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As a novice writer to improve my writing I have taken one online course. I want to ask, what are good ways to improve as a writer other than writing courses?

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The first thing that comes to mind is probably something you've heard a thousand times already: PRACTICE. Pretty self-explanatory. Try to write something every day, be it a sentence or a short story, anything goes. Your practice time is a good time to experiment with things like figurative language or sentence structure, master concepts like dialogue descriptions, and develop your own writing style.

My second piece of advice is to study other writers—study their grammar and syntax until it becomes second nature to you. I learned how to format dialogue by imitating other natures and by now, knowing where to put a comma instead of a period and understanding that punctuation goes inside the quotation mark just comes naturally. But you can learn things other than grammatical conventions too—pay attention to their language and style, or words they use that you particularly like.

Learning how to edit can greatly improve your writing quality. Giving your piece a break—be it for a day, a week, or a month—helps you return to your writing with a fresh eye; I wouldn't recommend trying to revise a piece the day you wrote it, since your head will still be swimming with your words. Reading your work aloud helps you catch mistakes you won't easily catch while simply skimming over your work. Don't be afraid to ask for critiques from others; you can learn a lot from outside feedback. Keep an eye out for redundancy—make sure your writing is as concise as it can be. That means cutting down on passive voice, using strong verbs to replace a verb and an adverb, things you've probably heard before. Your words will have much more power if they are straightforward and to-the-point.

That brings me to my next point: learn the rules so that you can break them. I know I just said to avoid passive voice, for instance, but there are times where passive voice is most efficient. For example, you can build an aura of mystery by using passive voice if you don't know the subject of the sentence. "The man was found strangled to death the next day" sounds a lot better than "someone found the man strangled to death the next day," even though the first phrase uses passive voice. Learning where you can bend the rules unlocks a cavern of possibilities you can use in your writing.

Finally, let me return to my first point, practice, since that's honestly the most effective tip I can offer. I'm still young and trying to develop my writing myself, but most (probably all) of my improvement has come from simply practice. Just keep at your craft and you're already moving towards improvement.

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    Punctuation marks generally go outside the quotation marks in English English, although this may depend on the circumstances, so even this is not a simple issue. It's a nightmare for English-speakers trying to submit to US publications, . – PeterJ Aug 9 at 15:50
  • Good answer - what about getting responses to your writing somehow? Writer's circle, friends who can be brutally honest, that kind of thing? – Todd Wilcox Aug 9 at 19:49
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Reading! Read for pleasure, and in the field you want to write in.

  • Sometimes, read strategically, analyzing a paragraph/sentence/section you really like or dislike.
  • Sometimes, try to paraphrase an interesting section several times, to observe what different choices might have led to. (The textbook I got this from, Writing Analytically, suggested doing at least 3 iterations to properly separate from the source material.)
  • Sometimes do a deliberate plagiarism or "forgery" (not to sell or display to others, but as a learning experience) - trying to use a similar style/structure/vocabulary as the source material, just as painters would try to first copy a specific work of art, and then try to copy that style about a different subject, and then eventually that becomes another tool in creating their OWN style.
  • Read books on writing (often tons at libraries and cheap book sales) and DO THE EXERCISES. See if they build sequentially or if you can do random ones.
  • Test parameters -- do you write better with music or without? With coffee, tea, water, nothing? In long bursts or can you make progress 20 minutes? Do you like word-count or time-based goals better, or another type? (Make a list of every strategy you encounter, and devote some time to the testing.)
  • Do NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNo, month of blog posts, book-in-a-month (which is actually a set-your-own-goal thing), 750words.com, or any of these time-based "challenges". I know some say that they don't help anyone get better, but I think a lot of writers get in their own way, editing instead of proceding. For those who don't consider themselves "writers" at all, it can definitely boost fluency and comfort. Also, the sense that the writing is "disposable," and that the goal IS merely quantity can encourage you to take risks you wouldn't otherwise take, and can encourage you to feel less "precious" about doing the best thing on the first try. (Quantity leads to not feeling so bad about deleting a ton, because you now KNOW you can generate a ton more.)

I'm sure there are more, but these are some of the first things that came to mind.

Source -- I used to teach English 100 at a local university, and I allowed students a fiction/memoir option for part of it. I also taught some strategic reading strategies for the research portions of the class

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Other answers have already covered rather well the benefits you can get from both writing and reading so I won't rehash those but rather to add another - get feedback.

Join a local writers group or an online one where you can get regular feedback from others on your work. If you keep writing the same way over and over without this all you'll do is keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Ideally you want these people not to come from your family or existing social circles because they will be less likely to be honest about what they didn't like, and if you want to improve you need to know both what people liked about the writing and what they didn't.

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    The last bit is culture-specific. In some cultures it is your close friends you can trust to offer you real criticism, while some stranger would only pay you a general compliment. But the thought behind it is very much correct - find the people who would point out the parts that don't work. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Aug 8 at 16:12
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How do you learn anything? By practicing it.

And no, you don't learn to write by reading. That is a huge misconception. By reading you acquire knowledge about how stories work. And if you read "with a writer's eye," you may pick up a few things about how storytelling works. But you don't learn to write.

You don't learn to play the violin by listening to violin music. You learn rhythm and build an ear for music, but you don't acquire even the bare basic motor skills necessary to press the strings in the right places and move the bow in the right way.

The only way to learn how to write is by writing. The only way to learn to write a novel, for example, is by writing a novel and then...

Write the next novel.

That's what it comes down to. Don't do writing "exercises". Don't spend years polishing that first failure. Simply write the next book. Again and again and again, until you get it right.


I always say this, but it cannot be repeated often enough: The ability to write, i.e. the ability to draw lettershapes to note down language, is not the same as the ability to write, i.e. the ability to narrate a story in an entertaining way. One doesn't have anything to do with the other. You can write something that is not a story; and you can narrate a story without writing text (e.g. verbally or in images such as in a movie or comic book). So it is vitally important to acknowledge that just because you can write text doesn't mean that you can write stories. You cannot. You can't swim just because you can move your arms.

It is interesting how everyone knows that every skill from drawing to speaking a language takes a huge effort and a long time to learn, but at the same time almost all novice writers believe that all they have to do to become bestelling authors is sit down and "write" (meaning 1).

If you want to know how to learn writing, the best perspective is to think of learning the violin. You will need years to learn the very basics, and you will need to write (meaning 2) many works before you get one right.

When you want to learn writing you need diligence, tenacity, and perseverance.

So write a book and then write the next. That's all. Very simple.


One note.

I don't mean to say that you don't need to read to learn to write. Of course you do. You cannot learn to play the violin without listening to music. But you don't learn to play from listening, and you don't learn to write from reading. Reading is a prerequisite to writing, but most readers cannot write. Just as most people who listen to music avidly cannot play an instrument.

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I will disagree with everyone!

The best way to improve as a writer is to analyze how writers you really like, of books you really like, accomplished what they did.

Don't just read them, that quickly descends into story immersion and entertainment, you aren't really learning anything. You have to read analytically, you need to pick apart those conversations you love, and try to figure out what makes them work. Not just "you love them," but why you love them.

The same thing for exposition, or descriptions. How much did the author really say? Do they describe their characters in exhausting detail, or not much at all? How much is "enough" detail?

When they don't describe characters much, how did you get an idea of how they look? Could your notion of that differ from others?

How much do they show in terms of appearance, instead of telling you? For example, I can tell you Jack is very tall, or I can show you Jack is very tall by having him do something only a very tall person can do: Get something off a high shelf without tip-toeing to do it. Reflexively ducking to not hit his head on the door header. Accidentally getting hit in the head by a ceiling fan (I saw that happen).

How does that author start conversations? How do they end them?

How do they open chapters? How much exposition is used to describe a new setting? Count how many details they use. What senses do they appeal to; is it just sight and sound? How often do they appeal to smell, or touch, or the sensing of temperature or humidity?

How long are their chapters? A page is 250-300 words, measure it in pages.

How long are their books?

How long are their scenes?

All these metrics are things you should be thinking about, and should try to internalize and emulate, so when you are writing you are writing like what you already perceive is a great author.

Take notes. You will never learn these things if you just read, read, read for entertainment, because all of these things fly under the radar. You actually have to think about them to notice them, or notice a pattern.

When I first got the urge to write (long ago), I wrote some crap, realized it was crap, and taught myself to write by analytic reading of a handful of authors I thought were fantastic. I remember spending about a month going through just first chapters, trying to figure out how they opened a story. (Online resources did not exist then.)

There are mechanisms, and tricks they use to give readers "just enough" information to aid or trigger the imagination, without getting verbose and boring by giving too much detail.

Any online writing courses or advice you have read on story structure is all great, it can help you to identify those structures being used by your favorite authors. But if they really are good authors they have hidden the machinery of what they are doing, and to notice it you have to approach it with a mindset of looking for that machinery, instead of just enjoying the ride. Understand what is effective, and most importantly, why.

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The best way to improve as a writer is to write. Just write. Then write some more. Then look at what you've written critically, ask others to read and comment, then rewrite and write some more.

Courses are a systematised way of doing the above. If having someone tell you "write!" helps you, go ahead. But you have to understand that at the core of them all is the simple imperative - write.

To be able to look at your piece of writing critically, you also need to read. Try to read critically. Notice the author's choice of words, use of tropes, rhetoric elements. Reread works you have enjoyed, to better notice the pins and cogs that make them work. Break those works apart, see what makes them tick, and where they clang.

Telling stories is not like playing a musical instrument. With a musical instrument, you first need to learn how to get it to make a sound at all, you start from learning the letters, and then combining them into words. None of this is "natural" (making music is natural to humans, or at least ubiquitous across human societies - a particular instrument is not). With stories - you already know the words. You've been telling stories your entire life: every time someone asks you "how was the vacation", or "what are your plans", you're telling a story. So it's just a question of honing your skill to achieve mastery of telling stories.

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I had this same dilemma recently. I've been writing for over twenty years, sometimes professionally, and I have some areas in writing I really excel at. But I also have some big weaknesses, and those weren't getting any better. I don't have the availability to enroll in an MFA program, and I'm not big on online courses. So what to do?

Instead I checked out every writing book I could find from the library. Most of them weren't that great. Some were terrible. But a few had some very valuable advice, insight or writing exercises that really helped me out a lot. And even some of the bad books had one or two hidden gems. In terms of the good ones, my all-time favorite writing book is Samuel Delany's About Writing. McKee has gotten a lot of backlash, but his Story is a good resource (as long as you don't take every word as gospel). Out of the new ones I read, Writing Past Dark really stuck out. Then too, it's also good to read books about the mechanics of the business --formatting, query letters, manuscript submission, finding an agent, marketing. I've also learned a lot about writing on this site, not only by asking questions, but also by reading other people's answers --and often even though the process of answering other people's questions myself.

Finally, it can be worth taking a good hard look at yourself, and working specifically on your weaknesses. My strengths are characters, storyline and dialog, but my weaknesses are description, background research, and putting in the work on worldbuilding. But, since I know that, I've been able to improve in each of those areas.

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    The great thing about writing guides, whether or not you agree with their advice, is that you can see what they agree on, then see how that makes sense of what the fiction you're reading does. Writers are advised to read, but you need to read through the right lens for it to have maximum benefit. It's also easier to internalise good practices when you know a succinct characterisation of them. +1. – J.G. Aug 9 at 10:33
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    Working on my weaknesses is one of my key tools. I avoided romantic plot lines at first, so I wrote a romance novel. I did not know how to write huge battle scenes. For this, I started writing a two person battle, then a melee of a dozen, and slowly worlked my way up to battles involving whole armies. Currently, I recognized that none of my characters are teenagers, so I decided to write a YAF novel to work on that. In each case, I experienced a significant improvement in that area. – Paul Chernoch Aug 9 at 14:04
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Write.

Write like nobody is watching.

Write the story you want.

Write for yourself.

Write like nobody will ever read it

And Read. Read a lot and widely.

Reread what you have written. And rewrite what you don't like.

Get honest feedback from honest people, people who read a lot and with a decent sense of artistic appreciation.

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