I am not a perfect writer.
I make errors that could have been avoided, I sometimes resort to cliches and bad analogies, I am not the best editor and my writing doesn’t always have the best flow. But perfection isn’t something you are, it’s something you become. It takes mastery and dedication to master the skills to write well. I’ll never forget being told that ‘there is no child prodigy in creative writing.’ What we do as writers isn’t necessarily about raw talent, but about finding strength through commitment. Dedication and humility help any writer. So this post, I will trail through the best writing advice that I have gotten. Some are obvious, some less so- yet have all helped shape the writer I am today. As my work improves and I’ll hopefully reach towards publication level quality, I hope to remember the valuable lessons that I have absorbed.
- Past tense isn’t wrong, but being inconsistent about tense is.
No, you shouldn’t mix past tense with the present in the same paragraph. Yet I am guilty of this. The problem with writing this way is that it confuses the reader, who will be struggling to understand the action in the story. So keep your tenses consistent as much as you can.
- Adverbs are the path to hell for a good reason.
Adverbs, by themselves, are not bad words. When used in moderation, they can improve your writing. However, the reason why Stephen King compares adverbs to the literary equivalent to hell (kind of) is because you can use a stronger verb instead of an adverb.
- Mix up short sentences with longer ones.
This is my favourite writing advice. Once I started to mix in short sentences with longer ones, my writing improved. My prose had tension, and I could maximise the emotional engagement from my readers. This advice won’t save poor ideas- but will help the flow of your stories.
- Adjectives are tempting, moreso if you are in primary school.
Remember creative writing in primary school? Where you were told to use fancy adjectives? Well, you are no longer in primary school. It’s time to sit at the grown up table, and not resort to overusing adjectives. As with adverbs, adjectives by themselves are not bad. But professional writing does not rely on adjectives because they aren’t the words that readers remember. It’s the strong verbs that evoke the emotions that stick with the reader. Adjectives- like adverbs, are a tool but should be used in moderation.
- No one likes rereading their work. But everyone likes reading clear prose that is written well.
Editing is painful, no one likes it and you will cringe. Whether you force yourself to read your words, or stare in horror at your computer screen- editing plays an instrumental role in any writer’s life. But editing is worth it. Your prose improves, and your reader will thank you. You just made reading alot easier on your reader- they’ll understand your true intentions, and won’t waste time trying to figure story elements out. Editing is fundamental, as you can observe your bad habits that are straining your writing. You may be putting off editing and revisions- but do them. You will thank yourself down the line.
- If you can explain something easier, do it. Less is more.
Why are we drawn to the words of George Orwell? Well, he does not waffle on. He cuts the ‘bull’ and gets straight to what he wants to say. He’s sharp, he’s consistent and he’s brilliant. Less is more. Your point isn’t going to seem better expressed if you spend more words on it. You need to be clear and consise in your writing. It’s easier to make an impression with three well selected words than it is with a ten word sentence. Be ruthless in your editing.
- Consider multiple ways to reword sentences when you rewrite.
I remember reading this piece of advice from Dr Jordan Peterson, a writer and an academic. This advice was brand new information for me. When I reread my work, I feel limited- as if there are only a few ways for me to reword what I want to say. Through Peterson’s advice, I managed to see possibilities. Remember- literature should never feel limiting. With some thought (and plenty of imagination) you can find unique ways to reword your sentences. Peterson recommends only doing this after a few drafts- and I assume that’s once you get a good sense of your writing, and your strong and weak points.
Sentence structure is an art form that is difficult to master. As a writer, you need to spark a response within the reader. That is difficult if the sentences are weak or unevocative. You must be thorough in how you construct sentences, it takes time and revisions. But it’s worth it.
- Be patient, but always critical, brave and hardworking.
Writing is hard, and these tips can take years to master. However, do not be put off by that. To cite a cliche, patience is a virtue. Use it. But don’t just wait for things to suddenly get better- you’ll need to be critical of your own work, brave enough to write what you want, and you need to be hardworking and diligent to put in the hours. There’s a long road ahead of you, and the bus isn’t arriving anytime soon. Have the guts to improve and get better at your craft, because no one is going to come along and whip your writing into mastery. Only you can do that- and I believe you can if you have the humility, the courage and the work ethic to become a better writer.
What are your favourite writing tips? Comment below!