How to Get Storytelling Right Every Time

As I peruse social media (which I do a lot for *cough* marketing), I see writer after writer step up and ask the same question:

What makes a good storyteller?

Or, to put it another way,

What makes a story engaging?

Lots of answers go into technical detail about how to tell your story well. For example, engage the senses. Get the pacing right and cut the fluff.

But great storytelling isn’t about perfectly arranging technique like flowers in a vase. Think about it. Dickens isn’t Rowling, Rowling isn’t Patterson, and Patterson isn’t Hemingway. They all have wildly different approaches, yet we’d never dare to say that any of them stink. And that’s because great storytelling is far less about voice and much more about empathy.

What this means in a nutshell is that, if you want to write well, you have to connect to the audience. And doing that, paradoxically, requires you to forget your own story for a moment and hone in on theirs. What have they experienced? What makes them excited? Sad? What dreams do they have?

It’s only after you know their story that you can match them to you, that you can pinpoint what elements of your story that they’ll find relatable. People don’t really like to hear that, because learning someone’s story can take time–lots of us want immediate gratification and results, the ability to create a draft on demand and at rhythm of our own choosing. But once you have reliability, you have engagement.

It’s all about knowing who you’re talking to. And by “know”, I don’t just mean what you write in a proposal package (e.g., Caucasian females, aged 18-40). You have a sense of how they think and what they do, and you have to know how to use what they know to paint your picture. You have to feel as though, even though you’re putting words to the page in a way that’s your own, you are having a very instinctive, reverent conversation. Everything you write is something your ears have spoken.

So don’t worry so much about your paragraph size or any of that. Worry about how deeply you know people. That is what will train your pace, give you the analogies, and allow you the important details all great stories are built on.

How to Balance Spontaneous Creativity and Planning as a Writer


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Some of our best writing comes when we least expect it–our brains often find solutions when we allow them to wander and don’t think too hard. So you have to be ready to write anytime, anywhere and not force the story, article, or other content to come. But if we work only based on when our brains wander, then we’d never meet a deadline. If you promise an editor you’ll have a draft by the end of the week or in a few months, well, then at some point, you can’t wait anymore.

So how do you balance the need for spontaneous creativity with the planning you need for consistent productivity?

I’ve found that it can help to surround yourself with or get involved in areas related to what you want to write about. For instance, if you’re writing a mystery, play some sleuthing games or go on a scavenger hunt, watch crime documentaries, or read content connected to the mystery (e.g., how a specific forensic technique works). The idea isn’t to find a specific solution so much as it is just to get more information, get some deeper, emotional and experiential knowledge of the topic and become really comfortable with the elements of the mystery world. You might find what you need to move forward without consciously realizing it. Even if the facts don’t fit what you’re currently aiming for, they might work for something later, so literally file them away.

Secondly, set yourself some boundaries. It is extremely easy to keep researching and researching or rewriting and rewriting–drafts can get better the more you learn or tweak. But it’s generally not a matter of whether you can add or adjust. It’s a matter of whether you should. Ask yourself what the piece you’re writing really requires. If your draft is clear and convincing with just six reliable sources, for instance, then don’t waste your time looking for a dozen. And if two transitions work equally well, then just pick one and move on. Have a vision or goal for your message, but don’t let what could be get you stuck or distract you from what you actually need.

Then there’s the idea of outlining and chronology. I think outlines and structure do help. But nothing says you need to work through your outline in order. If you get a great concept for Chapter 13 while you’re writing Chapter 2, then go ahead and flesh it out as much as you can. Because any writing moves the draft closer to complete. Yes, you might have to smooth out transitions later, and you might decide that your concept doesn’t work after all. But the practice of just going after the idea and rounding it out will help you everywhere else.

Connected to the idea above, don’t be afraid to work in bits and pieces. If a single sentence comes to you, then record it. With simple pocket notebooks and tools like voice-to-text and Google Docs available through smartphones 24/7, you really don’t have any excuse not to. Let go of the idea that you have to write a lot to be doing something significant, because often it’s that epiphany sentence that flashes in front of you as you stumble for your coffee that ends up being the cornerstone for entire pages or chapters, or that encapsulates the heart of your entire manuscript.

DO set some time aside for writing every day. But don’t necessarily force yourself to work on anything specific during your writing session. Instead, try to have multiple irons in the fire to choose from. Then ping around based on what feels the most complete in your head, or what best suits your mood. And if you have an idea for something else while you’re working on one manuscript, let yourself stop long enough to jot that something else down. I guarantee that this will improve your result, because you’ll always feel like you have more of a choice. Feeling forced or confined never put any writer in a good mood, and bad moods generally aren’t conducive to getting into a great state of flow.

As you work through a writing session, try super hard not to judge what’s on the page. Just get the concepts out and trust yourself to pull out the best pieces when you’re done. Try a couple different approaches or phrasings and see which one you keep coming back to later. That’s probably your winner. If you’re having trouble choosing between two options, try to identify what keeps speaking to you from both and then do a reasonable merge. Plenty of times, I’ve written the main idea more than one way and realized the best solution was to splice two versions together.

Lastly, submit your work for feedback. Often others can see what we can’t, and all we need to continue well is for someone else to get us thinking in a different way, or to point out something we perhaps hadn’t considered. And by finding and using good feedback forums, you’ll get in the habit of feeling obligated to create something without necessarily feeling like that something has to stay as it is. And much of the time, simply defending what we already have on the page shows us how committed we are to a certain description, plot line, or thesis. The more confident you feel in your defense, the more likely you are to keep on refining/promoting your work and querying even through the trolling of the worst naysayers.

7 Ways to Build Your Writing Confidence

Writing can be an incredibly rewarding job, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes patience and tough skin, so you have to be confident in what you’re doing to be successful. That confidence isn’t necessarily automatic. But you can develop it with real intention.

1. Go bite-sized.

Don’t worry about how long your session goes or how many words come out. Just write until you don’t feel inspired or natural anymore. At the end, identify a section or sentence you’re really proud of. If you only wrote a single sentence, identify your best word. There is always something to celebrate.

2. Revisit your work.

Once you have some bite-sized text pieces to work with, start your session by rereading them. Remind yourself why you felt good about that work. Alternately, start reading a few pages before the end of your manuscript. This will give you a sense of flow so you don’t feel like you’re starting cold.

3. Get some feedback.

This could be from a mentor, an online community, or even a group hosted at your library. In any case, you’ll get clarity about what you do well as a writer, and that those providing the group can help you develop a plan to improve your weaknesses. Seeing your draft change and get better can prove to you that you are learning, growing, and making progress.

4. Write where the stakes are low.

This doesn’t mean that you never submit work to your dream publications or competitions. It means that you write regularly in low-pressure platforms just to help the process of writing and publicizing your words feel natural. Normalizing the writing process in this way can make taking the next step and submitting to a slightly higher tier feel doable. You also can use those platforms to do more experimenting with your writing and see what readers really respond to.

5. Know the purpose.

Any time you have a real motivation for writing a piece, you’ll feel less compelled to bail. Ask yourself what the message really is and what you want to achieve. Take the time to connect and become emotionally invested in what you’re doing.

6. Use some facts.

Even if you’re writing fiction, you can use facts as a foundation for what you put on the page. Facts do not lie and can’t be argued with. Let them give you a foothold so you know your scene or thesis is solid from the start.

7. Celebrate!

So often, because we compare ourselves to other writers, we always stay in learning mode. We assume that we can’t celebrate because we’re not on their level yet. But celebrating ensures that you give your brain a healthy dose of dopamine so you can feel good about what you’re doing and stay motivated to keep going. Treat yourself, share your work and why you’re happy about the milestone, and shout it from the rooftops any time you get a byline or an award.

Traditional Publishing, Independent Publishing, and Self-Publishing: What’s the Difference?

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If you’ve written a book of any sort, you’ve got three big options when it comes to putting your pages into the hands of readers–traditional, independent, and self-publishing. These three options are very different animals and will suit different authors in different ways.

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing usually involves the so-called Big Four publishers (Penguin Random House/Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan) or any of their imprints. You typically need an agent to editors seriously consider your work, and you query the agent in much the same way you would any publisher/editor. Work is extremely competitive, with houses publishing just 1-2 percent of submissions.

Working with a traditional publisher can be ideal in that large houses generally are expert marketers. They know how to get your book into all the major retailers and can help you set up all kinds of publicity events. You can sell a larger number of books as a result. A big downside, however, is that the publisher often takes quite a bit of control over the production of the book, which can take years. You might be asked to do significant rewrites and typically don’t have too much say over elements like cover art.

Pay from a traditional publisher typically includes a small advance ($2,000-$20,000). Royalties can be on either gross or net sales and generally are between 5 to 15 percent and max out around 25 percent. But remember, you need an agent! They’ll take another 10 to 15 percent of your earnings. However, going with traditional publishing requires zero upfront investment.

Independent publishing

Independent publishing tends to combine elements of traditional and self-publishing. You still submit to houses, but the houses are much smaller and typically are more willing to take some risks in terms of what they publish. They tend to offer their authors more flexibility and a more collaborative relationship through the publication process. They can handle the printing and warehousing of physical books, which often would be too expensive for authors to do alone. They also can set their own royalty structures and usually provide larger advances than traditional publishers do. Many independent publishers are open to writers who do not have an agent.

Self-publishing

With self-publishing, you have to cover all upfront costs, including marketing and distribution. You use a service like CreateSpace to format your manuscript and get a formal ISBN. Then you use a service like Amazon to take the prepared manuscript and distribute it. Distribution can be purely digital or include print-on-demand (POD). You can get your book into bookstores with the POD option, but because the distribution is so expensive, you likely won’t make any money. If you opt not to distribute into bookstores, however, you can earn royalties of 40 to 60 percent, and you don’t need to worry about finding an agent or paying them additional fees. Payments also usually happen faster.

Most writers who self-publish do so because they want to maintain control over the creative aspects of their work. But successful self-publishing requires considerable marketing work and business savvy.

The bottom line

If you don’t mind losing some of your artistic control to have an experienced publisher do the heavy lifting for you, and if you don’t have a lot of money to put up upfront, traditional publishers likely would be a good fit for you. Independent publishers might be the best option if you need some guidance but want more of a say in publication. Self-publishing can be the easiest path to producing your book and usually offers the biggest royalties, but you’ll need to invest upfront. It’s a good choice if you want maximum artistic control.

All this said, as an author, you don’t have to stay in one camp or another. Some writers self-publish some projects and use independent or traditional publishers for others. Simply consider your preferences and the goals for specific work when deciding which path is best for you.

 

Querying? Here’s How to Speed Up the Process

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Regardless of whether you’re sending off a short 300-word article or a novel, querying is a major part of a writer’s life. The trouble is, it can take an ungodly amount of time if you don’t create and use a strategy. Here’s what you can do to speed things along and get good results.

1. Create a drafts folder in your email.

For every piece you have, create a query letter in your email. Place the drafts in a separate folder that is clearly labeled, and unless the submission guidelines state otherwise, place “[query–[Last Name]–Title of Piece] in the subject line. The only blank areas should be the recipient’s name and the date. This allows you to search for the draft within your email client, and when you send it out and get responses back, you can see at a glance which submission you’re getting messages about.

Once you have your query drafts, when you find a publication, editor, or agent you want to send it to, copy the text into a fresh email. Then fill in the name and date details and add any information you can to personalize it, such as similar titles the publication has run.

2. Set up auto-reminders.

Tasks like sending follow-up emails or noting that an agent is past their typical response time can be difficult to keep track of. Use a system like Query Tracker or even Google Docs to set reminders about each task. This way, you don’t have to spend extra time double-checking whether you’re up-to-date–you can just follow your reminders as you go and get ‘er done.

3. Use color coding.

If you’re tracking everything in a spreadsheet, color coding will allow you to quickly sort your rows and columns by the status of the query, type of query (e.g., fiction), or other factors.

4. Summarize guidelines. 

For every publisher, agent, or editor you want to submit to, create a spreadsheet row with all pertinent information you’d need to submit, such as the agent’s name or the query email address. Include a cell in this summary row with a link to the submission guidelines for later reference. Then, in a final cell, list all of the pieces you plan to submit to that publisher, editor, or agent. This way, you don’t spend time looking up website URLs again, and you quickly can cross off agents, publishers, or editors for each piece after a query is finished.

5. Schedule time.

Many writers query whenever they have a moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But scheduling time in advance allows you to get in the frame of mind to work with real focus, and you can set yourself up to work when you know you’ll have quiet or won’t get interrupted. It also makes it less likely that you’ll push the querying to the back burner, as it’s an official calendar event.

Remember, no matter what hacks you use to make querying go a little faster, it’s still a process that’s going to take a few months at a minimum. Most publishers, agents, and editors have a standard response time of eight to 12 weeks, although some will respond in two to four weeks. So no matter how many queries you can get out, you’ll have waiting to do. Since you’re going to have time on your hands, my advice is always to have multiple irons in the fire. Work in batches, tweak based on the feedback you get, and then try again.

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.

5 Things Writers Never Should Say

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Writers are supposed to be great with words. But there are a few phrases I sometimes hear from those in the profession that, in total honesty, drive me up the wall. These are the ones I hope you scrape from your vocabulary.

1. I don’t know.

Come on now, people. We have Google. If you don’t know something, you can look it up. If you can’t look it up, you can ask someone, such as a mentor or your librarian. Remind yourself that good sources give authority and credibility to your writing, and then go research and find out. If someone won’t answer your questions, or if you discover there really is no data, then report that.

2. I never read…because…

Ever heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense? Well, you can’t refute what you don’t even know. And the more familiar you are with what’s out there, the more you can pinpoint what you personally want to avoid, what works, and what inspires you most. Educate yourself and explore so you can have a real, justified, and experienced opinion.

3. The editor/publisher/agent just has it out for me/doesn’t know good writing!

Most editors, publishers, and agents have spent years in the field and learned from seasoned professionals in the industry. They also have a fiduciary interest in helping you, because without you, their jobs go poof. So even though it never hurts to get a second or even third or fourth opinion, trust that they know what they’re talking about and be open to the fact you have the opportunity to learn something.

4. Writing is easy.

Writing might come naturally to you, but it also requires tons of hard work and dedication. Don’t dismiss that, or others are more likely to dismiss what you do as fluff stuff not worth real support. Always tell people what the experience is really like, warts and all.

5. I want to be like [Some Writer]!

It’s fine to aspire and appreciate what someone else has accomplished as an author. But your path is uniquely your own. Strive for your own voice and way of accomplishing, because the odds are you’ll never have the exact resources or opportunities another writer has had. If there’s someone you look up to, pinpoint the traits they have that you value and find practical ways to develop them in yourself. Always define success on your own terms, not someone else’s.

Why I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block

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You know how it goes. You sit down at your laptop or with a notebook, ready to write.

Only you don’t. The page stays blank. Nothing happens.

For most of my writing career, I’ve called this writer’s block. But lately, I’ve wondered if there even is such a thing.

The term writer’s block implies that there are hurdles to your creativity, and that to keep working, you have to smash through or jump over them. But nine times out of ten, if I just step away from the keyboard, the creativity flows. It’s just in different ways. For example, maybe you find a cool way to arrange your dishes, or you sing a random song in the shower.

So what’s the deal? How come when you go to write, nothing comes?

Creativity is not entirely just letting your subconscious run wild. It involves some analysis and choice, too. But I’ve started to be more mindful as I try to create my drafts. And I’ve found that, when I encounter a blank page that’s dangerously still white, I’m usually tossing the creativity out the window entirely and letting everything become critical thinking. I start worrying and feeling the pressure of “I have to”. Is this worded right? How do I fix this? Is option A, B, or C better? That’s problem-solving and mitigating risk, not just letting the words flow.

And let’s face it. Sometimes, you just might be in a yucky mood. If you’re mad, you probably could spew to a friend about how you want to incinerate the Earth and become best friends with an alien named Hermies who would eat marshmallow pops as a primary form of sustenance. That’s quite a creative vision!

Or you might have something else that your brain is prioritizing. For example, last weekend, I found it really hard to write a draft because I kept thinking about the flowers I had to put into my garden. I put the draft aside, but when I went to tend the flowers, I still put them in an artistic arrangement. I was creative, just not with words.

So it’s not that your creativity is blocked. It’s still there. It’s just that you’re shifting your focus. The real issue thus is just how to ensure your focus is on your draft when you are at the keyboard.

I don’t think this even would be a problem if we took a more when-it-strikes approach to writing. Instead, we’re always trying to squeeze it into neat little convenient boxes to fit everything else in our lives and have some guarantee of a finish. Those desires/needs make sense, but the system of things isn’t very good for ensuring you’ll sit down to write when your brain and heart can give you the best result.

So next time you feel like you have writer’s block, look around at the other things you’re doing. You’re probably still creative in tons of ways through the rest of your day. Try to be more flexible with yourself so you can work on your drafts in a more stream-of-consciousness, flitting way if need be. The words will come when your brain pings back to the project, and you’ll get your other stuff done/problems solved along the way, too.

5 Things No One Tells Writers (But Totally Should)

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If you’re taking writing seriously, then you probably already are familiar with some of the most common truths of the trade, such as the fact lots of great manuscripts end up in the slush pile. But there are tons of other realities that people should clue you in about (but probably haven’t).

1. Editors, agents, and publishers are just people. 

Because editors, agents, and publishers have a certain amount of expertise, and because they serve as gatekeepers for getting work to readers, writers often put them on a pedestal. But they’re prone to the same excitements, limits, and needs as everybody else, and like everybody else, they’ve probably downed a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s during peak moments of stress.

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You’ll find some writing industry pros who are fantastic and some who are jerks. And at the end of the day, if you don’t send that email or call, they’re out of a job. So see them for the humans they are. Give them empathy and don’t be afraid to reach out or ask questions.

2. Multiple projects protect your sanity.

I’ve had rare instances where editors emailed me back the same day, and even rarer instances where it was within the hour. The typical timeframe for a response, however, is 2 to 4 months. During that time, you have two choices:

  • Ruminate every waking hour about what the agent, editor, or publisher is doing and what they will say because you have nothing to distract you, OR
  • Be productive on something else so your anxiety doesn’t turn you into a shriveled raisin of despair.

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Trust me when I say that the second option has more advantages. Not only do other articles, stories, novels, etc. help the time pass faster, but they also offer consistent practice and more opportunities to be published/make a sale. So get into a rhythm, and develop your own system for tracking everything you’re doing.

3. You’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time Googling.

Even if you’re the best writer on the face of the planet, facts you need might not already be in your brain. Whether you need to figure out the accurate length of a typical medieval sword or you have to grab the latest disease statistic, Google is your best friend. And just like your local library (which I still highly recommend)…

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The problem here, of course, is that it’s so easy to get pulled down the rabbit hole into information you don’t need. It can be hard just to discern what’s going to be useful and what won’t be. So you need to set limits for yourself and get as specific as you can with the questions you are asking. Learn a little about how SEO works so your results actually are relevant. Lastly, make sure that you take the time to create whatever bookmark folders you’ll need, because nothing is worse than trying to use your Internet history to find something you didn’t digitally file.

4. Your pace is your own.

Join any writing group or community online or just read about writing and you’ll likely get the impression that you have to write at the speed of light (or maybe faster). Even publishing “schools”–and there are some good legitimate ones–sell packages based on the idea of getting more books out quickly.

But creativity is not aware of the clock. The brain links pieces at a schedule we can’t put on the agenda. Not only that, sometimes writing isn’t just going through finding words or researching. It’s dealing with truly personal, deep trauma or other emotions that you can’t rush. So if it takes you just a few months to crank out a novel, more power to you. But if you end up as the snail watching a bunch of squirrels spastically scurrying to the finish line, don’t sweat it.

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All that matters is that you don’t quit, and that you keep the focus on creating something with real quality embedded in it.

5. You’ll need to draw the line.

Any piece you write can become a “baby” to you. And in the quest to treat that baby right, it’s natural to go to it multiple times, revise, and try to make it even better. But there comes a point where all you’re doing is changing, not improving. For me personally, I know I’ve hit that point when the revisions are smaller and more grammar-focused, and I’m not really adding or taking anything away that would have a strong influence on the plot. I also know I’ve reached that point when I feel more at ease about the text and have a sense that I’d be totally OK with others seeing the last draft. Remember that leaving one project means that you can enjoy starting another, draw the line, and don’t keep looking back.

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In my view, most people who go into writing don’t go into it truly understanding how to be great at it. It’s a constant learning process, even for people who “naturally” can put words on the page. But because it requires such an enormous commitment, you should have a sense of what you might experience. The points above provide a small glimpse into that. More truths that are true for you will be clearer over time, but whenever you’re in doubt, talk to people in the trenches. They likely will be happy, because of the writer’s inclination, to tell their story for your benefit.

5 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Writing Instantly

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If you want to improve your writing, then the best way to do it–by far–is to just write, and to do it a lot. There’s no magic quick fix for honing your own style and becoming comfortable with the entire process. But there are some habits and strategies that can make a dramatic improvement in just minutes.

1. Say the words.

Yes, you have to go back and clean things up. But part of what makes writing work is that it feels conversational and relatable. Reading your writing aloud or verbalizing as a part of outlining process helps you find your flow. If you’re tripping all over yourself in a spot, then you probably can say it in a simpler way or find alternatives that fit the rhythm of the writing better.

2. Download a tool.

My favorite here is Grammarly, but there are increasingly sophisticated options. Some even are starting to utilize AI to generate content and predictive analysis to make suggestions. The key here is to remember that the software is not the boss. It is simply a second pair of eyes, your Editor-in-a-Pinch. YOU still have to be smarter than the technology and think about how the suggestions/changes will influence the reader’s experience. But they can help you notice areas that need clarity or correction very quickly. They also can get you to think more out of the box and feel OK about chucking what doesn’t work.

3. Psych yourself up.

As a writer, your job isn’t just to tell the story (e.g., Fact A, Fact B, Fact C). That’s boring as hades. What makes it engaging is empathy. Readers have to feel something for the work to be memorable and have an influence on their thinking or behavior.

Conveying feelings in your writing happens more naturally if you’re feeling those emotions as you work. In this way, it’s every bit of performance art as acting or singing. It can be exhausting if you truly embrace and put everything into it. To get yourself in the right mindset for a scene, do anything that gets you in the mood you need to convey. Listening to music tracks is an easily accessible option I use all the time. But you also can go for a walk, go somewhere new, drink your favorite drink, play a video game or even sort your stuff. The only rules are that whatever you do has to be 1) easy to stop and pivot from 2) safe for you and others.

4. Pay attention to your body and environment.

I’m not talking so much about general self-care, although things like enough sleep and choosing healthy foods definitely influence your brainpower. I’m talking about your natural rhythm during the day. For example, most of us slump during the afternoon, and I find that I write more words per hour in the morning before everyone is up and it’s quiet. Try to figure out when you do your best writing and then make sure that you’re scheduling in those windows. Take care of the more routine jobs for your writing that you can do pretty automatically, such as backing up your files, when you know you’re not going to be at your creative best.

5. Conduct a poll.

Whether you need to know which ending scenario people like better or just want to see which phrasing people prefer, a poll is a super fast and efficient way to get feedback. Social media platforms make it easy to connect with others for this purpose. When all is said and done, you’ll be left with a draft that’s easier to understand and gets a better response from your target audience. It also can help make you more aware of your shortcomings or biases so that they don’t find their way into your work in the future.

Most great writers admit that improving at the craft is something that never stops. Like them, you should seek to get better and learn more about writing over your entire career. But sometimes simple changes can make a huge, immediate difference in the quality or quantity of your work (or both). Give these strategies a try, and then let me know in the comments if they’ve helped you along.