Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.
We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.
However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done. You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.
So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.
Essential Writing Practices
There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:
I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.
It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly, and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.
Study the Craft
You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help. You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.
Revise and Polish Your Work
As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.
Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.
More Useful Writing Practices
Each writer needs their own practice. Another writer’s daily practice of freewriting for an hour at dawn might not be your ideal writing practice. But as long as you’re willing to try new practices, you’ll find what works for you. Here are some suggestions for writing practices that might boost your skills and productivity:
- Warm-ups: Many writers find that everything comes out awkward at the beginning of a writing session. A ten- to twenty-minute warm-up can get words flowing.
- Look it up: When you come across a question, such as a question about grammar or the meaning of a word, look it up, especially if it will only take a few minutes.
- Network with the writing community: Other writers will keep you motivated. You’ll learn from them. And they can offer support and advice.
- Freewriting is a good way to warm up at the start of a writing session. It’s also a good daily writing practice during times when you’re not working on a particular project. And it’s a fantastic way to generate raw material that you can use in various projects.
- Set goals and create a five-year plan, and then revisit your goals and plan annually.
- Collect inspirational and motivational quotes about writing and post them around your writing desk, or jot them down in a notebook. Review a quote or two before every writing session, or when you don’t feel like doing the work.
- Study poetry (or literary devices and techniques): These tools are the tricks of the trade, and they will take your writing to another level, from methods for structuring language to using devices like metaphors, this is an excellent way to enrich your work.
- Finish a project before starting a new one: If you prefer (or need) to work on multiple projects simultaneously (I do), then always keep one project on the front burner until it’s complete. That’s your primary (or priority) project. See it through to completion.
- Step away from drafts for a while before revising to clear your head so you can return to them with fresh eyes.
What Are Your Writing Practices?
What do you consider your most important writing practices? Are there any essential or beneficial writing practices you would add to these lists? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Thanks for an excellent post. It’s so simple, to get better at something, you just have to put the work in. It sounds easier said than done, because sometimes it IS hard to make the decision to work to begin with.
-Acknowledge your current skill level: I know I’m good at dialogue, but lack in setting and description, which is why I bought a the whole Write Great Fiction Series by Writer’s Digest to study setting and description in greater detail (pun SO intended!).
-Be willing to practice for the sake of practice: I learned to be okay with just writing for fun. Not everything needs to be published or even read by many. In fact, that’s what first drafts, I think, are meant to be. Practice before you put more methods behind the madness of your story.
-Find projects and exercises that complement your skill level: This just reminds me that I haven’t done any of the exercises from the writing guide series I bought. All I did was highlight important points and decided I should to the exercises before I hop onto the 3rd draft. Thanks for the reminder!
-Challenge yourself: that’s what journaling is for, in my opinion. It’s easy enough to make up the trials and tribulations of a fictional character, but to process your own journey is often more difficult.
-Take your time; don’t rush: Yeah, I’m still struggling with not looking at the clock while I write and get stuck. I keep thinking, “500 words? But I’ve been here for an hour.” There are times where I can get the minimum word count goal in a half hour, but I need to respect that some days will offer different speeds.
-Try new things: Yep, this helped a lot which is why I was able to go through so many different genres til I found I liked. I went from medieval fantasy, to psychological dramedy, and finally found something more simple and even more effective; contemporary young adult.
-Always polish your work!: YES! totally. Going back to reread and rewrite is always fundamental. Write the first time to feel it and to just let it out. Going back to it allows you to see if you’ve made syntax errors on account of the heat of passion.
I think the simple act of admitting defeciency is the fundamental way one even improves, not just in writing, but in life in general.
Wow, these are excellent insights, Marlon. I too struggle with setting and description. I think I’m in a hurry to get to the action, which normally happens through dialogue. I’m working on a project now through which one of my goals is to strengthen the setting and description. I’m also reading books that are strong in these areas and have found them immensely helpful. Thanks again for your comments — great food for thought.
Thank you for this. I have a tendency to feel like I have to hurry up and get something published somehow, somewhere. I’m in my 50’s, have always wanted to write and write professionally. My mother was my inspiration who was beyond honest about what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. She always told me I was a talented writer. Now she is gone and I have wanted to steer clear of writing because the memories were too painful. I have reached a place where I now feel the urge to write because I love it and her inspiration still drives me. My problem is my age. I feel like I am too old to embark on writing. I follow blogs and read about writing. I also have a large file on my computer I have named “Writing not completed” chock full of just that. Am I too old because I am in my 50’s?
Hi Bethany. One of the wonderful things about writing is that you’re never too young or too old to get started. So no, you are definitely not too old. I say go for it!
Great tips! Thanks, Melissa. 🙂 Sharing…
You’re welcome, Bette.