The Best Way to Get Better

Typesetter

Congratulations. You wrote a book. Now the actual work begins… and not just the editing—but everything else, too. For writers, the storytelling is the easiest part (usually—at least it’s the most driven part.)

The next thing I’m about to say may be difficult to hear for some people: if this is your first book, the overwhelming odds are that it’s not very good. I say that from looking at numbers and statistics as well as my own experiences (including my first novel!) Nobody is an Olympic lifter after a week in the weight room (even if you’re the strongest person at your gym—you’re still not ready.) Writing is a craft and a skill that develops with time and practice. But there’s some good news: it’s easy to get better… the best way to be a better writer is to write. And then write some more.

If you want make the step from “writer” to “good writer,” I’d recommend following what I did.

After completing my fantasy epic that nobody read called “The Kakos Realm, Book 1,” I joined a writers circle. I quickly learned that I’d done everything wrong—even though I’d somehow managed to sell my book to a small traditional press (which is no longer in business.) I learned that my book was 50,000 words longer than books were allowed to be. I also learned that my writing was not all that great (even if my storytelling was decent—there’s a difference.)

In that time, I also discovered a fairly active online community for short fiction, critiques, magazine submissions, etc. and I began writing shorter pieces. And the criticism kept pouring in. I wrote more, and still stumbled over some of the same issues in my writing (typically, the same issues that plague newer writers such as passive verbs, as-you-know-bob/info-dumps, and excessive descriptions. My writers group cared enough to tell me and point out my flaws. Luckily, I also learned where I was good: plot twists, devices, and dialogue. But criticism hurts. A lot. Criticism sucks, but it helped refine my art and craft to something that I’m happy with.

After more than three years of writing nothing other than short fiction I felt like I’d arrived at a better place. I learned a few important things in that era (and published like 30 stories and wrote many others.) I learned how to start a story and set a hook. I learned to be succinct and how to cut extraneous material by writing with hard word-count limits. I learned how develop characters and how to end a story. I learned how to tighten sentences so that they read with a cadence and flow. I learned how to edit, redraft, summarize, and submit stories. The editing alone is huge!

If you want to be a better writer, go small. Focus in on a few short-fiction projects, even if just for the sake of improving your craft (write a few pieces for contests—find a secondary purpose if you need one—but you really ought to write some short pieces…it will improve your writing.)

Here are the next follow-up steps after you feel as if you’ve become proficient in learning to start a story, handle the plot elements, eliminate passive verbs, hook readers, write tight dialogue, and end the tale.

  1. Go to writers conferences. There are many other things other than writing a story (but also story elements) that you can pick up at a convention or conference… even if it’s just to network you should try going to one a year. Invest in yourself. Your writing will be better for it.
  2. Get involved in a writer’s circle. You need objective feedback and peers who both know your struggle and can help you with crucial aspects of writing like beta reading, etc.
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