Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Top Ten Tips for Improving Your Writing

Here they are - the top ten things you need to know before you should even think about setting pen to paper.



1. Before you can be a writer, you must be a reader.

Can’t emphasize this one enough folks. You can’t write poetry if you don’t read poetry. You can’t write an epic novel set in a war torn country if all you’ve read are teenage romance stories. Every genre and every style has hidden rules, hidden clichés, and hidden opportunities. You have to understand what you’re writing before you write.

Equally, the more widely-read you are, the more original and textured your story will be. If all you’ve read are fantasy novels, and you decide to write a fantasy novel, you’ll produce something pretty mundane. If you decide to pull in stuff from your reading of crime novels, or even post-modern science fiction, you’ll add some originality to your story.

And the nice thing is - you don’t have to work at it. All you have to do is read - which is something you should enjoy doing anyway!

2. Know your audience

Writing for thirteen year olds is different to writing for thirty year olds. Writing for ten year olds is different to writing for the intellectual elite. Know who you’re targeting.

3. Kill the adverbs

Adverbs are descriptive words that add nothing at all to what you’re writing.

“To hell with you!” she shouted, furiously.


“To hell with you!” she shouted.

Adverbs can be recognized by their tendency to be other words with an ‘ly’ stuck on the end. Happily, furiously, tenderly, lovingly, sadly. One of the basic rules of writing is “Show - Don’t tell”. Adverbs are telling. They are weak, and they assume your reader isn’t smart enough to work out that if someone’s shouting, they aren’t the happiest bunny around. Your context should be strong enough for people to figure out what’s going on - if it’s not, then adverbs aren’t going to save you.

4. Simple is better

You might be writing a complex post-modern story with layers and metaphors that will be keeping the English lecturers happy for decades - but you still should look for the simplest way to express what it is you’re trying to express. Tortured, high-tension metaphors should be avoided. So should mixed metaphors. Unless there’s a really good reason why you can’t just say something is red, avoid lyrical allusions to roses.

This rule is one that you’ll break, and break a lot - but always know why you’re breaking it.

5. Plan first, re-draft after

We all know you’re a genius. But as someone much smarter than me once said “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration” (Thomas Edison). However good your concept is, the only way you’ll get it to shine is by working on it. That means you plan meticulously, and you re-draft as many times as it takes. Planning means more than saying “I’m going to write a story about a knight!” or “I’m going to write a blog post about global warming!”. It means researching your facts, background and audience, and it means deciding exactly what it is that’s going to happen.

There are many ways of planning, which are beyond the scope of this article. But find a way that works for you, and use it.

6. Don’t listen to your friends, listen to your critics

Okay, sometimes we all get discouraged and need an ego-boost. At these times it is worth getting your friend’s unconditional love and support. But if you want to improve as a writer, then you need to learn to accept criticism. You also need to learn when criticism is well-founded, and when it is simply a matter of taste. Nothing will teach you this except practice, and possibly a well-developed confidence in your own ability.

If someone tells you your sentences are too long, and there aren’t enough paragraphs - don’t tell them it’s your style. Instead, thank them and take a good long hard look at those sentences and paragraphs of yours.

7. Don’t expect to make a living from it

Maybe you’re writing a blog and you’re expecting money to flow in from Ad-sense. Maybe you’re writing a novel and expecting to become the next Stephen King. Don’t. Success is part skill, part persistence - but mostly luck. Quitting your job and investing forty hours a week into your writing may well be the best thing you ever do - but it’s much more likely to be the worst thing you ever do.

If you start to have moderate success doing it part time, then you can make an informed decision. But never just leap into the blue.

8. Write what you know

This means if you’re a biology graduate with ten years environmental activism behind you - it’s probably a good idea to write something that uses that. It can be far-fetched or it can be very close to home. What you shouldn’t try and do is write about the nitty gritty of police work in a murder case. Unless the murder relates somehow to global warming.

If you’re thirteen years old, and all you know is school - take a think about what makes you unique. Maybe you were adopted. Maybe your dad is a priest. Maybe your best friend firmly believes in aliens, and takes you out to the fields every night to look for traces of their spaceships. Whatever it might be, use that as springboard for your ideas.

This doesn’t mean fantasy and science-fiction is out. It just means some science-fiction is about two aliens meeting and falling in love, some sci-fi is about space war, and some sci-fi is about paranoid cops going crazy.

9. Spelling and grammar are important

You don’t have to know all the rules by heart, but you should know when to use an apostrophe, when to use a full-stop, and when to make a paragraph. With spell-checks everywhere, online dictionaries spreading like wildfire, and a compulsory education up until 16 if you live in the UK, you have little excuse.

Avoid internet fads. Typing like a txt msg will make you no friends.

10. All rules can be broken

Just know the rules - and know why you’re breaking them.


Brian M Logan

Never miss out on a great article or blog post by joining the 'Blog Up-Date Notification List' by sending an email with the word SUBSCRIBE in the 'comments' field!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home