So, do you want to become a better writer?
That’s why you clicked onto this page, isn’t it? Or are you just clicking whatever takes your fancy? Regardless of your motivation for coming here, I’m sure this post will teach you some new things. Whether you’re a non-fiction writer reviewing travel books, or you’re a fiction writer looking to become the next Tolkien or Arthur C. Clarke, I’m here to help. Here are three down-to-earth ways to make people take you seriously in your potential career or hobby.
Oh, yes indeed. The amount of people I meet who say something like, “I’m a writer, but I hate to read” is astonishing. That’s like saying you’re an architect but hate to study the layout and structure of buildings. Of course you need to read! Granted, there are some writers who do this whose work is not terrible, and the same goes for painters and practically everything else. Sometimes they enjoy the hobby and not the history; sometimes they have the bones but aren’t interested in putting any meat on them. And in some cases that’s okay, but the vast majority of the time it’s not, especially if they wish to improve.
Even if you don’t want to read, it is so vital to the writer to do so. A writer can understand in what way a particular genre is written and how sentences are structured in modern-day fiction and non-fiction. It exercises their imagination; it allows them to find ideas for stories they never would have come across otherwise. Like an architect not wanting to study buildings, so the writer not studying books will soon allow their own work crumble into mere rubble. To not read is to invite trouble. An architect needs to know fellow architects’ work to draw inspiration from them to come up with something new, to know which materials are best for which job, and so on.
And don’t just think that if you already read then you can skip this point. If you already read, challenge yourself to read something you don’t normally read, or even never read: a newspaper, a children’s book, a non-fiction book about the human body. Not only are these books good for reference when needed, but they’ll expand your imagination and mind, may give you a few ideas, and will teach you some facts.
Yup. Again, this is a fairly common reality. I hear often of “writers” who say they’re writers but can’t specify what they’ve written, or won’t show their work at all, to anyone. Most likely, they like the idea of being a writer but not the work of being one. Writing can be difficult, especially when you’re starting out. But perseverance is key. They say you need 1,000,000 words written before you have a distinctive writing style, or ‘voice’, and that you need 10,000 hours to master a skill. That’s a lot of writing. Better get to it, eh?
But don’t panic. Some people think that you’re only a writer if you’re published, or if you’ve written something political or worthy of praise i.e. something that’s not science-fiction or fantasy. This is nonsense. If you write things, then you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. And it doesn’t have to be a novel: you can write short stories, flash fiction, reviews, and so on. Even if you want to write a brilliant novel that you know you have somewhere in you, don’t think that jumping into the deep end is the best way for you. It worked for me (the first two projects I ever completed were short stories, and the third was a novel), but it might not work for you. If you don’t yet feel comfortable creating a massive alternate world or whatever, then that’s fine. Just stick to lower word count projects. That way, when you do end up writing a novel, if that’s what you want to do, then your writing voice will already be taking shape, and your experience will pay off – trust me.
This is probably the least well-known of all the ways discussed in this post, and it’s overlooked even in some writing circles. Critiquing other people’s work is important. Why’s that, you ask? Well, by critiquing other writers’ work, you can see problems which pop up often in writing and how you can then avoid them. It teaches you what’s good and what’s bad in your view, simply because you know what you like and don’t like. Doing this will also accomplish the second way to be a better writer: writing. Even writing a letter to a friend is writing, or making that shopping list. It all helps to work your muscles, both physical and mental.
To critique work, you must meet up with other writers. Have a look in your local area, and perhaps a little farther out. Are there any writing groups in your area? If there are, go to them. You may not like them (I hated mine), but at least try. You’ll meet like-minded people and you’ll be surprised by how much you can talk about. If a writing group is not an option, then you can always join an online forum, which is what I turned to after deciding I didn’t like my local writing group. There are a few out there, and typing in “Writing forums” on a search engine will bring up plenty of choices. Try a few and see which ones you like. Maybe you’ll settle into one, maybe two. But through joining an online community, you can get that distance which writers need to have their work critiqued, and you’ll make some new friends along the way, too.
So there you have it. Three ways to become a better writer. If there are any which you are not currently doing, I suggest you begin doing them. You will see a change in your work, and it will allow others to take you more seriously. Enjoy the craft of writing, but realise it’s just that: a craft. It takes work if you want to be better at it, and hopefully this post has shown you how to take yourself another step of the way.
Okay, are you ready to find out how you can become a successful writer in one simple step? Well, here goes:
It may not be an easy step, but it sure is a simple one, and once it has been completed, you have become a successful writer. Seriously. You may not be successful in terms of publication (and I’ve probably disappointed a good few people who have read this title hoping for a quick buck) but you are successful in terms of being a writer. No one can say you aren’t because you are. If someone asks you, “What do you do?” You can confidently reply, “Me? I’m a writer.” Take gratification in that.
And for those of you who really did think being published is easy and this post would help you achieve it, you really need to rethink your plan. You may be a genuinely nice person who is mistaken in what being a writer is. That’s fine – I only just discovered its true meaning a year ago. Being a writer means more than wanting to be published. Of course, nearly every writer wants this, but no one needs it. Writers need to write, just as chefs need to cook and artists need to paint and sketch. There is something within you that simply says, “Write, and I will be happy!”
Better do as she says.
And apparently my blog is helping people release their inner writer. In fact, people are still commenting on posts that I wrote last August (yes, that means you, Thomas Fowler!). And it’s my Top 10 Best Websites for Writers that seems to get the most hits; today alone five people from around the world have bothered to search the internet and click on my post. But why? Why that post?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s because there is a sizeable eagerness to write within today’s society. I mean, let’s face it: younger generations these days can’t seem to write or spell, yet you think you’ve got it, and if you can pass a basic literacy test, that’s only natural. You want to prove yourself, tell the world of your extraordinary capabilities. But what does this mean?
It means that there is more competition to get published than ever before. In this year alone, more than 130 million computers have been sold, and the number of internet users has increased to over 2.5 billion, with more signing up every second. The internet is an easy way to gather knowledge and advice on just about anything…including how to write. Including this very blog. And here comes the worst part.
Roughly 896,000 book titles have been published in this year alone. Now that may not seem so bad, but then you have to realise that this number is just a tiny fraction of the number of manuscripts that are sent to publishers and agents. So why do people continue to write? Why do or I continue to write?
As I said earlier, it’s mainly because we simply want to. For me, no matter whether I was eventually published or not, I would never cease writing. I live off it, feed off it. I can’t get enough of it, and I hope you’re the same, too. I just enjoy creating characters and telling stories, and even if that means only my wife, or my children, or my dog enjoys it, then I would consider it worth the effort. I’m not a parent yet, but if some day I was to become one, I wouldn’t stop trying to write stories for my kids, from the day they were born to the day they left for university. Enjoy must be a part of your life, part of the core of your existence. And let me tell you something: if your zest and enthusiasm comes through in your writing, then you’ve already surpassed many of the authors out there who just want to get rich and famous. And that, my dear friend, is an accomplishment in itself.
With enough work and commitment, one of those 896,000 books could well have your name written on it.
P.S. Yes, I am coming back to stay and writing an article every Wednesday, so you’re very welcome to come back as often as you’d like!
Do you write for yourself or for the market? This is a question all writers must ask themselves, hopefully sooner rather than later. Well come on then; do it. Do you write for yourself or for the market?
If some of you don’t know what those actually mean, I will give you an example. Say you’re a writer who loves to write science-fiction humour for young adults – that’s fine. But what if the market (that is, what’s selling at the moment) is serious fantasy? Now you’re in a real pickle. Do you carry on with your humourous book or do you throw it in the garbage and begin a fantasy novel just like the ones that are selling? It’s a difficult choice, as it can make or break a writer if they desperately want to be published. But what’s the answer, then?
Well in a book I am currently reading, called Richard Joseph’s Bestsellers, Alan Dean Foster (writer of the Alien novelisation) said this:
“Everything I had been trying to write ‘to the market’ was going nowhere, while something I wrote out of love and personal interest sold immediately.”
Fair enough if it’s his opinion, but why should we even begin to trust his advice? Because his world-wide sales are in excess of ten million copies. Wow. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is. But you may argue that what works for one writer may not work for another, and that’s true. So let’s a dig a little bit further into this to come up with an answer of our own.
Let’s take another example, one when you were (or still are) in school. There were certain subjects you enjoy more than others, weren’t there? Perhaps there were ones you utterly despised – like me and Physical Education! 😛 You may have tried your best at that horrible subject, or tried to write that History paper with all your heart, but in the end you weren’t as good as the best in your class, were you (not trying to bring you down here; I hated most of the subjects in my school)? You had your favourite subjects, the ones you were good at or at least did your best at. This is what writing should be like for us. We shouldn’t force ourselves to write what we aren’t good at or what we don’t enjoy – we should be writing what we do enjoy, subjects that make our bodies quiver with excitement!
Of course, what interests you as a writer may already be what’s currently selling on our shelves, and that’s great! If that’s the case for you, then get cracking! For those of us who aren’t so great at writing what’s currently on our shelves, though, this can be a little bit of a problem, so let’s tackle this problem head-on.
What do we do when we don’t want to write what’s popular? This is difficult to answer, and probably one we won’t be able to answer fully, but we can at least try. Essentially, we as writers just need to keep writing about what we love, as that’s what motivates us to write that novel or screenplay or short story – our love for its themes, characters, and so on. That love should make us proud of the work we’ve done, even if publishers and agents don’t so much as take a whiff of it. As Oscar Wilde said:
“An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all.”
Wise words. If we’re not willing to at least try a new idea (in its broad sense, anyway) then there’s almost no point in us writing at all. In fact, you could go as far to say that the people who copy the ideas of what’s popular at the present may not actually be dangerous or original, just as Wilde said. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be that writer that breaks the mould – somebody has to be!
Thanks for reading; I hope you gathered some opinions of your own through reading my own! If you want to check out the book which I quoted from, you can get it from Amazon here – Richard Joseph’s Bestsellers. It’s a good book in which the writer interviews several writers about how they became bestsellers, from Roald Dahl to Tom Clancy.