As I prepare to start what will hopefully be the fourth and final draft of my novel, I can’t help but marvel at how far I’ve come. I really have grown as a writer. More than I thought I would. And so, based on my own bumps and learning curves and trials and tribulations, here are my 12 best tips for anyone looking to improve their own writing skills (whether you write fiction or something else):
12) Don’t use twenty words when five will do. But by the same token, don’t sacrifice for tone for conciseness.
11) Don’t overstate and don’t state the obvious. Keep your prose clean and tight, and trust that your readers will get it.
10) Good writing is all about rewriting. Hardly anything’s perfect the first time around. And that’s okay.
9) With every project, set a quota and commit to it. Even if you only write for two hours a day one day a week, you’ll still accomplish more than you thought possible when you look back at your work a month or year from now.
8) Ask for feedback and really listen to what people have to say. Carefully consider all opinions, even the ones you think are off base at first impression. But also…
7) … Trust yourself to know what feedback to apply and what to discard. You’re the only person who can decide what will work and what won’t.
6) It’s okay to take breaks and do something else if you’re stuck. The work will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be amazed at what fresh eyes can spot.
5) It’s okay to write out of sequence. You can organize it later (I often write endings before I write middles). With writing, what matters is the final product, not how you got there. Every writer’s process is unique.
4) To be a writer – regardless of what you write – you have to be a reader. No way around it. Carve out time for reading the same as you would for writing.
3) Network with other writers. Their successes will inspire you and they give the most practical advice. And since writing is a lonely craft, socialize as often as you can.
2) There are general rules for writing well. Learn every single one of them so you’ll know how – and when – to break them.
1) Stay true to your work. Readers can sniff out inauthentic writing from fifty feet away. Don’t write “darn” when “fuck” is better. And don’t ever write “fuck” if you’re writing for kids.