer. Writing is a skill and – just like the ability to paint or play music – you’re guaranteed to improve with time and dedication. Four out of five writers believe that reading is one of the best things an aspiring writer can do to improve their own work. So, go out and get reading to learn how to write.
Even if you’re a non-American English writer trying your hand at the language, reading the dictionary is a helpful exercise. Reading the dictionary, along with writing and rewriting, expose you to grammatical structures and increase your confidence when it comes time to word craft. Writing triggers chemicals in the brain and allows you to see things from new perspectives, and keeping an active vocabulary declutters your mind and allows for new, exciting story ideas to emerge from your subconscious.
Practice your craft
For centuries, writers everywhere have been building their craft by working hard, and that doesn’t change today. Established authors like Stephen King, and bestselling authors like Stephenie Meyer still struggle to get the words on their page right, including everything from story structure to character development, plot points, setting, and dialogue. Even the most best-loved writers see the need to keep coming back to their journals, laptops, and notebooks for a bit of inspiration.
Inspiration is important, but emulating established authors is an even better form of practicing your craft. Think of writing as a tangible skill you have to master using feedback. When you work from published pieces, it’s easier to find successful elements to replicate, and unsuccessful ones to refine. When you work directly from published authors, you can take a more hands-on approach to the process of crafting effective writing that leads to publishing your own stories.
Concept is king
Too often, authors dive right into the writing, not knowing what kind of book they want to write, or what kind of story to tell. The best way to develop structure is to answer questions about your book as a whole. What is the book about? What kind of story is this? What’s the style? What does your main character want? What’s their quest? Who are the characters in your book? What do these characters want? Most importantly, develop your unique vision of the story you want to tell. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. A great opening line or a paragraph is memorable, will get people’s attention, and make them want to read more.
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it’s also a presentation. Just as a good demonstration of your product will get people to come through the door of a storefront, a good presentation is important when you’re selling your writing. The first paragraph, the title, the keywords in your book description are all opportunities to make that first impression. Do make sure to take the time to do a little research…and maybe get a second opinion. It’s important that you’re selective about who you get advice from, because there’s always a chance that you’ll edit into something that wasn’t meant to be there.
Good grammar makes everything easier
Probably the least glamorous tool in your writing toolkit is your grammar. Whether you like it or not, readers judge books by their covers — but good grammar is more than skin deep. Though you’re weaving your own perfect words, there are still rules you need to follow in order to keep your prose polished and clean, and grammatical errors make your writing sound sloppy and lackadaisical. Here are some tips to help you make your writing really shine.
Use strong verbs. Is your internet now uploading, or was it just going to upload? Are you expelling your consumptions, or just trying to relieve yourself over and over of your stuff? Are you attracting that girl/guy, or just trying to be attractive? The answers to these questions may seem like a silly thing to bother with, but the difference between the tenses makes a huge impact on the style, mood, and speed of your writing — and touch of your writing’s Maharashtra. Another way to eliminate the sentence-diatribes that get drawn out to breaking point is to rework half-formed, difficult-to-read paragraphs by starting again. You’ll check your grammar, and it will give you the fresh enthusiasm to add in more ideas, pulling from the tip-top ideas in your awakening mind. Plus, since reworking is hard to avoid when first starting out anyway, starting from scratch will stimulate your more frightening writer’s block and get your words flowing. Imagine the emotional trial of not only having the reader at your whim, but also imagining that you’re presenting fine floral collectibles to a queen who’ll only respond with, “It’s okay. This will do.” You’re a pro writer. Don’t be the artist spurned. Stand your ground, reclaim your audience’s expectations, and stand confident that your best is good enough.
Clean out the deadwood
Keep your writing as clean and sharp as a hedge. In other words, remove excess and clutter. This is one of the most important — and often overlooked — parts of writing. Though it may be easy to use five words when one will do, keep in mind that clean writing does not mean dull or simple. If you take time to put your ideas into the most precise framing you can, it can make all the difference for your readers. However, if you have too much foundation or filler in your writing, you can say that readers will be too caught up picking through it to enjoy your work. As with many things in life, a middle ground is best. Keep intuitive spelling in mind as you clean the deadwood from your phrasing. It may stay near the surface when you’re writing with one type, because your brain is used to that one, but change it and your brain will pick the differences.
When you’re crafting your writing, remember that cutting down the words can actually make your message sound fuller, richer, more complete. You can still tell a story but unlike the wood in your hedge, writing implements exist in the world that are used to sculpt and refine the works you create. Rethink your sentence structure to build a more stylistic set of walls, or simply remove arbors so that your work is cleaner and more approachable to your audience.
You’ll have to be proactive from the start. There will be much to learn and you’ll have to learn it all, especially where your key strength can be built. If there will always be something to seek for, there will always be a need to write either on your key strength or to expand your knowledge about the writing process. Novels are a great way to learn more about a specific topic. While formal education can help a writer with writing basics, the business of writing develops from the in-depth instructions found in novels. What is more critical is that you derive every bit of knowledge from these novels. Without this knowledge, it will be hard to succeed in the world of writing.
Your enthusiasm alone is not going to get you far, and you will have to come up with a plan. There should be some strategies and goals that meet your long-term and short-term objectives. Any limitations you encounter should force limitations to be placed on the success you seek. Writing requires a lot of effort and the persistence to plow through the tedious middle to reach the peak of the mountain. If the steps are placed quickly, it could help you easily overcome the obstacles you are meeting, one by one. By the time you have become an expert, you will be taking things in your stride.
Use people around you as your collaborators
Another approach to preventing yourself from writing yourself into a corner is to call in some writing allies — even if it’s just for back-up research. If you’re writing a piece of historical fiction, you could do worse than to go to any scholar on the subject for help — after all, all of them have gone through the rigorous training to research and write about their topic in the first place. If you’re writing about a foreign country make sure you ask people in the know about its native language, culture, and canards. Even if you’re just writing about how someone would go about moving from Pennsylvania to Nevada, you can give yourself insight into how they realistically would do it by talking to someone in their shoes.
Collaboration isn’t just about going to experts — it can also be about consulting people around you about what makes for great storytelling. It’s unlikely that just anyone has a lot of insight on the subject, but people in your life do likely include thoughtful critics, plus people who you admire, as well as people you love and trust. Specifically choosing perhaps 10 people you want to get feedback from, sit down with a few through video chat and let them give feedback as they read. Then you can find two or three people to run your manuscript by, allowing them to request specific cuts and changes, as well as ask them to come up with a title or logline for it. Repeat this process until you have some great feedback! Each person should also give you a short idea about what their favorite characters from literary history are, and try to find the best match for your work.
Get feedback early
Publishing your work is one of life’s major accomplishments. However, gradually receiving critiques on your work and adjusting your writing as a result of this feedback can be one of the best ways to improve your skill. For many fledgling authors, publishing their books is the culmination of a long journey in which they’ve been refining their own writing. This also includes their prose style, voice, and point of view. When writing your first book, first draft, or even that first proposal, consider having a trusted friend or family member look it over. It’s always nice to have a second pair of eyes look at your work, not just for inevitable typos or missing punctuation, but also for grammatical issues and the overall flow of the language. It’s important to trust your instincts as a writer and stand up for your writing, but you can always learn a thing or two from someone else’s perspective.
Though this can be discouraging if you’ve poured a lot of energy into writing and editing your work, feedback can also act as one of the greatest levers driving your writing forward. Hearing what others think and where they’re confused or lost can help you streamline clauses, fix repetition, and improve awkward prose. More importantly, hearing the voice of a critic can help you to recognize if your voice is consistently warm, or if you’ve tried to overindulge in cynicism or epic, breathless descriptions. Editing is different in a lot of ways from the original process of creating the prose, and your editors can help to both see and show you how you could improve your style. First-time novelists are often heavily invested in their content, and even if adding or expunging a few big paragraphs would make the book better, it can be hard to go through it, knowing what was and wasn’t there before.
Revisit your fears
We’ve all heard of writer’s block. But have you heard of audience block? There’s no real difference between the two beyond the fact that, obviously, one is self-imposed and the other involves other people. When you’re worried about what your future audience will think of your writing, your thoughts and ideas tend to become muddled and you’re at a loss as to how to proceed. Thankfully, you’ve got some avenues that can help you work through these fears and let you keep writing anyway. Consider running a contest or putting your story on a website that allows readers to post comments that can influence the direction of the story. You can also sign up for a writing group or critique group, and either burn through your backlog of stories or discover what other folks think of your ideas.
These last two measures may seem very similar, but each one will get you over that line in your head that says finishing your project is too hard or time-consuming. For some reason it’s way easier to just leave your project alone than it is to go through the painstaking process of writing, editing, and re-editing it before turning it loose into the world for judgement and ridicule. But if the alternatives are so unpleasant, that must mean there’s really something in it for you to keep going forward — keep your eye on that prize, and follow the tips below to do your very best to wring the most possible value from your writing efforts.
Find out your personal truth
Many new authors believe that it doesn’t matter what kind of misleading or false summary you put on your book cover, as long as it gets people to buy the book. That’s not true — not only is it dishonest, you risk losing your hard-won readership. Narrative elements can include the mood of the book, your genre, your gender, any themes you identify with, and any notable issues that might be at the center of your story, such as religion, divorce, or diversity. It can also include mentioning the editor you have, the time of day your story takes place, or any short back-cover blurb you’ve written. If you have a series, this section can include the name.
Visual elements include your font, the way your title looks, and any graphics you might have on the cover design. Considering your font, remember that you want to draw the reader into your story and elicit curiosity. You’ll want a title font weight that makes the book easy to read but may also be creative and unique. Add any graphics to help your reader understand what your book is about, and how what’s on the cover relates to your story. If you have the option of hiring anyone, do your research on the freelance graphic designers in your area beforehand.
Build something of value
You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your book. Now make sure that it shows. Create a book that worthwhile people will want to read, and that you will feel proud to have your name on. That means actually dedicating a portion of your time each day to writing, so that you reach milestones that show you’re moving forward steadily without letting your daily life get in the way. It also means finding a professional editor and a great cover designer who will work with you to make your book rise above the ocean of crowd-sourced self-published dreck that makes up the Kindle marketplace. But most of all, it means committing to a professional-level quality that will impress your potential customers.
Do think despite what you’ve heard, there is no salvation in co-authoring. You don’t need to write a book with four different solitary-confinement-style roommates, your college roommate’s cousin, your best friend’s boyfriend, and the receptionist at your dentist’s office. When authors collaborate, one person usually ends up with the lion’s share of the credit for the book itself, while the other members of the team just get mentioned in the acknowledgments. Respect your fellow human beings by writing alone. They can always collaborate by doing their own thing to spread the word about your book.
Social media can be a powerful tool for any author, but it can seem overwhelming at times, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Pick one or two platforms and focus your attention there. Find and interact with the writers and readers you want to reach through your social media presence, and make sure your posts are true to your identity. Don’t be afraid to give some of these platforms a try… most of them are free, so you have nothing to lose. If you can’t decide which site or platform is right for you, we suggest trying all of them, until you find the ones that work best for you and your author persona. If you have professional editorial experience and that’s important to your author brand or genre, go ahead and let readers know in your social media bio. It doesn’t hurt to let readers know if you have experience with pro-level design, or if you have management experience in another professional industry, though you probably shouldn’t go into a lot of details in your bio about unrelated industries or degrees. After all, this is your personal brand, but you don’t want to come off as disingenuous either. Be transparent and honest.
Be human. People enjoy interacting with real people, not online avatars, so put a face and personality to your social media interactions. Let people know where you’re from, and what your day-to-day is like outside of writing. Keep up-to-date with current events – it makes you a more interesting person and will draw people in to your social media interactions. While you’re at it, don’t forget to follow people and organizations that are relevant to your interests and genre, and whose members could potentially start new conversations that could turn into lifelong relationships that could lead to more book sales.
Listen to your readers and change your books
Once you’ve finished the masterpiece that is your novel, your next biggest challenge will probably be finding readers. But even after you’ve published your book, your job will still only be half-done. Even the best, most interesting, most well-written books can be improved as the author and the book develops a relationship with the readers. When you pay attention to what specific readers say, you can fine-tune the book to the exact things they feel drawn and drive them back to your work over and over again. Better yet, by paying attention to your readers and acting on their feedback, you’ll build trust, loyalty, and good reviews, all of which increase sales, reduce returns, and make your book easier to market to readers in the future. The more you listen to your readers and change your books accordingly, the less editing you’ll need to do with the next book, the more profits from each book in a series you’ll make, and the more pleasure you’ll be able to get from writing again.
Take this opportunity to mull over all the praise or criticism you’ve gotten from your readers, and make a note of any recurring patterns you see in the feedback. Think about similar remarks or questions you might get when you really start marketing your book. The most important thing to remember is that the list of best books ever will never be the same person. Every favorite book is unique — there’s no “best,” there’s simply a favorite. That should be an encouraging thought, knowing that when you write a piece of art that you love, you’re also making some fans, too. Think about your book in the company of works of art that moved you, thrilled you, and changed you when you read them. Nothing can match the creative satisfaction of appreciating your own masterpiece with the same awe you have for the art and craft of thousands of your fellow readers.
Crowdfunding is pretty cool
Pretty much everything about alternative funding methods like crowdfunding epitomizes new and different, and that includes their interaction with the economy. For example, it helps that crowdfunding is predicated on feeding off social interaction. While it’s important for businesses, startups and retail businesses to use these methods to get funding, it’s also important to pay attention to a broader, holistic picture of how changing funding models impact the economy. Crowdfunding is yet another tool for creators to get validation and builds community — and it’s worth considering how this fits into traditional models.
As the models improve, they can have startling impacts on both the economy and culture. Think about the Patronage of the European Renaissance and the role crowdfunding can play in it. Or how charity can be used to fund things such as indie films or inspiring athletes. Consider ways crowdfunding can be used to revolutionize education. Remember that crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Patreon crowdfunding allow crowdfunding of things not only related to arts, but technologies, sciences and new designs. All of this is incredibly helpful for nurturing potential entrepreneurs.
Aside from these ultimate tips, don’t forget that the best way to learn about writing is by writing. You need only concern yourself with perfecting your skills. That process will happen organically as you write. As long as you also remember to save, revise, and finally re-write, you should be able to write a decent piece. If you want to make your writing stand out, though, keep the writing tips in mind.
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