101 On How to Become a Better Writer
There’s never been a better time to be a writer. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media and the world wide web is enabling anyone to become a writer without the consent of big publishing houses. Hemingway might disagree but that’s ok. It’s a dead man’s word against today’s society.
Now, I’m going to take the risk of sounding super cheesy here but as a creative writer, words are my playground. You type letters into meaningful words and words into complex sentences, which in turn create an idea, a beautiful story. If words aren’t your passion (why on earth did you start reading this article in the first place?), I recommend tuning out right about now as it’s about to get a lot more serious. Well, as serious as a 101 in how to become a better writer can be…
Let’s begin by hopping back in time to the year 1995 when I was six years old and by stating that reading is just as important as writing. Now, I’m a pure bred Finn from a little lakeside town whose parents hardly speak English, yet I learnt to read from an English book when I was six years old. Ok, it was Donald Duck and yes, it had Finnish subtitles and technically I suppose I learnt to read from those but in the name of nostalgia and the fact that it makes a better story, I’m going to stick with the theory that a Finn learnt to read by reading English.
Ever since, I have had a fascination towards the English language, writing and reading, and indeed, I am now a creative writer in the UK. Having said that, I didn’t become a writer overnight. And neither will you. Practice makes perfect and writing isn’t any different so here’s a few tips on how to prepare yourself for creating those big articles.
1. Educate yourself
Vocabulary – the bread and butter of writers. Learn new words and teach yourself how to use them. There’s nothing worse than reading an article where the same word is repeated over and over again, or writers misusing words they don’t actually understand, or, worst of all, grammatical mistakes. If you can’t spell, then you cannot become a (reputable) writer.
Knowledge – a somewhat important tool in writing circles but writers really need to expand theirs. Read news, be aware of new fads (even if you don’t agree with them), be culturally savvy and have an opinion.
Pen and paper – the essential tools of writers albeit they have been somewhat taken over by laptops, iPads and the lot. It doesn’t matter what tool you use as long as you use it. So write as much and as often as you can, and remember to jot down your ideas because you will forget them otherwise.
If you combine and grow those three, you’re halfway there. To top these essentials off, grow a thick skin and learn to accept feedback. There’s nothing better than constructive feedback. Relish it and build upon it because you cannot get better in a vacuum.
2. Take a Break
Once you have mastered the art of writing, you can move on to the other obstacles, like editing. Great editors are those who can brutally yet honestly edit their own material down. We all know it’s easy to edit someone else’s work because you have no personal attachments to it but with your own little darling…chopping off the words becomes harder. So take a break, go out for a coffee or leave it for as long as you can and then come back to it and be brutally honest. You will see the gems from the fluff. At the end of the day, it’s just words, one after the other.
3. Block It Out
Writer’s block is a common side effect amongst writers that raises its ugly head every now and again. It’s ok, we all experience it. What you need to learn is how to block it out. Different things work for different people but it’s safe to say that Lemsip won’t do it. So go for a walk, get some fresh air, read an article and come back to it with a crisp state of mind. Or just write. You will eventually have something on paper and you can work with that. We’re not looking for Pulitzer prize winners here so it’s ok to struggle along the way. That’s the only way to learn.
4. Get Off the Internet
The internet is the tool for a writer these days. I mean, can you imagine sourcing information from…a library? Then again, even though we live in a digital era, it’s sometimes good to distance ourselves from it. Explore what’s out there, talk to people, observe, interview, leave your phone home and yes, pop into the library every now and again – after all, it’s the home for literature’s masterpieces. So if you want to write better, study your favourite authors. Take it in, dissect it and learn from it.
5. Subject Matters
You need to write about what you actually care about. If politics ain’t your thing, steer away from it. If you hate sports, don’t contact…a whatever sports magazine (pretty clear where I stand on this one). If you love travel, what are you waiting for? Contact your favourite travel magazines, journals, newspapers, blogs…whatever rocks your boat. BUT (a big but) remember to have several kick-ass ideas in your pocket. They will not care if you want to write for them if you have nothing to offer. So brainstorm ideas and brainstorm hard. Essentially, it’s these ideas that will earn you a career. Yes, you need to be able to write but if you offer the same old content as everyone else, you won’t stand a chance. So don’t go with the flow – stand out.
Networking is a secret little devil one might not associate with writing. It’s great when you can put words together into meaningful sentences but unless you tend to just doodle secret novels into your diary, you need to know people in order to get your stuff published. Bravely contact people, narrow down your market and slowly but steadily you will have a little network to build upon. You will receive “no” and “maybe” but amongst them will be a few “yes”. Once you have your foot in the door, the next time round, you might just be on the top of their list. Last but not least, manners matter. So be polite. Simple as that.
That’s it folks. A 101 on how to become a better writer. It is safe to say that not everyone is destined to be a writer and not every writer is destined to be the great Hemingway but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. Write, edit, write again, plan ahead, practise, brainstorm, network and eventually, you will be a brilliant wordsmith. It ain’t rocket science so put that common sense of yours to use. Get your pen and paper out and write away a successful career for yourself. Only you, and maybe some publishing houses, stand in the way of your dream and success.