We’ve all heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, and whilst perfection itself may not be achievable, I think we can all agree with the sentiment. It’s simply logical that the more you do something, the better you get at it, and that definitely applies to writing. This is something that I found to be true while I was at university. As we had to do a large amount of essays and finish with a dissertation, over the years, I was able to improve my writing skills by incorporating everything that I learnt over time. I remember when I was at the final stages of writing my dissertation where I needed to cite all the references I used, which is what led me to find an online service that helped write my annotated bibliography. This was a lifesaver as the deadline became even closer. From this, I still remember to this day how to write the perfect bibliography. Although I don’t really use this in my writing, it is an important skill to have. Now I just write stories.
There really isn’t any way around putting in those hours at the keyboard (or with your pen in hand): with every story or novel chapter you write you will be growing and improving as a writer. However, I’ve found in my own writing that there are certain things you can do that make for more effective practice than simply doing the same thing time and time again.
So here are three things you can do to fast-track your practice, and improve your writing:
- Write in a different form.
One of the best things you can do for your writing is to mix it up now and again, particularly in regards to form. For example, if you pretty much exclusively write novels then you’ve probably become quite skilled in the art of novel-writing, so a great way to improve your overall writing skills would be to try another form, such as poetry.
Poetry in itself is a great means of developing your writing skills, as every single word counts and has to be carefully chosen, which is great for refining your writing technique. Plus I think it’s just a writerly rite of passage to go through that stage of writing bad (or hopefully good!) poetry! Similarly if you usually write novels, short story writing can teach you loads about story structure, and writing non-fiction can help you become more concise, and master differences in tone.
That isn’t to say ‘drop whatever your current project is and start something else.’ I simply mean that it’s easy to become complacent when working on the same kind of things, so mixing it up once in a while can be a good way to sharpen your skills.
- Isolate one element of writing to focus on.
Another great thing you can do for your writing is to isolate a specific aspect of the craft, and really spend some time developing that skill and that aspect of your work.
So if you think your dialogue can be a bit clunky, have a play around with it: try writing a script, or a story that’s pure dialogue. If you think that your descriptions suck, find some photos of a mountain, or the sea, or a painting of a beautiful fantasy castle and describe the hell out of it! Whether it’s your perspectives and tenses, your plotting or even just your vocabulary, spending some real time working on specific parts of your writing can be so useful.
- Get feedback.
So yeah…if you’re anything like me, this one’s a scary one. For years and years my writing was practically a highly guarded secret – I never let anyone read it. Not ever. But I was forced to change that when I decided to do Creative Writing as part of my degree at university (I don’t know how I thought I wasn’t going to have to let anyone read my work when studying creative writing!). A key aspect of the course was letting both the lecturer and the other students read my work, and of course it was terrifying. And yes, my work did get criticised. A lot. And it hurt, even though they were nice about it.
But you know what? By the end of my three years at university, I achieved a 1st in my final Creative Writing project, which just goes to show how much your writing can be improved by letting someone else read it.
Criticism may be scary, but it can be a good thing as long as it’s done nicely, and the criticism is constructive. Other people can see flaws in our work that we can’t (because we wrote it, and it’s our beautiful little baby!), and so the best way to catch and correct these things is to get some feedback (and preferably not from your mother – she’ll probably love it, because you wrote it!).
So what do you think about my different methods of improving your writing? Do you have any other good tips? Do you let other people read your work?