I’ll start this post off with a small disclaimer: while I like to dabble in creative writing in my spare time, I’m by no means a writing authority on what makes “good writing better”.
The idea of what makes a good writer is pretty subjective: what is literary gold to some readers may just be fancy toilet paper for others. Or in other words, what works for some readers, may not work for others. So the definition of what makes a ‘good writer’ is rather vague in that respect, but what we do know is that the reason we write is so we can communicate our thoughts to others. Therefore, to be a good writer is to be a good communicator.
But how can you improve on this communication skill? Over the years I’ve spent experimenting here and there with stories of my own, I’ve managed to pull together a few points that have really helped me improve my own writing (in my own eyes, at least).
Here are a few things that have helped me:
1. Read a lot
When I read a great book, I’ll find myself enraptured by the writer’s language, marvelling over the use of a smart and original metaphor, or mentally wrung out by the emotions their writing has managed to invoke in me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Reaching the end of a well written book always inspires me, and leaves me mulling over the ideas they have shared so that I’m filled with ideas of my own. You can learn so much by reading the works of other writers: how to make your sentences flow, how to utilise sounds in words to induce an atmosphere, or to create strong imagery, and so much more.
2. Make sure that what you’ve written can be understood
This is probably the most important (and obvious) point, as it links strongly with what I said about good communicating. It doesn’t matter if the words you’ve written sound great together, if your reader can’t understand what you’re trying to say then you’ll need to rework it until they can. It might be a good idea to have a friend or a family member look over your work, and have them relay to you their understanding of it; if the message they got from your writing is the message you intended to convey, then you’re doing well.
3. Write every day
The main thing about improving in any discipline is practice. The more you write and experiment with words, the more fluid your writing process will become. I say this from from experience: I used to spend a lot of my spare time writing before I started university where I pretty much stopped, and I found that going back to it after I graduated was incredibly difficult. As with any skill, you can get rusty if you don’t continuously develop it. Practise makes perfect!
4. Read, re-read and re-re-read your work
Sometimes it takes a few tries before we feel happy with what we’ve produced, and that’s fine! What you’ll find once you’ve read through your work is that you can easily pick out the lint and iron out the details, because your understanding and background knowledge of your story is much more fleshed out than when you started writing it. Editing your work will open your eyes to common mistakes you make as you’re writing too, and in the long run will hopefully help you out when drafting your work in future.
5. Be open to criticism
This relates back to what I said in the first point. Having someone read your private work is a scary thought in itself, but having them give you feedback on how you could improve it is even more so. Because it’s so subjective, it becomes too easy to take constructive criticism on your work personally. There’s nothing more I can say on this other than: try not to take it personally, and understand that receiving feedback will help you improve in the long run. Any criticism you can get, good or bad, will help you so much more if you’re writing to appeal to more readers.
6. Stop doubting yourself
A lot of writers actually suffer from impostor syndrome (if you’re not familiar with what impostor syndrome is, have a read of this article). This is pretty common, and as interpretations on someone’s writing is such a personal experience, no matter what you do there’s no guarantee that every reader will experience your writing in the same way. By saying this, I mean to highlight: write for yourself. If you like it, then great. If others like it, then all the better, that’s an added bonus. Doubting yourself will prevent you from embracing your strengths and your flaws.
7. Enjoy yourself!
This one I think is the most important. You are most likely a writer because you enjoy writing and as with any profession or hobby, you’re not likely to produce your best work if you’re not enjoying yourself. So if you find yourself lagging or procrastinating because you’re just not feeling it, give it a break and go do something else you enjoy! Going back to your writing with a smile on your face will have you feeling so much better than if you were just frowning at the screen all day.
Don’t forget that writing is a completely personal process to every writer, so while these are things that I’ve found really help me understand and improve my own writing, it may be that other methods work better for you, so feel free to post a comment and let me know! I’m all ears 🙂