If you work in any kind of writing field, you know that you’re always looking to improve your craft. Maybe you’re a technical writer. Or a novelist. Or you’re a journalist out in the field. All writers want to keep getting better. Period.
Here are 15 tips from AskReddit users for all you writers out there that will hopefully give you some new perspective and will keep pushing you toward your goals.
Let’s take a look!
1. Leave it alone for a bit.
“When you’re done writing something, walk away for a few days, then come back to edit. It’s hard to see issues when you’re constantly immersed in the story/paper/poem/etc., and taking a break helps you to come with fresh eyes.
And to reiterate, read your work out loud. I worked for my campus writing center, where we would read almost all of our client’s work aloud. It’s amazing how many obvious errors can be caught from hearing it vocalized.”
2. Tips from an instructor.
“Former college composition instructor here. Here are my “oh my god please just do these things” rules for better writing.
1.) Make an outline. Use it. If you’re stuck, an outline is a really easy way to get unstuck. Papers on a deadline can be broken up into sections based on the outline, then written in stages to help manage time. Once I got used to writing from an outline, paper-writing for college courses became as mechanical as solving math problems. Write outline, find sources to support each point, start wherever my brain is clearest, then go to the next point. With the outlining features in Word, you can do all of this work in the same document.
2.) The best writers in the world write sh^tty first drafts, because sh^tty first drafts are a good first step. Accept the sh^ttiness of your first draft, get it done, then revise. Then revise again. You’re not Kerouac, and even if you are, you’ll spend most of your writing life creating things that need to be precise rather than free-flowing and impressionistic. Precision results from revision.
3.) Adverbs are annoying, and you’re probably using them to avoid better word choices. “The building was incredibly huge” reads much worse than “The building was monstrous.” Many budding writers fall into the adverb trap when they try to make their prose more descriptive. One of my revision steps, particularly when working on fiction, is adverb deletion. I go through and try to delete all of them. The good ones stay for lack of better alternatives. (Fun caveat to this rule: If you’re writing a character that needs to appear stupid or disfluent, have them overuse adverbs.)
4.) Perfect punctuation is not as important as your high school teachers led you to believe. Most readers – even sophisticated readers – won’t detect minor punctuation mistakes. Revise for punctuation last, if at all – Word’s advice is enough. Grammar, on the other hand, is critical – even unsophisticated readers will often pick up on grammar mistakes, and they detract from your authority.
5.) Good writing, like anything, takes practice. If you want to be better at it, do it more often. Write a blog, or journal, or short stories. You’ll find that the words come more and more easily as you spend more time writing. Similarly, reading helps with writing. Great authors provide instruction through their words – you can see the myriad ways that sentences and paragraphs can be structured, see how rules can be broken to good effect, and most importantly feel the impact of style as a reader.”
3. You gotta get started.
“Can’t recall who dropped this pearl on me originally, but usually whenever anyone asks me about writing it goes like this:
“Well, you know what all writers have in common?”
Now hey, this may not be your problem, but most people get so tangled up in what to write, how to write, where to write, who to write for, and when to write that they “accidentally” forget to actually just write. I put accidentally in quotes because it’s a clear subconscious procrastination technique wherein you try to create perfect circumstances to write, thinking that this will result in the perfect first draft, instead of just allowing yourself to write something that is most likely terrible, and then beginning the painstaking and often excruciatingly slow procedure of folding it over and hammering it into something better, then good, then great.
And this is where being a nerd (like myself) can really bit you in the ass, because the more of a completist you are, in ways, the cleverer you are the more ways you can think to fool yourself into thinking you are taking a necessary step in the process. “Just 20 more minutes on wikipedia doing research,” “just one more episode of this writing podcast,” “just five more days, moths, years putting off the actual process of processing, while I let perfect be the enemy of good.”
The fact is, most people who say they want to write, really just want to “have written.” They have clever thoughts in their head and think to themselves “Man, if I put my ideas down, how good would they be? They sure impress me up in my own brain, and I sure would like for other people to think I’m as clever as I think myself.”
Then they sit down, write a few sentences that are middling or worse, get scared that they might not be quite as genius as their ego is constantly telling them they are, and run away from the page fast enough to give themselves scriptlash.
Having written feels great. Writing is f*cking painful. Or to cop another lesson I learned while procrastinating,
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Smart guy, that fowler. He also said “The best way to become a successful writer is to read good writing, remember it, and then forget where you remember it from.” Of course if I were really smart, I’d have said that I said it. And if he were honest he’d probably admit that he was just putting his own spin on the lesson “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” And if you don’t know who said that yet, the answer should be obvious: I did.
Anything that gets in between you and just putting more words on the page is the enemy of your growth. Anything within reason, anyway. Maybe still eat and try to have s^x with pretty and consenting adults* from time to time, so you have something to write about.
And by the way, if this advice isn’t as eloquent as that of anyone else’s here, that’s ok too. I’m operating on about 3 hours of sleep right now, because I was up all night writing. It felt good. Eventually.”
4. No fear.
“You must not fear.
Fear is the art killer.
Fear is the little death that keeps your stories unfinished.
If you can’t think of anything to write, your fear is that your writing won’t be worthwhile. Do not fear. Write through the fear. If it’s cr*p, murder it and write again.
If you can’t edit, you fear that your edits will be ineffective or counter-productive. There is no such thing. Make a friend of destruction.
In the end, fear is the only enemy.”
5. Keep it simple.
“Simplify, man. Simplify. Unnecessary words used just to sound fancy really make your writing cramped and boring to read.”
6. This is a good one.
“I do a lot of scientific writing. I find the single best thing to improve and revise my writing is to print it out and edit it with a pen. I don’t know what it is about computers, but you catch so much more on physical paper than an electronic copy. I may have looked over the paper multiple times, but I always catch additional issues with a hard copy edit.”
7. Does this make sense?
“When you’re about to write something, ask yourself: If I were this character, would it make sense for me to do this?
Your number one resource is your imagination: use it. Imagine you’re each person in turn. Does what you’re hearing and feeling lead to what you’re doing If it doesn’t, you’ve got a plot hole.
There’s no reason a military officer would just f*ck off and join the circus because your main character had a flamboyant cloak; You need to give him/her a serious motivation to abandon his/her post and risk court martial, or you’re just writing Mary Sue nonsense.”
8. I’ve never tried this one…
“‘Write drunk, edit sober’ – Ernest Hemingway”
9. Big words do not make big emotions.
“Less is more.
Having a large vocabulary is great, but that doesn’t mean you need to pull out the obscure, multi-syllable thesaurus words two or three times per sentence. Trying too hard to sound intellectual makes you sound either pompous, less than genuine, or just so insecure about your intelligence that you can’t write a solid paragraph without trying to work “petrichor” or “taciturn” or something into it just to prove to people that you know those words. Don’t alienate your reader by trying to sound smarter than them. Big words do not make big emotions.
Also, stop over-describing things that aren’t really that important to the story. In order to keep a story fast-paced enough to hold the readers interest, you might need to stop describing every button on a characters shirt or devoting more than a sentence or two to what a room looks like, unless there is something really important about that room. Anyone can write an insightful, beautiful description of an ordinary object. Now if someone has a gruesomely deformed face, you might want to take that opportunity to get detailed. But save the really descriptive literary masturbation for things that matter. Just remember to write deliberately. Think about whether or not what you just wrote really improves or enriches the story or if you’re just show-boating with your descriptive skills.
Read a lot. But one thing I especially recommend for improving your writing is to read a book twice. The first time, just absorb the story and enjoy it and feel what you’re supposed to feel without thinking too hard about it. Then read it again and analyze the sh^t out of it. Think about the fact that as effortless as it is to read now, it was once rough and rocky and hard to follow. Every decision that went into the final product was completely deliberate and served a purpose.
And everything in that book is just that, a decision. Ask yourself why the author would include something or why they would write something using exactly the words they did. Because it’s things like that that make a good plot into a good story. I’m going to agree with the hivemind and say that you really should read some Palahniuk or at least go to youtube and look up some readings of his short stories. That man knows exactly what it means to write deliberately.
Also for the love of God, stop saying “ever so slightly” so f*cking much. Jeez.”
10. Communicate clearly.
“Writing is communication. Plain and simple. It’s careful communication, sure, but communication nonetheless. Ask yourself, can I say this better? Am I leaving something out? Will someone else get it? That’s all writing is. Tell someone something without giving them any room to ask questions.”
11. All of this.
“Spend an hour writing everyday. Don’t worry about plot or editing. Just try and write as much as you can in that hour. Delete it afterwards. Read a lot of books.”
12. You have a voice. Use it!
“Magazine Editor here!
I can’t be bothered to see if there are others of us in the thread. It’s really frustrating to not see people use their own voice. A lot of young writers I get on board for either work experience or just for the heck of it seem to write most things without voice. I suppose it’s very similar to how a school report would be written, but my god is it boring.
I also say it’s better to have a couple of grammatically questionable sentences that are entertaining than it is to perfect grammar but lack any form of engaging narrative.
Also edit your work, the first draft is never good, and working with other writers can make the world of difference in the long run.”
13. Good one.
“I was told once, long ago, that one should vary their vocabulary enough to avoid repeating the same words too closely together. It helps give the writing depth, as seeing the same words often enough can break flow and pull the reader out of any immersion that may have been achieved beforehand.”
“Outline your work over and over again. Don’t write anything until you have a strong outline. Rework the outline, experiment with it and then start looking at what each scene or beat has within it.
A big issue for many writers, myself included, is that we have a story but it’s pacing is just odd. Making a beat sheet helps you catch that early on before you start getting deep into your work.
I like to color code my outlines points by their emotional substance. I’d use red for passion, grey for neutral, green for comical and so on. This way you can map out how you want your audience or readers to feel depending on where you are in the story. It’s very helpful.”
15. Do it better.
“No idea is original. Get over the fear that someone’s already done it. Do it better.”
I love that last bit of advice. Because you just have to do it and do it well. 90% of success is just finishing what you set out to do. Remember that.
But what do you think? Any bits of advice seem more interesting than others? Let us know in the comments!