Would you believe that even after writing and publishing nearly 200 books, including 21 New York Times bestsellers, They still take daily steps to hone writing skills?
Whether you’re a beginner or have been at it for decades as I have, writing well takes work.
No shortcut, no secret sauce will turn you into a bestselling author overnight.
But there are steps to take if you want to become a better writer.
Sports became my passion as a kid.
I ate, drank and slept baseball until an injury took me out of the game and I started sports writing.
I remain passionate about sports,
When I felt called into full-time Christian work, I thought I’d have to give up writing and become a pastor or missionary. I was thrilled to discover I could use my writing to follow that call.
What drives you?
What’s your passion? Your strength?
Write about that.
Your passion will carry you when the writing becomes difficult — and if you’re doing it right, it always does.
2. Establish a writing routine and stick to it.
Treat your writing schedule like it’s your job.
Show up and work.
There’ll always be something to do: writing, editing, researching… You’ll be astonished at what you can get done when you plant yourself in your chair for a specific period every day.
And let people know that aside from an emergency, you’re not available for that block of time.
Respect your writing time and others will too.
3. Become an avid reader.
Writers are readers. Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers.
Want to write in a favourite genre? Read at least 200 titles in it first.
Read everything you can. You’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t.
4. Start small.
Take time to build your craft and hone your skills on smaller projects before you try to write a book.
Journal. Write a newsletter. Start a blog. Write short stories. Submit articles to magazines, newspapers, or e-zines.
Take a night school or online course in journalism or creative writing.
Attend a writers conference.
5. Write, write, write.
Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write.
Keep writing even when you don’t feel like it.
Write every day. And don’t expect to be good at it at first. You were bad at walking until you learned to walk, bad at riding a bike until you learned how bad at baking until you mastered it. Allow yourself room to grow
6. See yourself as a writer.
If you’ve read this far, I assume you’d like to become a better writer.
Don’t let imposter syndrome* crush your dream before you even give yourself a chance. [*Feeling as if you’re pretending because you don’t feel like a real writer.]
Do you have a message to share with the world?
Don’t listen to those who tell you you’ll never be good enough — even if they’re just voices in your head. You’ll guarantee failure if you don’t muster the courage to try.
If you’re writing, regardless how well or how successful, call yourself a writer and stay at it.
7. Join a writers critique group.
One fast way to get better at writing is through valuable input from other writers.
Find a writer’s critique group or mentor who’ll be brutally honest with you.
Be prepared to take an ego-bruising at first. But I promise you’ll become a better writer if you’re held accountable, not allowed to quit, and encouraged that you’re not alone on this journey.
One caveat: Be sure at least one person, preferably the leader, is experienced and understands the writing business. A group of only beginners risks the blind leading the blind.
8. Grab your reader from the get-go.
The opener to any piece of writing is the most important work you’ll do. Lose your reader here, and you’ve lost him for good.
Your goal with every word is to make your reader want to read the next and the next. Hook him and don’t let him go.
That doesn’t mean violence or chase scenes — unless you’re writing a thriller. It means avoiding too much scene setting and description and getting to the good stuff — the guts of the story — as soon as possible.
9. Use powerful verbs. Avoid adverbs.
Ever wonder why an otherwise grammatically correct sentence lies there like a dead fish?
Your sentence might be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid. But the sentence doesn’t work.
Something I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose: “Focus on nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.”
10. Always think reader-first.
This is so fundamentally important that you should write it on a sticky note and put it on your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write.
Every writing decision should be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-first, agent-first, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle of critics-first.
Treat readers like you want to be treated and write what you would read. Never let up, never boring.
Always be learning.
You think you’re pretty talented. You think you’re pretty smart. And you are. But the best way to fail at being a writer is to spend all your time proving you know what you’re doing rather than learning from the people and resources around you.
Stop posturing. Start practising. And have fun.