Writing is a constant learning process. It is always evolving and therefore writers also evolve.
Being a good writer isn’t enough. We all have our own strengths where our writing is concerned. Some of us are brilliant at description. Some of us can do realistic, snappy dialogue. Some of us are meticulous plotters and planners and some of us are good at all aspects of writing. But whatever that strength is, there is always room for improvement.
Writers are always striving to be better, so how can you build on your strengths as a writer?
Read – a lot
The more you read, the more aware you become aware of writing techniques, individual voice and styles and the way writers set out their narrative and dialogue. Reading other famous authors is still the best way to gain an insight into how it’s done. Long before the internet was invented, most writers learned their craft by reading lots of different books.
The more you read different genres, the better your understanding of fiction writing becomes. Not only that, but reading will also increase your vocabulary and your awareness of narrative and dialogue. By reading well established authors, you will also get to understand the how differently they approach writing; it will give you a greater appreciation of fiction writing and will no doubt inspire you.
At every opportunity in the story writing process, much of a writer’s strength will come from planning – everything from chapter breakdown, plot, characterisation, themes, subplots, setting and so on. Planning is advantageous because it acts as a guide and directs the writer where to go next. It can also prevent writer’s block or other writing problems.
Become a novel planner and you immediately build on your strengths as a writer.
Criticism and Feedback
Criticism – a word that makes most people shudder – is something every writer needs to face. Why? Because even if the criticism levelled at us seems unfair and unwarranted, it has an uncanny knack to build our resolve to push us to do better, regardless.
Sometimes the criticism is right and necessary – perhaps someone points out that a particular scene doesn’t work, or maybe the characters seem flat and uninspiring, or maybe the story has the feel of a limp lettuce. A good writer will recognise and understand those criticisms and do something about it. They can correct those weak aspects or errors and thus learn from it so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
There are also times when criticism can be unwarranted and unfair. Sometimes those who criticise are the kind of people that have no knowledge, experience or expertise a writer or the publishing industry as a whole. Sometimes the critique comes from someone who has never faced the scrutiny of an editor or been traditionally published. (Self publishing doesn’t count, since there are no quality controls in place to sort the good from the positively awful, and the majority is badly written).
The other thing that helps a writer is constructive and positive feedback from editors, publishers or other readers who can point out the areas that you are good at, but also highlight the areas where you are weakest. This is where feedback is essential for new writers in particular - it means they can then concentrate on the weak areas of their writing and improve their skills.
Rejection can work in the same way – it allows writers to accept any criticism, learn from and improve because of it.
Attend Workshops/Writing Courses
Workshops are another good way to learn more about writing, particularly as there are plenty of shared resources available to help. You can also talk to other writers, share advice and experiences and further learn from any writing courses on offer.
Join Writer's Group/Writer’s Forum
Writing groups or forums can be beneficial to budding writers because they are often made up of a range of people with differing levels of experience and skills.
Sometimes, speaking with people who have the experience of being traditionally published can help because they have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can offer advice that is tried and tested, but also offer various levels of support, and often there are usually people there who have expertise in certain areas of writing.
Learn to edit
Don’t assume that once your magnum opus is written that all responsibility for it can be dropped and it can be dumped in an editor’s lap for them to sort out. If you do, then don’t become a writer – as part of the skill set of a writer you should learn how to edit to a sufficient level that you learn about your writing, you learn what you’re doing and you spot your own mistakes.
Editors can help with grammar and syntax, characterisation and sentence structures etc, but they can’t tell you about voice and style or interfere with the true sense of the work. Don’t expect others to wipe your backside when you can do some of it yourself.
Write, Write, Write
It goes without saying – the more you write, the better you become. Everything you write is considered practice, of sorts.
Not everything we write will be perfect – far from it. Every first novel is dire. That is until we start learning and improving until we gain confidence and the skills to make that novel into something that someone will want to read.
And don’t stop at novels – short stories and flash fiction are a great way for writers to improve and hone their skills.
But the best way a writer can improve on their strengths is to listen to feedback, learn from it, read voraciously and keep writing.
Next week: Can internal dialogue make your novel better?