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

Solitude and the Writer

Creative work—that miserable, wondrous, and mysterious achievement—requires large stretches of solitude. It’s fine to trawl the world for the bits and pieces that form our subjects and sentences, but quiet is the best state in which to sort out your mind, hear your thoughts, and synthesize. A state of solitude is where a writer realizes he can do more than he thought he could.

Solitude allows a writer the chance to listen, and to usher in the voices that will form his work, fiction or non. In this empty space, he can create full worlds occupied by people he brings to life on the page. And all these characters need things, day after day. They express themselves, interact, think aloud, explain themselves, pick fights with each other, compromise, and scene by scene, they advance the story. The central figures will have the writer’s undivided attention. The protagonists take on a near palpable presence. This is a lot of architecture, psychology, and narrative to build. A good writing day is exhausting, and a bad one, even more so. The job requires peering into the murk and writing toward the light. Solitude is the state in which other worlds can exist.

Solitude, then, is something to embrace. It’s not just a necessary condition to the work, it’s a wonderland of possibility. Kafka got it right when he wrote: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen. Simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit: Horia Varlan. Punctuation on the Kafka quote mine.