People ask me for tips all the time and it’s always difficult for me to think of something to tell them. I kind of suck on the spot, but I’ve compiled a list, so here you go.
Tip # 1
The most important tip I can give to any writer is to WRITE. Write every day. Like any skill, writing improves with practice. The more you do it, the better you become. When I look back at some of my early writings, I cringe because they’re so different from the way I write now. My dialogues were bleh and I kinda sucked at sentence structure and variance. Repetition. These things, as well as many others, get a lot better over time.
Tip # 2
It doesn’t matter how good of a storyteller you are if your readers get pulled out of the story because of typos and grammatical errors. Some of my stories have been edited twenty or more times and I STILL find mistakes. (There are probably mistakes in THIS website, and I've been working on it for months.) The point is... edit your shit. Study punctuation and grammar, because both are important.
Tip # 3
Use a thesaurus, but don't overuse
A thesaurus can be your best friend... or the yoke around your neck. If you are passionate about your craft, you should always be building your vocabulary. You NEED an extensive vocabulary to create depth in your writing. A thesaurus can help. It's also beneficial when you have a word on the tip of your tongue but can't think of it or when you have a paragraph that has too much repetition. It can help if your sentence elements feel basic or juvenile. However, bigger isn't always better. Be careful not to use it too much or to include a lot of words that aren't "common". The average reader will drop a book that requires a dictionary to understand what's happening.
tip # 4
After you’ve finished your second or third edit, read your chapter out loud. This is beneficial for several reasons. You’ll catch a lot of mistakes you didn’t see originally. Run on sentences become WAY more apparent. Plus, you’ll hear the dialogue out loud so if it’s cringey, you’ll be able to hear that and adjust it. You’ll also be able to hear the rhythm of the story and your sentence structure. This can help with editing as well.
tip # 5
Get beta readers to read your chapters/story and be open to their feedback. Constructive criticism is sometimes difficult to swallow and each piece an author writes becomes like a child so it’s incredibly difficult to hear that a chapter you loved isn’t well received. However, this process will help you become a better writer. It will help you grow in your craft.
That’s not to say that you should automatically change something because one person didn’t like it. You are never going to write something that EVERYONE loves. There’s an age-old adage that absolutely applies to writing.
You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
The point is... if one or two people don't like it, meh... But if the majority of your beta readers have a problem with something, consider changing it or framing it differently.
How many beta readers should you have? Depends on the piece. A poem, short story (5k words or less) or individual chapter might be fine with one or two. A novella (between 5k and 50k words), at least five. For a full-length novel, I would aim for ten to twenty AND to seek readers that aren't part of your friends/family group. You want a diverse group of readers in from your target demographic in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, religious background, etc. It's unlikely you'll be able to achieve this if you solely utilize your friends and family. More importantly, a stranger or someone distant to you tends to be more honest in their feedback.
Tip # 6
As contradictory as this may seem given the prior tip, write for yourself. Write something you love. If you love it, chances are someone else will love it too and you’ll be more passionate about whatever you’re writing. You’ll also be far more likely to finish the piece. Stories that don’t inspire you often end up as unfinished pieces on a computer somewhere. Every minute you spend writing a piece you don’t finish is a minute that you could have been writing the next best seller.
tip # 7
Write what you know – at least… in the beginning. If you are a swimmer, write about swimming. You’ll be able to provide way more details because you’re familiar with the topic.
The sun was beating down on me and I decided to go for a swim to cool off. It was refreshing and my mood vastly improved.
The sun was beating down on me and I decided to go for a swim to cool off. As I changed into my swimsuit, anticipation hurrying my steps, I pictured myself diving into the pool. I could already feel the cool water licking at my skin. On my way out the door, I grabbed a few towels and my sunglasses, pushing them onto my face while sliding my feet slid into a pair of flip flops.
The water sparkled invitingly as I dropped my towels on the lawn chair and kicked off my sandals. I couldn’t wait, excitedly pushing my shorts over my hips and stepping out of them. I hadn’t bothered with a cover-up, but I had to wear something on my ass, even if it was only for the amount of time it took to go from my room to the pool.
A smile lit my face as I dipped my toe over the edge to feel the water’s temperature. It… was… perfect. Cool, but not cold. I sat my sunglasses down on the side and brought my hands together in front of me, bending my knees and jumping forward.
My body sliced through the water as I blew bubbles from my nose, enjoying the way my skin instantly cooled. There was nothing quite as refreshing as a swim on a hot day. It took only a few minutes for my mood to improve.
Both examples are saying the same thing, but Example A might have been written by someone who doesn’t go swimming. Versus Example B, written by someone that does.
tip # 8
Add more details. Describe more than just the action. Describe how something feels, looks, smells, tastes. Describe the character's emotions. Immerse yourself in the details. If they become cumbersome or detract from the writing, you can always delete them later.
tip # 9
Vary your sentence structure. Repetitive sentences detract from the story.
I squirt some soap into the palm of my hand and turn on the faucet. I stare off aimlessly as I wash my hands. I dry them on the towel and look at my reflection. I look tired.
The scent of lemon fills the air as I squirt some soap into the palm of my hand and turn the knob on the faucet. It’s hard to focus tonight, my thoughts drifting aimlessly as I wash my hands. I dry them on the towel and look at my reflection.
Damn… I look tired.
Both examples are really saying the same thing, but Example B is far more interesting to read. I would never make it through a story comprised of paragraphs resembling Example A.
tip # 1o
Don’t let writer’s block hold you back. If you get stuck on a story, there are several things you can do to try and dig yourself out of it.
Go to your bookshelf and pick a random story – preferably something fictional. Open the book to a random page in the middle, pick the first line of the first full paragraph that isn’t dialogue, and use it as a writing prompt. Write about something that you’re not invested in and doesn’t matter. This takes the pressure off and gets the creative juices flowing. So, you write for like half an hour based on the prompt and then go back to your story.
Get away for a little bit. Close your laptop, unplug. Watch an episode of a show. (Do NOT go on TikTok. You’ll lose the whole day.)
Delete the last 3 paragraphs and start again. Make an active choice to do something different than last time.
If that still doesn’t work, do the same thing but delete the last chapter.
Re-read from the beginning. This will remind you of little things you may have forgotten you wanted to add in and give you somewhere to go.
Read aloud and listen as you read. This can illuminate a number of nuances that you may have missed before.