1. Write first, edit later
One of my best creative writing teachers once said, “Don’t write with the editor in you over your shoulder.” I think listening to that piece of advice has really helped me be a better writer. Nothing is more damaging to your writing than to edit yourself as you go. If you are constantly revising each sentence just as you finish it, you will disrupt your flow and lose track of the direction you’re going in. If you write first, and go back to edit later, you can get all of your creative and uncensored thoughts down as they come to you, even if they’re sloppy. You might have a fantastic sentence in your head, but if you go back to reread rather than let it all come out at once, you can lose it. Writing and editing are two entirely different processes — they should never happen simultaneously.
A good writer is always observant; they note details around them that others would usually overlook. In order to exercise your awareness of what’s around you, people-watch and write whenever you have the chance. This will help you become more descriptive when it comes to characters, settings, and their descriptions. When you’re writing a character, whether they are fictional or nonfictional, it is easy to describe some simple details and leave it at that. They had brown hair, blue eyes, a soft voice. But if you begin to make character sketches of people who you physically observe, it will arm you with even more descriptions. Whenever I became bored at my job, I would take out my notebook and write a character sketch of someone in the office I encountered on a daily basis. It helped me notice things I never would have if I didn’t stop and write it down, and it helped expand my illustrations for characters.
3. Cut down on adverbs
It can be painful to read some of my older writing because there is always an adverb in every other sentence… which is just absurd. 98% of the time adverbs are unnecessary. “He crept sneakily.” – Just saying he crept is enough to suggest he did so in a sneaky manner. “He whispered softly.” – If he’s whispering, it’s probably soft. I still find myself adding more than I should at times, but after finishing a piece, I always go back through and delete well over half of the adverbs I included. Too many adverbs just make writing sound juvenile and weaken the emphasis you need.
4. Break the rules
“Anyone who lives within their means suffer from a lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde
Yes, you can break the rules of the English language in your writing *gasp*. It can seem like a difficult thing to grasp, let alone try, because we have had grammar rules seared into our brains since the moment we started speaking. But you can, and should, break them to make your writing more effective. Some pieces of writing need run-on sentences to add stress and urgency. Some need fragments. You can start a sentence with ‘But’. Or ‘And’. A paragraph can be a single sentence. Or two hundred sentences. Have fun and be creative. Think about how boring poems by E.E. Cummings would be if he didn’t constantly break the standards of the English language. The better handle you have on grammar and syntax, the more successfully you’ll be able to.
5. Read. A lot.
You should always be reading. If there is someone who claims they are a writer but don’t really read, they are full of shit. Wouldn’t you expect professional football players to watch football? Or professional chefs to eat food? Obviously writing every day, or as often as possible is very important. Constant practice is always imperative when perfecting any type of skill. But reading will help in more ways than you may realize. If there’s a style you admire, try it. Explore genres and authors. One of my creative writing teachers said she could tell very easily through my writing that I read a lot, because I have a strong sense of plot movement, narrative changes, etc. I became so familiar with so many aspects of writing just from reading, it naturally became a part of how I constructed my own pieces. Read anything and everything.