6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing

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I want to get better as a writer. Most other writers I know have that goal, too. They feel obligated to improve, not just because there’s a better chance they’ll make more money, but also because they want to show everybody else just how rich the craft can be.

By far the best thing you can do to get better at writing is just to practice. But there are other easy ways to improve your ability to write well, too.

  1. Read

The more you read, the more you get exposed to different writing worlds, voices and vocabulary. You also get more general information, which helps you make decisions about what to include or exclude in the world you craft.

One sneaky trick here is to include a lot of reviews and comments in your reading. These will give you invaluable insights about what readers thought worked and didn’t work in the given content. You can avoid their mistakes and incorporate tricks writers used well with your own unique spin. As a bonus, familiarizing yourself with reviews and comments–which can be harsh, I’m not going to lie–can help you develop a thicker skin so that, when people say something about your own work, you have a better understanding that it truly isn’t personal. That keeps your confidence high so you can continue to write your best.

2. Subscribe

Your options here are far-reaching–podcasts, word-of-of-the-day texts or emails, and masterclass videos on Youtube or other sites are just some of the ways you can educate yourself and hear what other writers think and do. The best thing about subscriptions is that, once you’re signed up, everything comes to you directly with no extra research effort. All you have to do is come up with a system to keep the incoming episodes or other materials organized for later.

3. Make to-do lists

It’s OK if you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer and like spontaneity in your day. But writing any kind of to-do list teaches you to prioritize what’s important to you and to see the chronology of time better. That can help you hone in on what writing tasks deserve your time for the day so you stay out of the weeds. It can transfer over into general, loose outlining, as well.

4. Set boundaries

No, I’m not talking about telling your family to scram while you work on a draft, although doing that in a kind way certainly isn’t going to hurt. I’m talking about knowing when to stop researching, drafting or tweaking. At some point, more information just isn’t relevant, the draft is too long and all your editing is just making the work different, not better. So whether it’s saying that you’ll only Google medieval swords for an hour or that you’ll create a more digestible series if your book crosses 100,000 words, create your rules and stick to them.

5. Cross platforms

No, you don’t have to be a Twitter star or podcaster or do a million interviews. But a little fun on different platforms can get you more comfortable accepting your identity as a writer. You have to promote yourself and your work in more venues and really have to own it. Platform crossing also teaches you to present your writing in lots of ways and gives you the opportunity to interact with different audiences. You also can have opportunities to share your insights, and teaching is one of the best ways to confirm for yourself whether you really are sure of what works for you and what your philosophies behind writing are.

6. Let go

I’m a firm believer that good things can come from hanging on to unfinished drafts or ideas. The reality, however, is that you don’t need to hang on to everything. Some concepts really are *cough*….yeah. Some days, you just know it’s not right. So let those words go. Identify what really energizes you and ditch what doesn’t. Remind yourself that crossing out words, paragraphs or entire paragraphs is normal, and that it’s necessary to get an end product that’s engaging, lean and true to who you are at your best.

Writers are always growing and improving. But this isn’t just something that happens only because we get older and get more experience that can shape our content. It’s also because we make a conscious choice to grow and improve. Decide right now that you’re going to take action, and then let your ideas lead you wherever they might.

Why You Should (and Shouldn’t) Use Chapter Titles in Your Books

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Every fiction book has a title. That’s a given. But chapters? That’s messier.

The case against chapter titles…

Most fiction books I’ve read don’t use chapter titles. They use numbers. More specifically, writers generally put those numbers on the page as digits (e.g., 29), rather than writing out the words (e.g., twenty-nine). But every writer is a little individual about it.

Some readers like that chapter titles can give a sneak peek at what’s ahead in the next section of the book. But personally, I find that chapter titles usually give away too much, which ruins my anticipation. If an author only uses the chapter number, then I have clear start-stop points in the book, but the author hasn’t given anything away, and I still have a better sense of mystery and excitement.

From a technical perspective, chapters are meant only to break your book into smaller sections. And it can become hard to know where to draw the line with section labels. Paragraphs or pages, for example, are small sections, too, but you don’t title those. You just assume the reader will flow from one to the next and use the line break / indenting to understand your organization. So in this sense, I see chapter numbers as much simpler and less invasive.

…and the case in favor

But chapter titles have their benefits. They force you, as a writer, to have a clear sense of what the content in that section does or is about. If you outline before you write, then you can stay better focused so you don’t get into the weeds too much. You know exactly what purpose the text has for the reader. And if you place titles after drafting, then it still can help you see what to put in or cut. There’s also a fantastic creative challenge that can improve your writing overall. Instead of one title to come up with, you could have dozens. Many readers appreciate all this extra flavor and effort.

Chapter titles also can create a sense of unity through a book. Some readers need to see or how the chapters are related, because those associations help them make better sense of the book as a whole. And if you use a chapter title that includes something the reader is familiar with or that provides a good curiosity gap, then you can create some empathy to connect better and create intrigue without giving too much away. It’s possible to set the mood right away so that your reader more easily can settle in, imagine the world or scene, and feel invested.

In the end, the reader is most important

Ultimately, chapter titles are always forward-oriented. So if you’re going to use them, they need to give clear clues about the journey the reader is going to take, and they need to do it in a way that’s not distracting. If you don’t want to use them, though, then you don’t have to. There are all kinds of other writing strategies and techniques you can use to create anticipation (e.g., a classic cliffhanger chapter ending), help one section flow to the next, or offer clues. But in either case, think about your reader, both in terms of what they expect–some genres use chapter titles more often than others, for example–and what they personally are going to need. Create a truly immersive experience, and make conscious decisions at every step about how to present your story in a positive way that they’ll respond to.