1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion
You've heard it a million times before. You can't love writing without first loving to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyse writing and writers. Study what works, what doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.
Realize too that the published writing you see has probably been worked and reworked over and over to appear effortless. Don't assume professional writers get it down perfect every time. They don't. Their work has been analyzed, edited and beaten into shape by themselves and other editors.
2. Study Your Own Writing
Study every word, every sentence, every phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of your words? Could you say the same thing a different way?
Don't just blindly accept your words as perfect. Professionals know there is always another way of stating something, setting a scene, explaining an emotion. Too many novice writers fall in love with their words, refusing to accept there might be a better way to get to what is true.
3. Learn to Love Criticism
When we start out, criticism hurts - big time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized over our words and are proud of what we've said. Off-hand comments about our work can feel like a body slam, even an attack on our capabilities, our character, our integrity.
But that's not what is going on. People love to criticize - it's human nature. Even the best writers are criticized. The point is to learn from criticism and rise above it. Listen to what is being said, make changes if necessary but do it for yourself. You are the final arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky about it. Take it on board.
4. Read Aloud to Others
Reading out loud can highlight the strengths and weaknesses in your writing. Especially in the areas of rhythm, wordiness, and dialogue. It's a great test.
Read to friends and family, yes, but also read to other writers. Let them make comments. Enjoy the process.
Try this. Read a short piece to a group of friends/writers. Make note of how your writing sounds to them. Listen to suggestions. Make changes, read it aloud again. Keep doing this until everyone involved thinks the writing - every word, every phrase - is perfect.
5. Try Different Styles
It's too easy to get stuck in one area of expertise. If you're a fiction buff, try writing magazine articles or screenplays. If you're a journalist, try free-form fiction. If you're a literary type, try writing advertising copy. Don't limit yourself. All types of writing are good in their own way and experimenting with them can teach you little tricks that help you become a more mature, fully rounded writer.
Novice writers tend to think they shouldn't experiment, that somehow it might taint their art. Nothing could be further from the truth.
6. Take Courses, Read More Books on Writing
The process of being taught, of exposing yourself to the ideas of others, cannot be underestimated. Even if you disagree with what is being said, it all helps stretch you and give you a deeper understanding of what is good and right for your writing.
When you take lessons in writing, study hard, do the exercises, listen to the feedback, act on it and write some more. Your writing will improve the more you do it. Don't sit and fret over your writing. Just do it.
7. Seek Out Good Advice
I quite often hear novice writers complain that they're learning nothing new about writing from the various authorities they consult. They sound disillusioned, as if there's more pertinent information out there if only they could find it.
Odd. considering I've never met a seasoned writer didn't love to debate the absolute basics of word-play, grammar, sentence structure and all the other little things that novices seem to grow weary of hearing.
Remember. You can never hear good advice too many times.
8. Give Back
Share your knowledge. Teach what you have learned about writing to others. Too often novice writers can feel there's some sort of clique of professionals who don't want to talk to them or associate with them.
We writers, whatever our abilities, must learn to see ourselves as a community with similar aims - to actively enhance all our writing - to raise the bar and to act for the betterment of all writers.
9. Constantly Want More From Yourself
Stretch yourself continuously. Find new ways of expressing yourself.
Writing is sometimes a strange past-time. A writing project that begins like an adventure can quickly become an obsession that ends up feeling like some self-inflicted curse!
But all writing experience is good, whether it's fun or not. Not all of your writing is going to be fun and fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard slog or a nuisance. This is okay.
If you want to succeed in writing, it should become your life, your passion, even your reason to be. It's a fine and noble way of life. If you want it, embrace it, and your writing will benefit enormously. Go for it!
Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing.
(c) Rob Parnell