Writing can be a challenge at the best of times, but getting rid of some bad habits can make a quick difference. Let’s take a look.
1. Don’t Try to be Something, or Someone, You’re Not.
Your voice is unique to you.
Here’s the thing, when you read a story or book, and really enjoy it, chances are it’s the voice of the author that has caught your attention.
There may be a unique lilt to the word placement, an edge of sarcasm or humour, or maybe a distinct way of adding prose, setting, or character. Whatever it is, it’s unique to that writer.
If you read a prominent author enough times you’ll begin to peg their style, pitch, and timing.
Don’t try to write like King or Atwood or Adichie. They’re styles are their own. Each is filled with thoughts, politics, experiences, and histories. You are you and therefore the sum of your own uniqueness.
This is something you need to find in your own writing and the only way to do it, is to write a lot and allow yourself the freedom to create without self-critique and/or negative self-judgement.
You’re voice comes from within you and may change over time. Play with it, but always be true to it.
2. Learn Passive vs. Active
This one is often a mystery to many, including myself, and is one of those things you simply need to be aware of as it does make your writing better.
Once you’ve been writing for a long time, this rule becomes rote and falls into place. Practice and awareness are key.
Rules are necessarily not my strong forte. To me, it’s just something else to remember and that doesn’t bode well for my twisted writer brain.
Editors however, are sticklers for stuff like this.
The basic premise of active and passive voice is all about grammar. I detest grammar–never met a comma I liked. Seriously, but here’s my stab at explaining active vs passive voice.
It has everything to do with the sentence subject, verb, and object. In active voice, the subject of the sentence must come before the verb. Read THIS
ACTIVE: She dropped the cup. (She is subject. Dropped is verb. Cup is object)
PASSIVE: The cup was dropped by her. Notice the placement. The subject is not before the verb.
Read more examples HERE
Sometimes passive voice is used in your writing because that’s simply the way some people talk. Learn the grammar rule and try to put it into practice as much as possible. It will make your writing sharper and more professional.
3. Understand and Practice Show Don’t Tell
This is another basic rule of thumb that writers need to embrace and use in their writing. I’ve found that once you get the hang of it, you’ll do it automatically.
Stephen King once said “the path to hell is paved with adverbs.”
“Adverbs are words that usually modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of—verbs.” Merriam-Webster
In simple terms… they’re used as descriptors of verbs. So saying things like, “he was very angry”… describes (aka: tells) instead of shows.
Weak verbs are also modified by adverbs and don’t improve the writing. An example: “He looked sad.” or “She ran very quickly.”
Instead you could say: “HIs eyes teared up as he wrung his hands’ or ‘She sprinted down the path like a lit firecracker seeking a place to land.’
I think you get the idea. This does take practice and awareness of what you’re writing.
Here’s a post that spells it out and gives you some practice sentences. Read this post and show don’t tell will really make sense.
4. Use a Grammar Checker or an Editor
Depending on what stage of writing you’re in, you’ll want to check your work for spelling, grammar, and all the other fun mistakes we make as we write.
Personally, I have a lifetime subscription to ProWritingAid and I love it. Not only is a great checker for your writing, but it’s also contains a wealth of information. Seriously, check it out.
I usually run my work through ProWritingAid before I send it to my Editor.
I have a … well, I’m not sure what you’d call it… it’s like a distinct loathing of commas. 🤦🏻♀️ Ugh. I can stare at a comma for twenty minutes and then remove it, only to put it back in again. The process then repeats until I drive myself bonkers.
Now, in my first draft I don’t worry if it’s right or wrong because I simply plug it in to ProWritingAid and boom… done. Phew.
I will say too, that there’s nothing like a real life editor. They’re very special people who do a job that I certainly couldn’t do to any great extent.
Having a good editor means having another set of eyes. Editors are educated in what to look for and know their stuff. Details can be caught that would otherwise be missed.
I highly recommend both the electronic checker and a live editor.
5.Vary the Length of your Sentences.
Yes, that’s a full sentence and it’s also very effective.
To vary the length of your sentences allows for emphasis and a different cadence. If all the sentences are long, the reading can become monotonous and boring.
Inserting different length sentences allows for some punch and can also quicken the pace which is great if you’re building tension.
The next time you read a book, pay attention to the length of the various sentences. Become aware of what the author is doing and what affect it has on you as a reader.
And that brings us to our next tip to improve your writing…
You must read. Read. Read.
This is a way of learning and growing in the craft. Begin to read like a writer. Look for the passive voice or notice a place where the author showed rather than told what what was happening.
Perhaps you’ll see a word and think that the author could have used a stronger word or phrase.
All of these things allow you to grow within the craft of writing and will bring awareness to where your own may be lacking.
Along with reading, you can then write a review for the author. This is important as it is the lifeblood of recognition and ongoing sales for all writers. Don’t be nasty.
I always think a book is worth at least two stars for just having been written (okay… that may be a stretch but it’s tough to write and actually finish a book). Do remember that if you can’t find anything nice to say then you may not want to do a review.
Read HERE on how to complete a book review.
7. Be Open to Feedback and Constructive Criticism
There comes a point where you’ll want to share your work. If you’re doing it simply to get a pat on the back and be told how wonderful it is, then share it with your mom.
If you want honesty and a chance to grow in your art and writing craft, then you must be able to take feedback and constructive criticism.
Often there can be a knee-jerk reaction to tell a reader that they simply don’t understand or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
I’ve been there and criticism can sting, but it can also make your work better. Remember, you’re the one in charge so you can take the advice you want and leave the rest.
Whether feedback comes through a written or verbal critique, I’d say, stay silent and make notes. Let the words resonate for a few days and then make your decision. Don’t stand up and yell at the one giving you advice–that helps no one.
You can walk away, ignore it, or pay it heed as you see fit. Just don’t close the door completely.
8. Know your Filler Words
We all have them. I overuse words like that, just, almost, and seemed.
Check it out and become aware of your own filler words so when you get to a point of a rewrite or edit, you can take them out of your manuscript.
9. Read Your Work Aloud
When you write you can hear things in your head that don’t quite make it to the page or contrarily, you add things to the page that don’t need to be there.
One of the best ways to determine the readability of a piece of work is to read it aloud. Yes, I’m even talking about your 90k manuscript.
When you read aloud, you’ll often make corrections automatically. This is a sign that the sentence needs changing up.
You’ll catch many errors this way.
Here’s my way of doing the first edits on a manuscript. Reading aloud of course is just one step.
10. Keep a Dead Darling File
If you haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing, you should.
He likes to say “kill your darlings… kill them all…”
What this is means is that you, as the creator of the project, must be willing to edit and cut, cut, cut (aka: kill) all those wonderful words, characters, or plots that simply don’t make the story better.
That is one of the hardest things, but also most necessary, to do.
To alleviate the pain, keep a file entitled “Dead Darlings” and put all your cuts there. This may soften the blow when you take out that oh so beautiful scene that you worked on for a week.
Now you don’t need to be afraid to cut because you’ll have a special file where your little darlings will go to live until you want to call up again to read and admire them. Um… chances are, it’ll never happen–just don’t tell them. 😉
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know your thoughts.