Question: How can I improve my craft and become a better writer?



Great writing isn’t just about using ideas, words, and sentences to communicate or tell a story; it’s about knowing how to put these and other elements together in a compelling way that appeals to others. As with most skills or crafts, writing requires education, dedication, and repetition to improve your practice. The more you learn and the more you write, the better your writing will be. Think of your writing craft as a muscle that needs nourished and exercised regularly to stay in tip-top shape.

If you intend to seek publication for your work or share your writing with others, it’s important to continue learning and practicing to make your writing as engaging as possible, whether writing fiction or nonfiction. Here are five ways writers can improve their craft and in turn, their ability to connect with readers and build a solid portfolio of work:

If you don't feel like working on your writing project or book, write in a journal to keep exercising that muscle.1. Write Often and Consistently

While it might not be possible to write every day or for long stretches of time, scheduling writing blocks on your calendar can be very beneficial to your practice. When scheduling time, take into consideration when and how you are most productive. Do you work best when you write daily in shorter batches, like 20 to 30 minutes per day? Or, maybe you are most productive when you write for an hour at a time, but only a few days a week. No matter your process, writing down your intentions and protecting your writing time can greatly increase your chances of following through.

Another way to create positive writing habits is to dedicate a writing space in your home. Having a comfortable and inviting space that is free from distractions can help you get into the right mindset when you sit down to write. When life requires you to step away from this space, be prepared to write on the go.

In addition, establishing a consistent writing routine helps you stay on top of your ideas, build self-confidence, and write effectively when up against deadlines, which you might face at some point. If one day you don’t feel up to working on your novel-in-progress or that new blog post on your to-do list, write freely in a journal to continue exercising that muscle.

2. Use Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Sprints

Writing exercises, prompts, and sprints can all be great warm-ups to get your creative juices flowing and practice your craft. They can be useful when experimenting with different writing techniques, exploring the depths of your writer voice, or when feeling blocked or uninspired.

Exercises and prompts are short drills that encourage writers to look at their own story or topic from a new perspective, or, approach familiar topics in a new way. Some common writing exercises include writing a scene from your story using a different character’s perspective, writing a letter to your future reader, or writing about a real-life experience in the third person he/she voice. Writing prompts are statements or visuals that generate new ideas or stimulate creativity. Some common writing prompts include an opening sentence of a short story that you need to complete, a problem for which you need to write out the solution, and a photo of a setting or character that you need to describe.

A writing sprint is a set amount of focused writing time, from ten minutes up to an hour, where the writer produces as many words as possible without stopping to edit or revise. These short bursts of output can be helpful if you have a daily word count goal you are trying to achieve or are struggling with writer’s block. You can do them on your own or even find group writing sprints to join online through social media platforms like YouTube. Just be sure to set a timer so that you don’t reach the point of being counterproductive.

Writers can also use creative writing platforms such as our partner, Six Word Memoirs, to practice their craft. Based on the premise of Ernest Hemmingway’s legendary six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”, Six Word Memoirs gives people the opportunity to express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings in just six words. This powerful tool shows how meaningful six words can be, while also demonstrating the art of simplicity. Being able to write succinctly is an important aspect of writing craft.      

3. Take Writing Classes or Sign-up for Workshops

If you plan to seek publishing opportunities and share your writing with others, continuing your writing education can be a great way to ensure your work will be marketable and meet industry and reader expectations. This doesn’t mean you have to enroll in a creative writing or master of fine arts program through a university. While those are excellent options, there are also many types of workshops and courses available to writers through local writing groups, local libraries, or through online resources like The Author Learning Center.

Writers that are new to writing fiction should seek out resources and workshops related to story structure, plot planning, character development, dialogue and more. For a fiction book to grab readers on page one and keep them turning to the end, writers must incorporate five key elements including:

•  An opening hook and inciting action or incident
•  A protagonist that wants or needs something
•  An antagonist that keeps the protagonist from getting it
•  Multiple points of escalating conflict
•  A resolution showing character growth

Online writing classes and workshops can be a great resource to new writers.Professional nonfiction writers need to determine the purpose of their book and find the structure that will work best for educating or informing others about their topic. The focus should be on what you want readers to take away and if the book will complement a business, service offering, or area of expertise. Five key elements of professional nonfiction include:

•  A clear principle or problem to solve
•  A solution or outcome
•  A process to follow
•  Examples or research
•  Inspiration

Memoir writers need to dig deep to understand the universal truth of their personal story. This is the common theme or message of your story that will make it relatable to others. Because a memoir should be structured like a fiction story, memoirists need to study and apply the elements noted above for fiction. In addition, they need to consider the potential ramifications of telling their truth, and if there are steps they should take to mitigate legal risks.

All writers can benefit from studying writing techniques and devices used to strengthen the narrative and prose. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing and allow it to evolve as your writer voice becomes stronger and more refined.

During the writing process, you’ll also want to start seeking resources for self-editing and professional editing, advice and information on which publishing path is right for your book, and tips for marketing your book effectively to readers. The learning will be ongoing and there are many opportunities these days to further your writing education affordably and on your own time. You will likely have many questions, uncertainties, and moments of self-doubt throughout your journey, so be sure to take advantage of the support and resources available to writers.

4. Join a Writer’s Group or Work with a Coach

Writing groups are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals working toward the same goals. You can find groups locally that meet in person, or regional, national, and global groups that meet and communicate online. These writing groups may include more experienced authors that can provide guidance and mentorship. Getting feedback and advice from other writers can be invaluable.

ALC members have access to Author Circle forums. Once your book project is set up in your Author Space, you are provided a private forum where you can invite ALC members and even non-members to join your circle. You can ask questions, start discussions, conduct polls, or share your manuscript to get feedback.

If one-on-one is more your style, there are experienced professionals that serve as a book coach or consultant and are another great option if your budget allows. Book coaches are often authors themselves and can wear many different hats including mentor, teacher, cheerleader, and listener. They can also provide guidance and tough love when you need it most.
Joining a writers group can be a great way to learn and network.

5. Read Widely

Writing regularly, attending workshops, and joining a writer’s group are all helpful learning resources for writers; yet, nothing replaces reading and studying the work of great writers. Author and writing teacher Georgia Lee advises authors to read the right kind of books and not to underestimate the importance of literary fiction. While many of us read for entertainment or inspiration, we don’t always read with a critical eye. 

It’s also important to immerse yourself in your genre to understand the structure and key elements that readers expect. It’s equally important to read outside of your genre to gain more tools, ideas, and techniques to strengthen your writing.

In addition, writers can seek out books that educate on the craft of writing. Some well-known books include On Writing by Stephen King, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Whether you plan to write and publish just one book or make a career out of sharing your writing, your goal should be to produce content that is well informed, polished, and engaging. You want your writing to matter to others, so keep working that writing muscle, continue learning, find support, and read, read, read!

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