Becoming a Better Writer

Hello, Katy Lee here. Last week I talked about my role as a judge in writing contests. I spoke about the vast differences between entries. Some ready for an editor’s eyes, others still in their baby stage. I encouraged writers to use contests as a learning tool to get out there and perfect their craft. This week, I want to take it one step further.

Being a teacher, I have a love for education—the more the better. No experience is useless. I believe we are always capable at any age to learn and should learn. Every opportunity has something to offer us if we keep our minds open and are willing.

This goes for writing as well. Many, myself included, have an understanding of the basics of spelling, style, syntax, and grammar usage, but still struggle with integrating these components into a clear, concise, and coherent written piece. I’ve taken courses and workshops; I’ve read numerous how-to books, and I wish I had the easy answer for you, but alas, I do not.

As with any skill, it takes practice, practice, and more practice.

Of course, for some, writing comes easy, but that doesn’t give those of us who struggle with it a reason to quit. My daughter may cry that she is horrible at math, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to do it. It just means she needs a little more instruction and practice than others.

Seeing as this is a blog for writers, I’m sure most of you are traveling on the road to publication with us. You probably have a dozen manuscripts under your bed, each with a whole slew of problems you can’t count on your ten fingers…and toes. Is it your spelling or grammar that needs help? Or maybe your dialogue is flat or even nonexistent? Or, maybe if you are like me, you have too many “ands and buts.” Whatever your case may be, pick one thing you want to work on. Don’t try to tackle all the problems at once. Look for a book or course that could help you. You’ll need to set aside time to learn, and then, time to put what you learn into practice…and more practice. But like I said, no experience is useless. It can only make you a better writer.

The Unlocked Secret: Positive learning experiences like writing workshops and instructional books are significant factors to perfecting your craft, but ultimately, becoming a better writer is a matter of learning what better writing is, and then practicing until you find your own prose. Read a lot, but write a whole lot more.

Question: What will be your first item to tackle? If you’re a published author, what was the hardest thing for you to learn?

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12 thoughts on “Becoming a Better Writer”

  1. Excellent advice, Katy. I do this all the time in revisions. I might do a search for overused words, like “smiled” for example. Then when I come to each one, I think about how I might go deeper or perhaps nix it.

    Or I might read through a chapter looking exclusively at one aspect of the story, perhaps the dialogue or the setting. The setting was the most challenging for me to write when I started out. I’m not visual. I don’t care what the heroine is wearing, half the time authors name pieces of clothing that I have no idea what they are. LOL. So…my characters wore nothing…at least not that the reader would know. :)

    Clothing aside, the best thing I learned about “scene setting” was to sprinkle in details that were pertinent to the pov character, that showed his or her current mood, that helped to characterize him or her at the same time as it grounded the reader.

    1. Love it! And not just about your characters wearing nothing. ;)

      It’s hard to remember to throw in details when you are cranking out great dialogue, and you are correct to slide them in through the character’s POV. Otherwise, readers tend to skim over huge paragraphs of descriptions.

      Thanks for posting!

  2. Right on, Katy. It’s all about putting in that 10,000 hours of practice.

    I’ve learned so much through workshops and conferences. Probably my biggest challenge along the way has been learning to show more than tell. Creating prose that bring characters and scenes to life is what good writing is all about. Once I learned how to properly structure a story (via Michael Hague’s workshop), pacing became less of an issue and it was then a matter of finding balance between dialogue, narative and description.

    I’m still learning something with every revision and every new effort I make. I also learn by reading and breaking down what I love about a story and what I don’t like about the writing. I’m afraid it takes some of the joy out of reading, but it’s worth it to help me become a better writer:-)

  3. Once again Katy, excellent advice and food for thought. When my epublisher sent back a slew of suggestions for things to change, one of them was the overuse of the words “that” and “was”. At first I thought she was being ridiculous – until I re-read the first chapter again, looking specificially for those words. Um, I was shocked at how often I’d used those very words. Oddly enough, when I sent in portions of that book to several writing contests, (yep, wasn’t thinking I’d win – just wanted qualified feedback and observations/suggestions) a couple of the judges came back pointing out the very same thing. When it came to editing for those words, I realized I had to re-read the previous sentence and/or paragraph to make sure it still made sense if I changed the word. On doing that, sometimes I’d realize the sentence structure was weak, so would re-work it. Bottom line, I learned a ton about how I write, and some of the errors I was making. I also learned how much real work is involved in editting. As you mention, when I had a bunch of words or things to correct, I’d tackle them one at a time. When I finished with one, I’d go back and tackle the next one. I once read that when an author finishes (truly finishes) a book, he/she could recite it almost verbatim. Now I understand why – re-writes and edits! :)

  4. Great post, Katy. The one thing I’m still trying to master…patience. I should learn how valuable patience is from my wealth of life experiences. Still, I remind myself I have to practice patience just as much as comma usage or sentence structure.

  5. Great post Katy. I am trying to control my rewrites. With every paragraph, it’s like a big candy box. There is more than one way to tell the story. I stream, then I fix, then I do my visceral, you know, body language, emotions, then I rewrite. I give my writing to my critique partner instead and that has helped. But with jobs, it is tough to get this writing done.

  6. Right now I’m struggling with time management and procrastination (historical problems for me). I’m reading Hillary Rettig’s book right now (The 7 Secrets of the Prolific — http://www.hillaryrettig.com/the-7-secrets-of-the-prolific/). The chapter on time management is worth the entire price of the book (the e-book is very nicely priced anyway). I agree with you 100%+, Katy. Identifying what your problems and issues are is the first order of business, and then it’s on to problem solving!

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