This post is more about creative writing but it’s worth having a go at the tips if you want to improve your business content and give it a little more pizazz. I’m not suggesting turning into Shakespeare but having a more critical approach to your writing.
We all want to be better writers, right? We all want that wow! factor when words and ideas come together in perfect synergy to make something meaningful and, dare I say it, beautiful. Your writing skill lies at the heart of all this.
You may have the greatest idea in the history of storytelling but if you don’t have the skill set to match, you’re scuppered. If you’re serious about being a good writer then you should always be trying to better your skills. It’s part of the dark process, the pain that we endure every day to make ourselves heard.
I’m going to run past the “writers write” tip. It’s been used so many times over the past gazillion years you should know it by heart. To get better, you have to write…yah-de-yah-yah…
Think for a moment that your writing self is a thing, hidden, wrapped in stone. Your process of discovering who you are is a process of chipping away that stone veneer and revealing what lies beneath. Sometimes large chunks of rock will fly off and reveal more than you ever expected, or hoped for; most times it’s tiny chips and flakes.
It’s a long process. This writing business. It hurts and it doesn’t come ready made.
These writing tips are not in any particular order and some may be useful and some not.
Tip 1: Read outside your comfort zone
I struggle with poetry in a lot of ways. Sometimes I don’t see the point of it and other times I really don’t understand what is being said. Which is the point of this tip. Poetry is way outside my comfort zone so my thinking is that it’s good for developing my writing skill.
Perhaps I just don’t like poetry. I have the same problem with Shakespeare. I really want to get to know him but I find him tedious.
And then I discovered a truth. Poetry needs to be listened to, not read. For me anyway. Benjamin Zephaniah is doing a programme on BBC at the moment about the legacy of Dylan Thomas in the Welsh poet’s home town of Swansea. Poetry makes more sense to me and elicits more emotion when it is read to me. I had the same issue with the The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner until I heard it read by Richard Burton.
Reading outside your comfort zone promotes a greater understanding of language and its usage. It doesn’t only encompass literature that is ‘foreign’ or difficult to comprehend and dissect. It includes other genres that you might not have an interest in. Stepping into brave new worlds helps change perspective on your own writing and gives you new ways to develop your writing skill.
If you read, write and breath horror, then pick up a romance or some chicklit (seriously!). If you like thrillers then try something in science fiction. Step into Chekov or Joyce rather than pick up that latest instalment of Game of Thrones. Similarly, if you read classics, opt for something more modern and less of a brain tease.
Diversify your reading and you will further develop your own writing skill.
Tip 2: Walk and increase creativity
Exercise is good for the brain. Writers are often sedentary creatures, hunched over their desks, scribbling away to the detriment of health and good posture. A simple walk can help you be more creative. The Daily Mail recently reported that people are twice as creative if they are taking a walk in a park. Actually, according to the study they were quoting, it’s the exercise that promotes the creative thinking process rather than the location, but you get my drift.
I come up with most of my best ideas when I’m out walking. The trick is to take a notebook with you and jot the stuff down when you have a humdinger. My problem has always been that the idea that seemed so good up there on the mountain was suddenly diffused by the time I gott back to the car.
So notebook, pen, write it down when it occurs.
Doing some intense aerobic exercise just before you sit down to write also helps the creative process. All those endorphins and stuff, they say. Or maybe it’s just the extra oxygen being pumped to your brain. Try it. See what happens.
Tip 3: Write something different
You know how it is, trawling through your latest tome, struggling to keep the plot going, debating whether to have a glass of wine or two or three. It’s difficult. So why not start a fresh page and write something completely different? It often helps to get the cogs rolling again.
But this writing something different tip isn’t just about changing tack to get your juices rolling. Writing out of your comfort zone, like reading out of your comfort zone, can add another dimension to your writing skill. Never written a love scene before? Then do one now. How about a science fiction story if you have only ever written Westerns? Drop into a different genre or, more importantly, adopt a different style. If you like to cram your work full of description opt for something spare where every word counts.
Even better, write a news story or a blog post or something that’s not fiction at all. Changing the way you approach your writing can help you develop new skills and see new ways of doing something.
Tip 4: Write just dialogue
Honing the skill of writing dialogue is one of the most neglected areas amongst many indie writers. It may look simple but actually it’s one of the harder aspects of the dark arts.
“Because people simply don’t practice it enough.”
“Because they think it’s easy.”
There are plenty of how to guides for writing good dialogue but the only true way to develop your writing skill in this area is to practice, practice, practice. Cut out the extraneous descriptive content and just concentrate on dialogue. The more often you do it, the more competent you will become.
“Why is good dialogue difficult to write?”
“Because what is not said is often more important than what is said.”
“That sounds difficult.”
“Is that it?”
Practice may not make perfect, but practice in this case certainly will make you better. If you want to see how dialogue really works then download some scripts from great films and read them carefully. Then watch the film. Then practice. Then take up juggling.
Tip 5: Build your vocabulary
I’m not talking about using big words in your novels and bamboozling your readers with over complex descriptions. Your writing skill depends on you being able to use the right word for the right moment. Most of us have pet words that we use over and over again.
Building your vocabulary is about finding alternatives that will give your writing a greater richness.
If you’re like me and new words have difficulty in staying between the ears (it’s an age thing, I think) then keep a notebook and write them down. Refer to your list when you settle down for bed at night and try to imprint those pesky words onto your memory.
Widening your vocabulary is perhaps one of the most important tips for developing your writing skill and there is no excuse except laziness for not doing it.
Tip 6: Develop your critical skills and learn to edit
As a writer you need to be able to stand outside your latest blockbuster and evaluate it critically. It’s a difficult skill to learn and some people are good at it, others not so much. The thing is, if you are an avid reader, which you should be, you are probably doing it already and have been for some time when you read other people’s work.
It’s a lot more difficult, however, when we come to look at our own stuff. I’ve written before on how to read like a writer and it’s one of the most important things that you will have to learn to do if you want to be a proficient scribe.
Buy some books on editing and do some remedial work on long forgotten prose that you have written. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the services of a professional editor once you are ready to publish but it does mean that you shouldn’t negate all responsibility.
The power of your book is in the rewrite and editing once you have completed that first draft. There are apocryphal stories of people who have written a perfect first draft and gone running straight into a publishing contract – that is not you. I’m fairly certain of that. Unless you’ve sold yourself to the Devil.
Tip 7: Embrace different mediums
Photography, painting, drawing, music, sculpture, they are all different mediums that can help you make sense of writing. Using the brain creatively is not just about sitting at your keyboard each day. Taking a step away and trying something else that uses your creative mind a little differently can add a new dimension to your writing skill.
Take up another creative hobby and become good at it. Work those creative muscles till they scream with joy.
Tip 8: Become a different person
Visualising yourself as a completely different person is more difficult than it sounds. We always bring who we are to the person we are trying to create (if that makes sense). It’s something that takes practice but can lead to great insight for character development if you can, indeed, step into someone else’s shoes. Mostly it comes down to changing the way you think.
Have a go at this: Pick someone real you are not getting on with, maybe a work colleague or boss who has not been too nice to you recently. See the world from their point of view. See yourself through their eyes and be as critical as you like. Like most things in this list, it’s something that takes practice.
But doing this often and as honestly as possible will help your writing skill when you come to flesh out your fictional characters. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.
Tip 9: Warm up with a short, sharp burst of writing
Often the problem us writers have is getting ourselves in that chair and starting to write. We experience despair, fear, anger. We procrastinate. We stare into space. We can often do anything but write.
The trick is to begin. If you are having trouble getting down to the business of writing, open a blank page and speed write without thinking for 10 minutes. Think of it as a warm up exercise to loosen the cob webs and get you back on track.
Tip 10: Move forward, not back
If you’re like me, going back to stuff that has already been written is a comforting thing to do. It can also be a waste of time. I’m not talking about when you set out to edit and refine your first draft, I’m talking about getting stuck on what you have just written. Writers, as far as possible, should always be pressing forward. It’s the only way we get things done. If the editing can come later then leave it.
For the moment just write, write, write.
Advance as much as possible, shield of destiny in one hand, pen in the other. Push on and you will find yourself being more productive than you ever thought.
Some last thoughts on writing skill
If you think creative writing is easy then you are probably doing it wrong.
If you believe that your writing skill is honed to perfection now that you’ve completed a few novellas, then you are wrong.
And if you have ever spent more than half an hour staring at a blank screen, scratching your vitals and chewing your nails anxiously…you’re a writer.