With the arrival of 2016, writers across the world are biting their nails, knowing that another year has passed without finishing that manuscript or perfecting that certain piece. The drive to improve in the coming year is strong; some writers will be making it a New Year’s resolution, while for others it’s just a milestone for examining past efforts. Some people may just wish to be better writers in day-to-day life, producing tighter, stronger business letters and emails. Whatever motivates you, 2016 is as good a time as any to work on improving your writing technique.
A positive attitude helps.
Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Whatever you’re writing, from the latest thriller to marketing tweets, you won’t get far without some positivity. This is not the same as writing only platitudes and sunshine; this instead refers to marshalling your thoughts and energy into making progress. Think “proactive” rather than “positive,” if that helps. When you think positively, obstacles become goals. Motivation is vital to cracking writer’s block and finding inspiration. Should a little of that positivity leak through into your writing, making it welcoming and bright, then all the better.
Go back to basics.
Nobody wants to be told this, but as with so many disciplines in life, you should occasionally renew your knowledge of the basics. Why bother? Why not just let yourself develop as a writer? Because, if your foundations are askew, your writing will follow. Take a crash course in grammar, perhaps, such as this refresher. This doesn’t just apply to non-native English speakers. You might find that a little more understanding of sentence structure makes your work much easier to read.
Clear up correspondence.
Those seeking help with writing emails should pay heed. Even those who feel they need no tips in this area might admit they spend a bit too much time dealing with administrative writing when they should be creating. Email can be improved by clearing up your opening and closing lines. Opening lines should be friendly, but set the tone: “I need this from you” or “I’m writing to inform you of something.” Nobody wants a dreaded email chain of confusion. End with clear sign-offs rather than open-ended questions that result in email IM sessions.
Manage your time.
Obvious, perhaps, but so easy to get wrong. Having a clear schedule for writing or non-writing days works wonders for your productivity. A minimum number of hours per week or day is a common starting point, but don’t make the mistake of setting that goal without considering your other responsibilities. Writers who fail to do their allotted writing because of life commitments will only end up angry at themselves or resentful of other parts of their lives. When this keeps happening, remember that any progress is good; if you can’t squeeze in an hour, spend ten minutes jotting notes.
Unpack basic words.
This advice appears in various forms, but boils down to one idea: take common words and extract their real content. For example, you might write “David thought that Lisa didn’t notice his theft.” Thought is a perfectly good word, but if you have room, why not unpack it? Instead of telling the reader what David is thinking, demonstrate why he’s thinking it. “David smiled to himself, a glint of victory in his eye, his pulse speeding. I got away with that.”
Questions are at the heart of all writing, fiction or otherwise. When writing fiction, ask yourself questions like “what are the central themes here?’ and ‘what do I want to say in this story?” Spending a little time noting down the answers can help you pin down the crux of your story. Questions in nonfiction, such as essays or blog posts, are powerful hooks for the reader. Open with a huge question that sums up what you want to explore or discuss. That way, readers are fully invested and pondering the question in the back of their minds while they read on.
Break the mold.
Of course, everyone tries to break the mold, looking for new ideas and new twists on old genres and formats. This is great, but as a piece of personal advice, consider first breaking your own mold. In other words, try something new for yourself, regardless of how new it is to the world. Never written in the crime genre? Try a short story and expand your horizons from your usual work. Do all your blog posts look like lists? Try an essay instead. Even if the results are terrible, you’ll learn something about yourself and your style.
Don’t go it alone.
“No man is an island,” said John Donne. No doubt he meant the same for women. There will be times when you feel that your writing is awful, your metaphors are limp, your characters are boring and your blog is just an electronic rag. This happens to all writers, no matter what they say. Whether you have writer’s block or a dearth of inspiration, the solution is to talk to someone! Other writers, friends, family, coworkers, anyone. They might have some harsh advice or positive encouragement, or they might not get it at all. The important thing is that sharing your frustration makes it far easier to understand and combat.
Upgrade your software.
Writers should explore their options when it comes to software. Microsoft Word doesn’t have the same hold that it used to have. For example, consider OpenOffice as a free alternative. Not everyone can afford Microsoft’s price tag, after all. For those seeking software that aids the writing process, there are some great tools out there designed for writers. Sigil is useful for creating ebooks, allowing you to write and edit ebooks manually. Evernote is a favorite of those who keep notes in several formats, syncing easily between phone and computer. Scrivener is a popular choice (with a free trial available), which makes managing a novel far easier. Finally, consider the free Grammarly browser plugin to lend your work a helping hand.
Read, read, read!
Dusting off another bit of common advice: all writers should read. Managing a blog? Read blogs. Writing fantasy? Read fantasy. Then, read something else that you wouldn’t usually read. Just as fire needs fuel, creativity needs inspiration. Naturally, you should never copy devices or ideas that you read, but by all means, analyze them and compare them to your own work. Reading is never a waste of time!