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Improve Your Writing
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To Outline Or Not To Outline
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by Nicole Murphy
None of us will be brilliant writers the moment we first pick up a pen or hit the keyboard. It's a fact. We're beginners and while some will be beginning with better skills and understandings than others, none of us will be the best writer we can be.
Improving your writing is one of the great parts of being a writer. There's no greater feeling than picking up a story you wrote a year ago or even six months ago, picking up all the mistakes you made and realising you don't do it any more. I bet you can go up to any well known writer and ask them what they think of the first thing they published and the response will be something along the lines of: "I'm glad it was published because it got me started but quite frankly, I read it now and I shudder."
It can seem overwhelming, when you consider how good you want to be and how far you need to go to achieve it. A famous quote is that you need to write a million words before you can be a good writer. The follow ideas will help you make steady progress in your writing and achieve that aim of being the best you can be.
1). Practise, practise, practise. Yes, you've heard it all before. Write every day. Or at least regularly. And it's true. Writing is a skill and like all skills, will only improve if you practise. If you're only going to write once a month or will write ferociously for several weeks and then not again for six months, you can't expect your writing muscles to develop. Even if it's only one hundred words a day (and that will only take ten minutes or so), write as often and as regularly as you can.
2). Pick one weakness and work on it. Don't try to improve every aspect of your writing all at once. The first thing I decided to work on was Point Of View (POV). I got books, asked questions in online forums and wrote a lot, focussing my attention simply on POV. I not only got a handle on POV but found the style of POV that best suited my writing.
Once you're feeling confident about that area, pick another one and focus on it. Sometimes, you might only need a week or two to get a handle on an idea. Sometimes, it might take you months before you feel really comfortable with the way your writing looks and sounds.
The great thing is, even though you are focussing on one subject, the amount of writing you do will see small improvements in other areas as well. So you almost kill two birds with one stone.
3). Experiment with your writing. Each month, set yourself a challenge to do something different. May it's to write a story in first person when you normally use third. Maybe it's to try writing your story as a transcription of a tape rather than as an observer of the story. Maybe it's to try and write one hundred words as one sentence.
You will end up with interesting ideas, new areas that you need to look at and perhaps will discover a skill that you didn't know you possessed.
4). Write short shorts. Nothing will test your writing more than trying to tell an entire story, with good characterisation and plot, in five hundred words. You learn the value of words, the importance of right word at the right time. Even if you think you can't possibly do it, try it. It gets you thinking about your writing in a way that writing a novel doesn't, and you can't help but see what your strengths and weaknesses are.
5). Get involved in critiquing other people's work and having your own critiqued. It is amazing how you can pick up errors in other people's work that you cannot see in your own. You'll learn a great deal from the process. And for your own work, a good idea is to ask for questions about a particular thing. For example: I'm not sure how clear the description is in this piece. Can you clearly see what is going on? Get your critiquers to focus on the skill you are focussing on and then you can receive their comments without being concerned that they are attacking you or your baby.
Take you time to improve your writing. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. No one's going to come back at you in ten years and say "How can she be on the New York Times Bestsellers List? Look at the crap she wrote in 2003." Except maybe you.
About the Author
Nicole R Murphy is a writer and copy editor. She can help you develop your writing skills by copyediting and critiquing your work. Try a free trial at www.yourbestwork.com