Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing - Part 1

I have come to the realization that there are several things you can do to strengthen your writing.  Things that are free and don’t involve taking classes or fancy seminars.  Some of these suggestions might even improve more than just your writing, they might even improve your life…this is often true of good advice.

My dear friend and fellow writer is joining us from her blog to mock my suggestions offer commentary on my advice, and she will offer some advice of her own in Part 2 of this post (coming next week).  In order to differentiate her snarkiness from my own, her thoughts in depicted in the green font. 

Also assisting with this blog post is my cat Sirius, who will be demonstrating each tip.  So, without further ado, here are...


1.  Read More.  I know, I know.  Everyone seems to think that there is no time to read…and yet these same people often find time to plop down in front of the television every night for hours on end.  Reading good books fosters good writing.  So much of what we learn about a good story structure, a meaningful turn of phrase, or gut-wrenching suspense can be absorbed by seeing it done first hand.  If you regularly read good books, all kinds of good books, you will notice what the writers do, and don’t do.  It helps.  Honest.  (And if not, well, at least you helping to support another writer’s family.)  

I really dig this Katniss, chick! 
You gotta like a character whose nickname is Catnip!

There's a reason this tip is number one, and I'm a little pissed she got to it first.  But, I'm a slacker and didn't have my crap together fast enough, so what was she supposed to do?  This, friends and fellow writers, has to be the most essential thing on the list.  Read.  Read everything (no matter what Crawford Kilian says).  Read in your genre (very important if you already know what genre you've set your sights on), read outside of your genre.  Most of all, read really good stories.  If it grabs you and holds you and won't let you go, you need to find out why.  There is magic in a good story, and it's up to you to break down the alchemy.

Does it bother you when
people stare at you?
2.  People Watch.  If you plan to have people in your stories (and, for the moment, I am just going to assume you are), you need to learn how they move, how they talk, and interact.  You need to listen to the cadence of their speech, how they look when they are deep in thought, what nervous movements fill their awkward silences.  Watch.  Make notes.  Hope you don’t get mistaken for a stalker.  These are things a writer must do for her craft.  You might consider having a good friend, a trusted cohort, that will agree to bail you out of jail in the event your intentions are somehow misunderstood.  

*Sigh*  How much is the bond this time?  I keep telling you the sunglasses do not make you invisible!

I am Superman!  I am Superman!
3.  Surround Yourself with Believers.  When you finally admit to the world that you have a dream and, by gosh, you are going to pursue it, two things will happen.  First, you will receive a few pats on the back, some will tell  you how they always wanted to do that exact same thing, you might even get an “You go, girl!” or an “Atta Boy!”  Those are all well and good.  Unfortunately, you will also see another side of people.  People you thought you knew.  These people will immediately tell you why this is “A Bad Idea” and why it will have “Dire Consequences.”  They will tell you about a friend of a friend’s aunt’s brother’s daughter’s father’s mistress and how she did that EXACT same thing and nearly died, or went bankrupt, or both.  While I do not know this allegedly well-meaning prophet of doom, I do know the type.  This type has already put their dream on a shelf, long since covered in dust, and let it die.  They would like you to do the same.  Because, to listen to them, that is the “Practical Thing to Do.”  To them, I can only say this (and I hope you will, too):  Screw Practical.  No one who ever did anything worth-saving-for-posterity ever thought, “Hm, well, now there is a nice, safe, practical idea that will revolutionize things.” 

Someday that cat will sprout wings.  And then who will be laughing?  Don't worry, Sirius.  I'll tell 'em all, "I told you so!" 

Cats don't suck it up,
they LAP it up!
4.  Suck it Up.      Writers can sometimes be a bit…sensitive.  Myself included.  We whine about how there is not enough time (even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day), we talk about family commitments and how there is no time to write if you have a family (I know one person who wrote drafts of stories on their phone and emailed them to herself while her son was at karate practice.  The other mom’s gossiped, she wrote.)  Writers write…they don’t talk about writing, they write.  If you want to be a writer, ditch the excuses and WRITE! 

Note: This cat's tongue is not photoshopped. 

(This is true, as I can neither afford PhotoShop, nor do I know how to use it.)
The cat's dialogue feels stifled,
and the dog scenes should be cut...

5.  Get More Beta Readers.
  Beta readers are like mythical beasts (but without the cool horns or wings or tails), and they protect writers from putting out material before it is ready to be viewed in all its glory.  Beta readers help to mold and polish.  They are the extra set of eyes that we need…but which would be cosmetically unattractive if we somehow tried to obtain them surgically.  One Beta reader is good.  Two beta readers are better.  Three beta readers would be amazing…I hope you can sense the pattern here.

But, like Thestrals, you can only see beta readers if you've seen death--in this case, the death of a story that sounded good in your head, but looked like diseased offal when you tried to write it down. Sometimes, legend says, a dedicated beta reader can even revive an author-abandoned story from the dead.  (Tabitha King was/is Stephen's most trusted beta reader.  Thank you, Tabitha, for Carrie.  The world owes you--BIG.)
Who says cats don't have a sense of humor?
4.  Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously.  The bottom line is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself.  Otherwise, the waiting, the criticism, the deadlines, and the monotony can take its toll.  So laugh.  Laugh over your mistakes, laugh over bad reviews, laugh to keep from crying if you have to, but laugh.

STAY TUNED for Part 2 of - Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing

So, surround yourself with believers.  And that includes YOU!  You have to believe in yourself...even if no one else does.  ESPECIALLY if no one else does.  You have to believe you are freakin' Superman!  Then you strive to live up to that.