Written by: Kate M. Colby
We all want to be better writers and find ways to improve our writing craft. Some of us have been fortunate enough to study creative writing in university or hire writing coaches and editors to help us become better writers. Then again, some of us have not had these opportunities, or simply are not sure if we want to invest so much of our money and time in our writing at this point.
Often, we get caught up in these “professional” ways to improve our writing. We forget that, at its core, writing is a creative task. Yes, writing skills absolutely can be taught, but they don’t have to be. There are dozens of ways to become a better writer on your own or with informal help without spending a dime.
Here is one dozen:
Reading fiction is not just entertainment. For a writer, reading is observing and studying the craft. It’s a time-tested principle by which most writers stand – the more you read, the better you will write.
While you’re at it, don’t just read fiction. Read nonfiction books on writing craft. Read memoirs or biographies of your favorite authors and artists. Read books about publishing and business and all the “boring” legal aspects of writing. The more you know about the writer’s life, the more confident you will become in your writing skills.
Blogging is an easy way to practice basic writing skills. Depending on your blogging style, it allows you to practice researching, description, sentence structure, brevity, clarity, and writing for a specific audience. Plus, blogs are also a great resource for networking with other writers and finding their writing tips and tricks.
The best way to improve your writing (or any task) is to practice it. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours to “master” a craft. While this may be an inexact number, it makes the point: to be great, you must practice.
While reading and practicing will definitely improve your writing, you can only do so much by yourself. At some point, you will be too close to your work, and it will be beneficial to get the opinions (and constructive criticism) of others. A few easy and free ways to do this are: posting your work on a blog or writing site (like Wattpad), asking for beta readers, seeking a critique partner, joining a writing group, or simply asking a friend or family member to read your work.
What better way to learn how to construct dialogue for your characters than by studying the dialogue of real people? Catch snippets of conversation from other people and listen to the way they frame the conversation. More importantly, listen to what they aren’t saying. Real conversation is full of subtext and body language that are difficult to replicate in fiction. The more you pick up, the more you realistic your writing will be.
People-watching is one of the most helpful exercises for writers. By observing others, you can gather inspiration for characters’ relationships, body language, dress, mannerisms, appearances, and so much more. The more diverse and complex individuals you can get into your artistic scope, the more interesting your characters will become. It can also be really fun to put words and thoughts into the mouths and brains of people around you to practice dialogue and storytelling.
7. Day Dream
Allow yourself to get lost in your creative ideas. The longer you ruminate on a project, the more your inspiration will grow. Dream big and be bold with your concepts. Then, dream out your plot like a movie behind your eyelids. The more you can visualize your plot, the easier it will be to write.
8. Be mindful
At the same time, don’t get too caught up in day dreaming. The best description comes from experience. Be mindful of your surroundings and pay attention to the beauty and tragedy you see in the world around you. The more present you are, the more precise your descriptions will be. After all, how can you accurately describe the feel of a snowflake on your tongue if you have never taken time to pay attention to how it feels?
9. Absorb other art
Creativity feeds off creativity. Paintings and sculptures can inspire poetry, characters, whole stories. Music can boost concentration while writing, as well as spawn creative ideas. Movies demonstrate the art of storytelling in a visual form and, like people-watching and eavesdropping, serve as great examples of dialogue and character. The more art you absorb (and create), the more creativity you will generate for your writing.
10. Sign up for other authors’ newsletters
Time for the “practical” advice. Most professional authors (especially indie authors) have newsletters and websites filled with writing and business advice. And most of these newsletters come with free books or guides for improving your writing, too!
11. Attend webinars
I have recently discovered the world of webinars, and they have been incredibly informative for my writing and business skills. Some of them are paid, but many are free. You can find these through author newsletters and social media sites like Twitter. Joseph Michael,@ScrivenerCoach, hosts roughly one free webinar a month, and I really enjoy them.
12. Listen to podcasts
The best thing I have done for my writing (and writing business) thus far has been listening to writing podcasts. The ones I follow are packed with advice from successful authors on writing craft, the business of writing, and juggling writing and “real” life responsibilities. You can see the ones I most recommend on my Writer Resources page.
If you want to improve your writing, there are no excuses and no reasons to wait. There are several actions you can take in your daily life, right this very second, for free, that will help you improve your writing. Yes, this is daunting and can feel overwhelming. However, you should also feel empowered. The ability to become a better writer is entirely in your hands. All you have to do is pick a strategy and dive in! Good luck!