Recently I had a nice discussion with a friend of mine that is testing the waters of writing. She enjoyed writing short stories in elementary school but lost the passion as she entered middle school. However, now that she is older she wants to “get back into it” as she put it. So, we chatted a bit about the basics – you know, dialogue and plot, character names and other various details. She then asked me a question that I actually found to be difficult to answer. What makes someone a good writer?
First and foremost, I’d like to remind everyone that I most certainly do not fancy myself an expert at much of anything. I haven’t yet mastered the fine art of the written word by any means, but I can tell you that I have broken my share of writing utensils over the years and have been pounding the keyboard for just as long. I consider writing a passion play of evolving ideas. Every day you practice, you are sure to improve. With this in mind, I decided that I would put together a list of the things that I consider vital for my own writing improvement, and I want to share it with anyone else who might be interested.
I have kept a serious journal since I was ten years old. Sure, most of the entries at first were angsty, silly, immature, and terribly painful to try to read, but these pages are a record of my growth as not only an individual but a writer. Plus it is always fun to read entries that talked about the projects I was working on at the time, tossing around story ideas and such. I suggest finding a notebook that you like greatly and start off beginning with the basics. From there, you can delve into daily routines, ideas, or dreams. A journal is a personal reflection, something that you might have to keep up with for a while to get a feel for and learn to become comfortable with. Best of all? There are dozens of journal types! No more are modern journals just your average Dear Diary secret stashers. One popular trend at the moment is the bullet journal. Check them out on Pinterest – those are not only super creative but a lot of fun!
Okay, let me start off by giving you a definition of a one-shot. According to old Merriam-Webster, a one-shot is something that has been done and was applied only once. The Mandy definition (Mandy is my real name if you didn’t know…) is basically a stand-alone ultra-short story (generally less than 1,000 words) usually pertaining to a random topic involving a slice-of-life situation. I love to write one-shots. I use them as practice pieces for giving my characters depth. These do not take too long to write and have proven time and again in breaking through writer’s block. A topic can be generated from just about anywhere. As recently as three days ago, my brother commissioned a one-shot about my character Peter’s opinion on gay marriage, and let me tell you, it definitely broadened my perspective of how my character thinks! If you are stumped on ideas, there are plenty of websites you can visit that can generate ideas for you. In elementary school, I used to use a website called The Story Starter, which would give you a single sentence with the intent on basing a story around it. Try it out and just have fun with it!
Okay, this should be a given: reading is incredibly important if you hope to be a better writer. To be a writer, you must have a love for stories. By reading, you will learn about story structure, proper dialogue exchanges, and the art of creating a tale that flows smoothly. You will also learn what does and does not work. If you wish to write a wonderful story, read the classics and take notes on why they became classics. There are millions of stories out there, so you have millions of opportunities to learn and improve.
Oh yes, let me tell you about organizing. Every writer that I know have little patterns, and I’m no different. My pattern is that I write my primary story on my laptop, most of the time at night between the hours of 10 PM and 5 AM when my creative juices are at the peak. Aside from that, I carry around my story journals, which are small notebooks that I fill with plot ideas, dialogue sequences, character outlines, and even on the spot one-shots to get a better grip on a tough character trait that I’m trying to analyze. I’m never too far from my notebook and my bosses at my job are understanding when I have to take a quick moment between retail rushes to jot down an idea. I take my notebooks home and apply them to my story, soon enough finishing my initial draft which I print and begin the job of the red pen or pencil rough edits. Before these hard copy edits, I also sporadically go through laptop edits after I finish writing a chapter. I know many who say that editing at the same time as writing is a no-no, but I’ve never really been one for following rules. And that is the point – you should do what works for you. One person’s writing organization might not work for you. Try different things, find what feels right and do what works for you. Sometimes having no organization at all works for some, and that is perfectly fine, too. As long as your story gets told to the best of your ability, that is really what’s important.
- Beta Readers
This one is a hard one: you must let others read your work. I know, I know – it was hard for me, too. You spend years creating a world that you have treated as an escape, one that no one else knows about. A sanctity that belongs to you and only you, and then you are expected to reveal it to others to possibly scrutinize and tear apart. You second-guess all of your work and even feel a little ashamed when criticized. Yes, I have been there and did that. But guess what? That is the life of a writer. If you have no intention of allowing your beloved project to be seen, just what is the point of writing? I don’t know about others, but I have always had this burning desire to spread my voice far and wide. I want other people to feel something from my stories. It is so difficult to allow yourself to become so vulnerable. After all, a story is a look into some of the most secret inner parts of yourself. However, there are people out there just like you who want nothing more than to help you make your story the best that it can be! There are fellow writers that love looking at other fellow writers’ works and giving constructive criticism, the main goal of pointing out details that a writer oftentimes overlooks. Having a small, loyal team of beta readers will improve your writing.
There you go, five things that I believe helps in making a better writer! As I said before, practice truly does make perfect, and following these steps will also give you a boost in the right direction. It did for me, after all!