Writing is hard. Even those of us who love it can get frustrated and overwhelmed over just how much work goes into to good writing, and how much we have to learn and improve on. Personally, I prefer to take it in steps. Saying “I am going to improve my writing” is kind of a scary, broad goal, and sometimes it is hard to know where to even begin. If you are looking to become a better writer, but don’t know where to start, this post is for you.
There are countless ways we can become better writers; there is always something that can be improved upon. But today I only want to focus on a few steps you can start taking right now that will have an awesome effect on your writing. Like any art, becoming a great writer starts with forming the right habits, repeating the basic motions until they become second nature. Today I am sharing 5 vital writing habits that will make a huge difference in your writing right from day one.
1. Read Your Genre
Chances are this is already one of your habits; why would you write a genre you didn’t enjoy reading? But making a point to frequently read multiple stories in your genre might benefit you more than you realize. Ever spend so much time with someone that you start talking like them? The same thing happens when you read a lot of work in the same genre! Our brains pick out patterns and internalize them, so when you’re reading you are learning about the writing styles and mechanics of your genre without even realizing it.
You can (and should!) also take this a step further by consciously picking out a technique a writer uses and trying it out for yourself with your own story. This is great practice and helps you get a feel for the effects that different techniques can have on your work.
Making this a habit also helps you pick up on commonly repeated tropes and cliches in your genre. Paying attention to what plot devices are being overused helps you keep your story from becoming generic and predictable.
2. Practice Being Consciously Concise
We can all remember reading a book that took forever to tell you what it was trying to say. One that rambled on and on about stuff that did not matter, or repeated itself so many times you found yourself screaming “WE GET IT THOMAS YOU LOST YOUR BLOODY MEMORY, JESUS.”
You do not want someone to remember you as that author. (Looking at you, Dashner.)
Take some time looking at a single paragraph and ask yourself: does every sentence- every word- count? Imagine you only have one sentence to convince a reader to keep reading at any given moment- what would that sentence be? Every single sentence should contribute something to that paragraph, that scene, that story. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be there.
I have a trick I have personally found very useful for teaching myself to write more concisely that I have written about before if you are interested. I use it in my own writing and when teaching the students I worked with, and it has been immensely helpful for everyone I’ve suggested it too so far!
3. Carry a Writer’s Journal
This is one of the most useful writing habits you can get into, and also probably one of the most neglected. Get a small notebook and get into the habit of carrying it everywhere you go. Jot down cool sounds you hear or describe interesting sights you come across. Eaves drop on strangers’ conversations and take notes on how they are talking: what do they say, what does their voice sound like, how do they respond to each other? For a writer, everything is research. And when you’re desperately trying to come up with the little details that will bring your scenes and characters to life, you’ll thank yourself for taking such good notes.
4. Avoid Using “To-Be” Verbs
When I was working in a freshman writing lab in university, the professor teaching the class told her students this was one of the best things they could do if they wanted to improve the sophistication of their writing.
“To-Be” verbs are…
…and I guarantee you are overusing them. Pick a random paragraph you’ve written and try to re-write it using as few of these verbs as possible. It is hard. It makes you think very carefully about not only your word choice, but your sentence structure. But it really will make a world of difference.
Do notice I chose the word “avoid,” not “stop.” Sometimes these words are the best way to go; not every single sentence needs to be complex and “sophisticated,” as that professor put it, and sometimes forcing yourself to write a sentence without using one turns it into an awkward mess. But more often than not I bet you will find that trying to remove these verbs will result in more interesting and engaging sentences.
5. Focus on ‘Showing’ Details
I know. You’re so tired of hearing people say “show, don’t tell.” Me too. Mainly because whenever people said it, they never seemed able to tell me what exactly it meant. But if you can’t get past the cliched advice, making a conscious effort to show through your writing is absolutely vital. Showing versus telling can make or break your story (looking at you, again, Maze Runner).
The short version is this: showing means giving your readers specific, concrete details that enable them to not only picture the scenes and settings, but to interpret your characters’ personalities, or infer their emotions. Showing details put the reader inside the story and lets them experience everything for themselves.
It is complicated and a little confusing, and right now you’re probably looking at me like
Everyone wants to dole out the advice to “show more,” but no one ever bothers to tell you how. Until now.
Showing over telling is without a doubt one of the most important writing habits to form, but it is also one of the hardest. I want to help you take confident steps towards improving your writing, so I have created a 7 page mini-guide that will help you perfect your showing details. The mini-guide includes everything you need to take the first steps towards mastering this elusive skill, from explanations, to concrete examples, to exercises guaranteed to change the way you think about how you describe your characters and their worlds.
If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, sign up below for your FREE Show Me Your World mini-guide!
What writing habits would you add to this list? Are there any you really struggle with? Tell me all about it in the comments!