With 2020 just around the corner, the talk of New Years Resolutions is at its peak. And while you don’t need a new year or decade to improve your writing, now is always a good time to kick your creativity into gear.
It’s easy to say you’re going to write an extra 100,000 words this next year or to write and edit two more books, but simply generating words doesn’t always improve your writing. The following suggestions (or goals) can help you go beyond just spending more time writing and bring a focus to developing your writing skill.
7 Ways to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
Join a critique group
Joining and participating in a good critique group will help you see what readers are looking for and noticing in your writing and others. As you analyze other writer’s stories, you’ll find ways to improve your own writing. And good critique partners will help you find the flaws and areas with room for improvement in your own work.
What makes a good critique group?
A good critique group doesn’t need to be filled with accomplished writers and experienced editors. But it does need to have participants willing to learn and be open to critiques and suggestions. If the writers aren’t willing to grow or to spend the time necessary to offer a helpful critique, then your writing isn’t going to improve and you could be just wasting your time.
How do you find a critique group?
If you want to meet in person, look for local chapters in writing guilds and communities. You can also meet writers and network at local writing conferences.
If you’re willing to meet online, searching and participating in online writing groups can be a great way to find and make writing friends. Look for people who are likeminded in that they want to grow and improve in their writing in a smaller online critique group, or just ask if there are any groups with open spots. Sometimes you don’t have to form your own group from scratch!
Hire a good editor and study their suggestions
A good editor will help you make your manuscript shine. However, you don’t have to simply accept their edits and move to the next step in publishing. Instead, take some time and really study the suggestions and edits from your editor.
If they’re making a lot of similar changes or suggestions, practice those suggestions in your writing. Apply them to another piece you’re working on or write a short story you can practice with and revise to match the editor’s suggestions on your book. Doing this will help your future writing be stronger rather than just having your editor fix the same things every manuscript.
Study a book from your favorite author and try to emulate their writing style
We all have a favorite author or two or seven. But we also have at least one or two authors who we love their writing styles and wish we could write like them. Choose an author like this and practice their work. Type out (or handwrite) a few chapters or scenes from one of their books and try to learn their style. Write a new scene or subplot that could go along with the book (yes, fanfiction), and make sure the writing matches their style.
As you try to emulate their writing, you’ll learn different approaches and styles. These then will benefit your own work and style.
Turn a writing weakness into a strength
Pick something that you struggle with in writing (dialogue, narration, description, pacing, etc.) and focus on it. Write several short stories with that weakness in mind. Fast draft a novella and focus on the weakness as you write. Ignore everything else and just focus. Write it better, rewrite it more. As you focus on a writing weakness, you’ll be able to turn it into a strength in time, and it will no longer be an issue in your future work.
A lot of novel writers think poetry is another world and a different style of writing entirely. You write hard sci-fi so you can’t write poetry! However, poetry makes you focus on specific elements of writing: syntax, rhythm, description, metaphor, expression, style, voice. All of which are part of prose.
Writing poetry does not need to be separate from writing fiction. They are both writing, and practicing both mediums can benefit the other.
Poetry forces you to focus on language in a way that is often forgotten in longer prose. You don’t have space to ramble in poetry, and precision in imagery is key. As you focus on writing stronger poetry, you’ll hone your wording. And this practice and development will improve your longer fiction because you’ll apply your sharpened understanding of language to longer scenes.
Mix up your usual writing with short stories and microfiction
As with poetry, writing short stories and microfiction will force you to wield language with more precision. You can’t beat around the bush to get to the conflict or imagery. Every word counts, and as you write with that mentality in shorter forms, you’ll be able to write with that mentality in longer fiction as well.
Try something different in your writing process
This seems pretty vague, but trying something different from your usual writing process can benefit your writing. For example:
If you spend most of your time writing and don’t read other books, take some extra time to read. Read in your preferred genre, read outside your genre. Give yourself time to refill the well of creativity. See how consistent reading affects your writing.
If you always meticulously outline your stories, try freewriting. See where it takes you and how your characters change. (I’m not saying that discovery writing is better than outlining, but it can be good to mix things up a bit here and there). Or visa versa. If you usually discovery write, try outlining. How does your planning and story change? Experimenting with a different style of writing, even if you don’t stick with it later on, can still teach you something about your own writing process along the way.
Do you mostly write first drafts and never move on to revising and editing? Edit one of your finished stories. Note how the revisions reshape the story and how it changes your writing process.
The list of what you could try is endless because there are so many different ways to write, revise, and edit. Try a new outlining method, a new revision method, try dictation. Experimenting with something different, even for a short time, can help improve your usual methods.
Things to keep in mind:
Choose an obtainable goal! If you pick something too sudden and too difficult, you’ll burn out and become one of many who give up by mid-February. Pick something you know is accomplishable, even if it means picking one improvement project and taking a full year to accomplish it. And if you do pick something difficult, break it down into smaller goals. This will help reduce the difficulty and make the goal more manageable.
Happy New Year and may your writing continue to flourish!