If you’ve always dreamed of becoming the next Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was known for his lyrical prose, or the next Ernest Hemingway, who was known for his powerful narration, you better enhance your writing skills.
Good writing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of practice, hard work, lots of writing and a passion for the craft. Even the greatest novelists of history spent years developing their talent.
Before you go about poring over a thesaurus and learning complicated words, don’t forget to go back to the basic. There are essential rules to good writing that, if ignored, could compromise your output. If you’re dedicated to honing your skills, these small, simple guidelines will help you become a better writer. Couple these basic rules with a willingness to learn.
1. Don’t force it.
Good writing isn’t about how many big words you can use or how proficient you are with adjectives. It’s about communicating ideas to transfer knowledge, generate insights and evoke emotion. It’s about expression.
Don’t write to impress, because when you do, your writing will come out forced and sloppy. It will look like you simply used Microsoft Word’s right-click thesaurus and called it a day. And forced writing is easy to spot.
The solution: If you have an idea that’s tickling your mind, just write. Pour out all your ideas and thoughts without restraint. Don’t worry about your diction, vocabulary and syntax. You can always go back and edit. Build on what you’ve written thus far and you will ignite your creativity as you go along.
2. Use active voice whenever possible.
The active voice can strengthen your writing. Sentences where the subject is doing the action are direct and forceful. The passive voice, on the other hand, makes look sentences sound dull or confusing. Look at the example below.
Passive: The music on the opening night was performed by the band.
Better: The band performed the music on the opening night.
3. Organization is essential.
Without organization, your story will have inconsistent pacing, confusing plotlines and loopholes. Organization is also needed to make coherent and logical paragraphs. There are several steps to keep your writing organized, and the first step is to plan out your story through an outline. Do this even before you start writing.
Once you have a detailed outline, sequencing, pacing and transitions can be easy to accomplish.
4. Use accurate words.
You need not fill your prose with fancy words so your writing looks impressive. The most important words to use are accurate and effective ones. Choose your words carefully. Avoid fluff at all times. Use frills only when they’re absolutely necessary.
5. Have a clutter-free workspace.
Think about the calmness you feel the moment you clear up clutter in your room, desk or kitchen. Everything seems at peace and there’s tranquility all around. Your mind is clear and your eyes aren’t subjected to eyesores. When your space is organized and well-arranged, it’s easier to reach for things. No need to dig through piles of stuff to find that one item you really need.
This kind of environment encourages productivity, motivation and inspiration. There are fewer things to distract you, and you can allow your mind to welcome new ideas.
6. Ask if it makes sense.
Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from friends, family or colleagues. Get them to read your writing and ask if it reads well and if they understand what you mean to say. Consider their feedback, but you don’t have to implement them right away, like when two of your beta readers say a specific chapter is okay but another reader says you should revise it. If you’re in a bind, you can always hire a developmental editor or copy editor (if you have the budget).
7. Accept harsh critiques.
Criticisms can be a means for self-improvement. They can help you discover where you need to improve and open your eyes to your own work’s limitations. Some critiques can be harsh and hurtful, and you may get affected. But bear in mind that those criticisms are not directed towards you as a person. Separate yourself from your work and don’t take things personally.
8. Study the world around you.
Read books, blogs, articles, news features… everything. You write what you read. Some writers take reading for granted, but just like an apprentice studies their mentor’s work, reading the works of the old masters will help generate inspiration and ideas. Whether you draw inspiration from Salinger, Austen or the literary site Thought Catalog, you can use these accumulated ideas to create your own. Just don’t plagiarize.
Go people-watching. Observing how people dress, how they act with their friends or lovers, or simply the way they walk can inspire ideas, stories, scenarios and emotions. There are infinite sources of ideas in the world around you.
If you think you need to have a muse or something as emotional as a breakup to get those creative juices flowing, simply learn.
9. Don’t aim for perfection.
According to author Neil Gaiman, “Perfect is like chasing the horizon.”
Perhaps your idea of perfection sprung from your favorite writers’ writing style. We read their works, marvel at their genius writing skills, and then try to reach that much-coveted level. The problem with this is that we tend to be worried about failing and become unable to concentrate on the task, which is putting that story to paper.
The solution is to just write. When you write without fear of failure and work towards making something passable, you can let go of all that anxiety preventing you from being at your best.
10. Don’t give up.
Last but not the least, don’t give up. Keep writing. Focus on your goals.
If you feel like throwing in the towel, remember your goals. What are you aiming for? What do you want to achieve? What do you have to do to achieve those goals?
Remember that there’s no shortcut to being a brilliant writer. So, enjoy the writing journey and don’t beat yourself up for your shortcomings.