Ten Ways to be Better at Writing

1) Read. A lot. Get out of your comfort zone. Read the best and admire, read the worst and know why it is bad. Go back to the treasure houses of the past to glean ideas, and read the contemporary to know what’s working right now.

2) Seek feedback from other writers, and take heed of it without getting all stroppy. Conflicting critique is best because then you have to make up your own mind. People who criticise your work are the ones who take you seriously. Reciprocal criticism is the best of all.

3) Know your grammar. I see a lot of grammatical errors these days even in the work of published writers. The grammatical logic of the sentence is vital., for example your subordinate clauses must agree with the main clause.

4) Get out to poetry readings and authors’ talks. Go to open mics and read your work aloud. You will soon know whether it is any good, from how it feels in your mouth.

5) Don’t be afraid to murder your darlings. Work hard at redrafting, taking out anything that sounds wrong, or shows off how clever you are.  You are not looking to be admired, but for your writing to stand alone without you to hold it up on a golden tray.

6) Take a notebook wherever you go and write every spare moment you get. Trains and cafes are great for this. Don’t stay at home waiting for inspiration. Get out there and be stimulated. UA FAnthorpe wrote her first book in her lunchbreaks at the hospital she had taken a day job at when she escaped from teaching.

7) As Henry James said: ‘be the sort of person on whom nothing is wasted’.

8) Cut, and then cut again. Basil Bunting said ‘take out every word you dare’.

9) Know your craft. If you aim to write poetry, know your forms, your scansion and how line breaks work. If you want to write for children, read children’s books and try to work with children, even if on a voluntary basis. It pays to know your audience.

10) If you lack motivation, join a writers group (or start one) or go to a writing class. They can’t teach you to write but they can provide some writing friends, some critics and some ideas and exercises. There’s bound to be one within reach, wherever you live.


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