Whether you’re a professional or a motivated amateur, all serious writers should be committed to growing and honing their writing skills. Easier said than done, though, right? Between crammed schedules, working full-time, and other family and community commitments, it can be hard to squeeze in one more thing, let alone intentional development. But if you’re already having flashbacks of snoozing in a classroom with apricot-colored cinderblock walls (I mean, really, why were they all that dessicated, old newspaper color?!), take a deep breath and let the image go. You don’t have to go back-to-school shopping for this continuing education. Check out these totally accessible ways to improve your writing:
Let’s go for the low-hanging fruit first! Stephen King’s famous quote is floating around all over the Internet: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Now, we could drop the mic right here and move on to the next point, but let’s take a moment to consider why reading is so vital to writing. Are they two sides of the same coin? Two hemispheres of the same brain?
I’ve met newbie writers in their seventies and eighties who have written novels that will make you want to weep with joy. How? They have a lifetime of reading under their belts. Generations of digesting plot, characters, pacing, and structure. As a result, when they finally approach the writing desk with determination and focus, the work pours out of them in elegant wholeness. Reading, above all else, will teach you how to write. The more authors who influence you, the more “original” your work will be, since the creative compost will be rich with diversity.
Join a Critique Group
There are several reasons you should be a part of a strong critique group. First, there’s the proximity principle. Finding your tribe is a powerful step in assembling the writing life you find so compelling!
Critique groups will also do wonders for your editing skills, not only by receiving feedback from other members. You’ll also get to train your editing eye on the work of others, writing that you’re not so emotionally attached to. Once you get to know one another’s individual styles, you’ll develop a keen sense of your groupmates’ voices, and better understand how your own voice guides your writing. You’ll start to see passages in your writing that wander from your truest, most authentic voice, and you’ll be able to navigate back to center. That kind of mirror is invaluable!
Find a Professional Writers’ Forum
Look for closed Facebook groups, LinkedIn forums, and other online writers’ hangouts. Schedule a few minutes every week to pop into those spaces and learn what professionals are struggling with, what they’re learning, and where they’re headed. You can save a lot of mistakes and frustration by learning the lessons others experienced firsthand!
Take a Course
In my opinion, one of the coolest things about living during this moment in history is that we can find solutions to many of our problems through online courses. Think about it. You can learn whatever you want from whichever guru you want–whenever you want! Feeling overwhelmed after Christmas? Take a home organizing course from a decluttering diva. Want to learn how to make electronic music? There’s a masterclass for that. Gourmet cooking? Bon apetite, there are heaps of free and paid subscription videos for you to peruse.
Writing is no exception. (I mean, haven’t you seen those commercials on YouTube?! I certainly see my fair share of ads featuring Stephen King, James Patterson, or Margaret Atwood.) Teachable is a great site to find writing courses on any skill you’d like to develop or strengthen. What’s your weak spot? Make it a point to build up those muscles.
If you want to improve but you’re not sure where to start, Ultimate Bundles is a fantastic way to get mega value for your investment! I bought the Startup Bundle a few years ago, and that ultimately led me to blogging, which dominoed me toward publishing. (It’s weird, right? You never know what direction your personal creative journey is going to take. So stay on the path and keep moving forward one step at a time!) That particular bundle is no longer for sale, but I see that the Ultimate Productivity Bundle is available (and looks amazing), and that the Genius Blogger’s Toolkit will be hitting next month. Buying a bundle is a great way to learn new skills, because a.) you get a *ton* of resources and b.) you can pick and choose the ones you use to build your own course. (Dare we say ‘masterclass’?)
Share Your Work
This one can be scary if you’re an aspiring writer. The fear is real! But part of writing is to let your words fly away from you, into the world to take on new life. (It’s a little Frankensteinian, really.)
I know when I first published this blog, I worried that online trolls would tear me apart and devour me to the cheers of an angry mob. But truthfully? My only audience was crickets. Then, I almost longed for a troll to find me and leave a nasty comment so I’d least I’d have a little feedback.
Even nasty feedback can be helpful. If someone is unkind, don’t take it personally. I know, I know. How can you not take something so personal personally? One way is to develop an alter-ego, like Todd Herman describes in his book, The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life. If you were the writer you always dreamed of becoming, how would you respond to unkind, unhelpful criticism? How would you accept negative reviews that held a kernel of truth? You’d find a way to glean what you could, the sweet half of the apple, and throw out the rotten half. Do you take it personally when you find a wormhole in an apple? Nope, it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Likewise, take what you can to make yourself better, and toss the rest over your shoulder.
If back-to-school season has you in a focused, determined frame of mind and you’re ready to sharpen up that quill, I hope you’ll consider one or more of these ideas to improve your writing. Everyone gets rusty, everyone forgets comma rules (it’s not just me, right?), and everyone can benefit from time spent nurturing their gifts.
NOW YOU: How do you keep your writing pen sharp? Post your tips in the comments below!
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