2 Nov 2012

HOW to writing

People have always said you're a good writer, and you've thought about becoming one yourself. Perhaps the next Annie Proulx, or the next David Foster Wallace? To get there, you want to be great, not just good.

It takes a great deal of practice, of course, but there are ways you can improve and become the writer you want to be. We'll share some tips with you, and perhaps someday somebody will aspire to be the next you!

Improve Your Writing Skills


Method One: Consume the Written Word Voraciously

  1. 1
    Pick up a good book. "How will that make me a better writer?" you wonder. By immersing yourself in the worlds and words of writers who have given us some of the most compelling stories and characters, you will develop a sense of what is possible.

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    • You will become more aware of the world around you—both the real world, and the worlds that exist only in your mind's eye, thanks to the author's gifts.
    • You will be exposed to thoughts and ideas that may not have otherwise occurred to you, sending your mind on new paths to explore.
    • You will learn new ways of presenting narrative descriptions through use of symbolism or literalism. Try comparing different author's approaches to the same subject to see how they are alike, and how they differ. For example, Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilych, and Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
    • You will see opening lines that make it crystal clear why "It was a dark and stormy night" is such a horrible cliché. Compare these similar weather-related opening lines:
      • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”—1984, by George Orwell. It's not dark, nor stormy, nor night. But you can tell right from the start something's not quite right in 1984.
      • “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”—Neuromancer, by William Gibson, in the same book that gave us the word "cyberspace." This not only gives you the weather report, it does so in such a way that you are immediately placed into his dystopian world.
      • “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”— The Crow Road, by Iain Banks. OK, it's not about the weather, unless we're talking about raining grandma bits, but as an opening line it really grabs your attention.
      • "“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”—A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Weather, emotion, damnation, and despair—Dickens covered it all with an opening line that leaves the reader ready for anything.
  2. 2
    Attend local theatre regularly. Yes, watching a play is passive—like television or the movies—and there's not a bit of reading involved. But it will fire your imagination in ways you might not expect.
    • More than a movie ever can be, a theatrical performance is like words come to life, with only the director's interpretation and the actor's delivery as filters between the author's pen and your ears.
    • The play's the thing, delivered by real people only feet in front of you, and you will be exposed to the writer's ideas in much more intimate and immediate ways.

Method Two: Write Voluminously

  1. 1
    Buy a notebook. Not just any notebook, but a good sturdy one you can take with you almost anywhere, at any time, because ideas happen anywhere, at any time, and you want to be able to capture those ideas, fleeting as they be, before they escape you like that dream you had the other night about...um...it was...uh...well it was really good at the time!
    • Write down any ideas that come to you: subtitles, topics, characters, situations—anything that will spark your imagination later when you're ready.
    • Keep this notebook (and a pen or pencil) around at all times, and dedicate this one notebook for ideas only, even if you prefer to write your stories out in longhand first, as some writers are wont to do. If that's the case, get another notebook for your story. If you have multiple stories, have one notebook for each.
    • Having an idea book filled with inspiration will be invaluable, both in the near future, and someday, down the road, when you need a creative kick in the pants. When you fill it up, put a label on it with the date range and any general notes, so you can refer back to it as needed.
  2. 2
    Pick a topic and start writing. The topic itself doesn't matter—the idea is to write. And write. And write some more.
    • Lay out the general arc of the story. It doesn't have to be complex, just a way to get your head around the direction of the plot. For example, that classic Hollywood story line: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. (The chase scenes are added later.)
  3. 3
    Write an outline. Expand on your basic arc, by section so you can begin to flesh out your story, populating it with at least the main characters, locations, time period, and mood.
    • For example, using our "Hollywood" arc, you might have an outline like this (pardon the clichés—this is only an example):
      • Boy meets girl. Mid-20s. They're seated together an airplane, international flight, going to Paris. He is conventional, a little dull, smart, but not worldly. He planned this trip for a year. She is pretty, but tough and street-smart, and very witty. Planned this trip this morning.
      • Boy gets girl. In Paris, they decide to spend the day getting over jetlag and seeing the sights. She convinces him to follow her. They tour around sipping coffee, eating baguettes and cheese, window shop. She talks about how her dad has fallen on hard times because of an unscrupulous venture capitalist who is closing her dad's business. Boy says nothing about his father, but knows that his dad is the guy who ruined her father's life. Later, they decide to have dinner, where they realize they're attracted to each other, and romance ensues.
      • Boy loses girl. Over a romantic breakfast, girl finds out boy's father is the guy who put her father out of business. Angry at being used by the boy, she tosses him off the balcony in his underwear (1st floor—no damage), tosses his open suitcase after him.
      • This all happens in the first quarter of the story.
      • Boy gets girl back. Girl is kidnapped, boy braves bullets and barroom brawls to rescue her. In the meantime, his dad is arrested on corruption charges, and the board awards control of the company to the boy. Boy also rescues her dad's business by canceling the foreclosure. The two fly off into the sunset together, back to America and their new life.
    • Note that in an outline like this, you discover that of the 4 sections, the last one will take up the bulk of the story. When when you have part of an outline that will take more than a few words to describe, create a sub-outline to break that section into manageable parts.
  4. 4
    Write the first draft. You're now ready to start your "sloppy copy," otherwise known as your first draft! Using your outline, flesh out the characters and the narrative.
    • You'll find yourself creating new characters as you write. Keep some space in your story notebook to add characters, and what makes them who they are. Give each of them a little story of their own, and even if you don't add that info into your story, it will give a sense of how your character might act in a given situation.
    • Don't be afraid to hop around. If you suddenly have a brilliant idea about how to resolve a situation near the end, but you're still on Chapter 1, write it down! Never let an idea go to waste.
  5. 5
    Let your story guide you. Remember, this is the first draft. Let your story have its say, and you may find yourself heading in unexpected, but very interesting directions. You're still the director, but stay open to inspiration.
    • When you're stuck, ask yourself: "What would Kurt Vonnegut (or your favorite author) do?"
  6. 6
    Finish your first draft. Don't get caught up in fine tuning things yet, just let the story play out on paper. If you realize, 2/3 of the way through the story, that she's really the Ambassador to Dubai, make a note, and finish the story with her as the Ambassador, but don't go back and start re-writing her part till you're done with the first draft.
  7. 7
    Write it again. First draft, remember? Now you get to write it from the beginning, this time knowing all the details of your story that will make your characters much more real and believable. Now you know why he's on that airplane, and why she is dressed like a punk. They're both running away from something about their lives, and it's what draws them together.
    • Write it through to the end. By the time you are done with the second draft, you will have all the information about your story, your characters, the main plot, and the subplot defined.
  8. 8
    Read your story. Now that you've finished the second draft, it's time to read it. Dispassionately, if possible, so that you can at least try and be objective. Share it with a couple trusted friends whose opinion you respect.
  9. 9
    Write the final draft. Armed with notes from your reading the story, plus notes of your friends or publishers, go through your story one more time, finalizing as you go. Tie up loose ends, resolve conflicts, eliminate any characters that do not add to the story.
  10. 10
    Buy a notebook. Yes, you just finished an epic novel, and you're feeling flush with success. Now's the time to write the next novel, because you're "in the zone," and getting better with every word.
  11. TIPS
    • Good writers read a lot. Read all the time: magazines, novels, the paper, anything. Reading a wide range of material increases your vocabulary and gives you a sense of what you're trying to achieve.
    • Not all writing is fiction. Contribute to newspapers or online blogs, sharing your opinions and thoughts—always written well, of course.
    • Make a mnemonic device to help you remember things you often forget.
    • Similes and metaphors are fun to use! When done well, they are like the scent of a rose, and make you look smart as a whip.
    • Read books, newspapers, and magazines to help you find interesting facts you could use in your writing.
    • The info sources are for finding info about a "knowledge essay."
    • Teachers admire people who work hard instead of racing to finish the essay at the last minute.
    • If you are going to use a computer, write out your story or essay by hand first, then type it on a computer. Writing by hand prepares you for essay tests. It also encourages very different ways of thinking; computers can tend to make work look more "finished" or "official" than it really is.
    • Use complete words and sentences. An essay or story is not a chatroom.
    • Just have fun while writing. Writing shouldn't be torture, it is a skill.


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