Want to be a better writer?

You Must WRITE

Improving your writing 101: WRITE

Okay, well, not just that, but definitely some of that.

Stephen King, in On Writing, says that to be a better writer, you must do 2 things: read and write. That’s it.

Unbelievably, some writers don’t read, or don’t read much. Personally, I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like and I still end up reading about 30-40 books/year. How? I make it a priority.

Focused Practice

I think there’s another step you could take. Practice.

In Talent is Overrated, the authors show that you can’t just practice anything, you must have specific practice. For example, figure skaters that practiced the same number of hours still had different skill levels. They saw that the better skaters practiced the harder stuff. Working smarter, not harder, has measurable results.

You can apply this same thing to any practice, really: chess, guitar, violin, basketball, painting, writing, relationships, etc. Don’t just practice, practice the HARD stuff.

Ben Franklin, in his autobiography, explained how he improved his writing – he would read articles that he enjoyed, wait a few days, and then rewrite them from memory. I suppose you can guess what happened – his writing improved by leaps and bounds.

Dean Wesley Smith gives a similar story – he explains why writers need FOCUSED practice, not just practice. Same concept. Specifically, he says:

When I like a page or a section from another writer who is doing something well and I want to learn how they did it, I type it into my computer in manuscript format. Putting their words through my fingers for a page of their writing or so is a learning experience, and I do it all the time. Yet most writers I know have never done this simple learning exercise.

If you are having problems challenging yourself, just take a look around – rewrite some of your favorite episodes (I watched some old Twilight Zone episodes and then rewrote one, just as Franklin and Smith prescribe, and called it “Twilight“), check out Scene Stealers from Write to Done, write some Flash Fiction and submit to FridayFlash, or even take on some writing challenges (even if you don’t submit your entry).

You won’t get better if you keep writing the same story.

Daily Writing

Finally, you can’t just practice once/month. It’s a lot more frequent than that. I use 750words.com to do my daily brain dump, clearing out the cobwebs and frustrations. Research shows that writing about your problems is better than therapy! Once the mental clutter clears up, I find that the stories start to flow.

And when they flow, you let them flow. Sometimes the stories just come out and I had no idea what they would be, they just take on a life of their own. Those are the best stories – they feel surprising, creative, and non-contrived.


Want to be a better writer?

  • Write every day
  • Read every day
  • Challenge yourself