One of my goals as a writer is to constantly improve my craft, because I believe that no matter how good a writer is, they can always be better! Here are ten things that I do to keep myself moving forward. Keep in mind that everything in writing is very personal! What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
1) Read as much as possible. This is always tip #1 when it comes to learning to write better. Reading is what teaches us to write. Read a variety of authors in a variety of genres. Read good stuff to learn what to do, and read bad stuff to learn what not to do. Read fiction and non-fiction. And don't forget poetry and plays! Poetry is important for developing an ear for how language sounds, and a feel for expressing an idea concisely and with beauty, while plays are helpful for getting a feel for dialogue and setting.
2) Write as much as possible. Like all things, writing gets better with practice. Now, a lot of authors say that you have to write every day at a certain time, for a certain amount of time. If that works for you, great! If it doesn't, don't be discouraged! Personally, I do not write every day; I write on weekdays in the afternoon while my husband is at work and my kids are at school.
3) Set a daily word count goal, and reward yourself when you reach it. A friend and fellow NaNoWriMo writer shared this tip: Keep a calendar and buy some nifty stickers. Every time you reach your goal for the day, put a sticker on your calendar! All of us love getting a gold star, so give it to yourself! Another thing that helps is breaking your goal into smaller chunks and giving yourself a small reward for each chunk you complete. For instance, I have a daily goal of 1,000 words. I break that down into five chunks of 200. For every 200 words I write, I allow myself ten minutes of email, Twitter, Facebook, etc, before going on to the next 200.
4) Keep writing, even when what you're writing is really, really terrible. Because sometimes it will be. Sometimes the prose will be dry and stilted, the dialogue jerky and awkward, the plot painfully slow or seemingly pointless. No matter. Keep writing. It's the only way you're going to get better, and sometimes you just have to write out the terrible stuff to get to the good stuff.
5) Keep a writing journal. This is not a diary. The point is not to make a daily entry to talk about your life (although you can if you like). The point is to record the little things that catch your attention every day (song lyrics, snippets of conversation, that guy sitting across the cafe in a sweater vest reading Orwell's 1984) as well as to give yourself space to write freely about any subject you want. Have an idea for a story? Want to try your hand at writing a sonnet? Need to pour your heart out about that guy you had a crush on when you were a freshman in high school? Turn to your journal, and let the words flow. It's a great way to flex your writing muscles without fear of screwing up, and it's also a goldmine of inspiration the next time you're looking for a story idea.
6) Watch good television. There are lots of writers who say that you should disconnect your TV entirely. I disagree. Is there a lot of crap on TV? Absolutely, and I wholeheartedly recommend being very choosy when it comes to what shows you spend your time on (give talk shows, “reality” TV, and most sitcoms a pass). But while there is bad stuff out there, there's also brilliant stuff. Shows that skillfully tell stories with characters that are well-crafted, that engage the mind and draw the viewer into the world of the tale. Watching shows with these qualities teach us how we can emulate them in our writing. Good movies are the same way. For TV shows to check out, I recommend Elementary and Sherlock for two very different (and equally wonderful!) takes on the Sherlock Holmes canon, as well as Hannibal for its beautiful and deeply disturbing portrait of evil.
7) Learn about weird, unusual, random things. Did you know that the holes in swiss cheese are called “eyes,” and that swiss cheese without holes is known as “blind?” Or that a severe fear of darkness is called “nyctophobia?” Little interesting tidbits like these can inspire and add depth to your writing (someday, I'm going to write a story called Nyctophobia). For the most part, I do this online. There's a plethora of websites out there devoted to cool facts, such as Mental Floss and MetaFilter, that I like to browse periodically, my journal close at hand to record the facts that spark my imagination. Of course, getting lost in this rabbit hole of nifty is a big danger, which brings me to my next point.
8) Avoid getting sucked into the internet. The web is amazing, and full of awesome things, and it is all too easy to spend hours, or days, at a time on social media, games, YouTube, etc. If I'm not careful, I can get lost on Facebook and Twitter alone and not surface for hours, and that's hours that aren't being spent writing!
9) People watch, and eavesdrop (be subtle about it, of course!) Characterization is vital for good writing, and observing people, how they act, how they move, what they wear, can become fodder for character descriptions. Listening to people talk can also help with learning to write dialogue.
10) Join a writing group. Once you've used all the above tips to write some stories, you need to show them to somebody. Usually the first people on that list are friends and family; for me, it’s my husband, Pete. And while he’s great at encouraging me, he’s not going to tell me when my writing sucks, and neither is my mother, or my best (non-writer) friend. A group of writers, on the other hand, not only will recognize problems in my writing, they will be able to give me ideas on how to fix it. There is also tremendous value in reading and critiquing others’ work. Often, when we are able to see things that don’t work in someone else’s writing, we are better able to recognize it in our own.
These are the things that help me continue to improve my work! Give them a try, and see if they work for you!
Tara Martin – exceptionally accomplished neurobiology major with a troubled past. Steven Trent – confident political science major with an irresistible attraction to Tara. Paul Stratton – history major who is able to hear spirits. Together, they make up the Society for Paranormal Researchers at their prestigious New England University. When they’re not in class or writing papers, the three friends are chasing their passion….ghosts.
When the group learns of a local retired couple trying to sell a house they claim is haunted, they decide to investigate. As the clues unfold, a familiar spirit interrupts their investigation and Tara finds her life in danger. Can her friends save her before it’s too late?
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Genre – YA paranormal, NA paranormal
Rating – PG-13
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