11 Ways to Improve your Writing

1. Writers tell stories. That’s what the job requires. Self-expression, money, acceptance, fame, catharsis, purpose, might supply your inner drive, but they aren’t essential to the job of writing.

2. Don’t use twenty words when ten will do. Not sure what to take out? Ask yourself if a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter is necessary to the story. By editing what’s redundant, unclear, pedantic, or digressive, you’ll improve the work.

3. Set your insecurities aside. Personal problems, anxiety, doubt, resentment, jealousy and all the other demons that might plague you function as static. Turn them off at least during writing time—I know, not easy, but necessary—and embrace the silence.

4. Set a reasonable goal.  Stories come together scene by scene, sentence by sentence. Having a daily, tough but attainable goal will advance the story. Track your productivity and give yourself rewards.

5. Know where you’ll pick up the next day. Try to leave off a writing day with something dangling. This will ease your passage back into the work the next day.

6. If you’re struggling to get the muck out of your work, visualize a small child  in front of you and explain the story, step-by-step, scene by scene.

7. Recognize that writing is not, contrary to public impression, a glamorous undertaking. Writers (even poets) are regular people occupied with the challenging task of putting words on a page to advance a story. If some also fit the stereotype of brilliant, lonely, faintly tragic solitary, romantic, sexy people with forgivable addictions and mood swings, well, fine. But they still have to do the work.

8. It’s not enough to fill a page with vivid metaphors and figures of speech. Focus and purpose matter. Your words have to be cogent, advance the discussion, move the story along, make sense, soothe, and above all engage.

9. Work is work. The idea of writing, is not writing. Networking is not writing. Research is not writing. Excessive pondering is not writing. Posing in the café or cocktail party as a writer is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Writing is an action. It’s showing up, sitting down, establishing your focus, noting your daily goal, and cranking it out.

10. Recognize that vision rarely matches output. The idea of something is always better than its execution.  Rather than be defeated by this notion, consider it the reason to take on the next thing, and the next, each time coming closer, perhaps, to what you hope to achieve.

11. If writing is what you truly love, then make it happen. No excuses. No interference. Just write.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: pens by Keith Williamson; Mac user by Failed Guide Dog Photography

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  1. suzan

     /  November 4, 2011

    I like number 5. Thanks for the post.

  2. s m t

     /  November 4, 2011

    I printed this out and intend to keep it near. Such simple things I still manage never to remember. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Thanks for writing. The simple is what serves. Life dishes up plenty of complicated and we don’t need any more of that. D

  3. belle

     /  November 4, 2011

    Are you always so cheerful and optimistic? Please tell me it isn’t so, and I’ll feel better about myself. . . . All kidding aside, thanks for the lift.

  4. Another post for the ages. I’d love the luxury of being one of those attic dwelling isolates, but alas, life calls. I do what I can. I especially appreciated rules #2 and #8.

    • Hi Julia. Thanks for your thoughts. The 11th entry had the phrase “protect the work” which got lost on the way to the page. I think that one might be my favorite. Protect, above all else, what you love. All best. Denise

  5. One thing that works very well is NOT to answer everything in the post.

    leave space for the reader to add their 2 cents….

  6. Eve

     /  November 8, 2011

    Stumbled upon this page using Google search. Appreciate the tips.

  7. Very good post. I never would have thought of 5; I was always under the impression to write until you couldn’t. Maybe I should try making my goal, then preparing for the next goal instead?

    • H Joe. There are days that just don’t produce anything decent. It looks like this: stare at the page, write something, delete, delete some more, get up, get a snack, do the laundry, write some more, delete . . . exhausted, take a nap . . . trawl the Internet, do the email, you get the idea. That’s a good day to clean your desk, take care of loose ends that are more or less administrative, and do some planning. It’s a good day to think through goals and lay them out on a calendar. And the next day, begin again. It will feel almost like a running start, and that’s pretty useful after a lousy writing day. Thanks for commenting. Stay in touch. Denise

  8. The one about trying to tell a child your story is the one that resonatest the most with me. If I can simply get the story ‘out there’ then I will have something to improve. Thanks for sharing these tips. Interesting that you would say child. When I was working with engineers in a govt/defense setting, we wrote reports for the customers and I sometimes told them a similar thing: “Pretend you’re writing it so your mother will understand.” In that case, perhaps going back a generation was more important; it required them to ‘dummy-up’ the technology and get out of the details.

  9. Hi Di. A child is a good image for me, but any image will work so long as it gets the point across: step by step, fact by fact, incident by incident, tell the story. No digressions. No explanations. No big back story. Just tell it straight. . . In stories where I lose my way, it helps to picture a little one in front of me expecting me to make sense. Thanks for writing. Keep in touch. I’d like to hear how it’s going for you. D


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