Quit Writing Crap: A Few Tips to Help You Hone Your Craft

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Writing–like riding a bike or drawing– requires constant practice. The only way a writer gets better at his or her craft is through dedication. Here are 5 tips to help you hone your craft:

1. Passive Voice

When I started writing, I constantly heard about the “passive voice” issue, but honestly, I had no idea what it meant or how to fix it. So first to define the problem: The writing center at University of North Carolina states that passive voice “occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence”. For instance, the sentence, “We were invited by the company to a holiday party” is in passive voice. To change this sentence to active voice, consider rewording, “Our company invited us to a holiday party.” This takes out the passive verb, “were”, and makes “invited” the active verb. As a general (emphasis on general) rule, if the sentence contains form of the verb “to be”  

2. Stop Summarizing

Summary rather than a detailed scene is especially problematic in creative writing. Your reader wants the ability to be in your story. Your reader doesn’t want to have a general idea of what’s happening; he or she wants to feel like a character in the story. They want to feel like they are in that room or on that subway. When you plan a scene, take time to evoke the 5 senses before writing it out. What does the scene look like? What smells take over? What can you touch? What can you hear? Your reader wants to do the same, so use the 5 sense to your advantage when writing.

3. Word Choice

“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen

Writers spend much of their revising time in agony over word choice and with good reason. Word choice can make your writing stand out or completely skew your intended meaning. Not all synonyms are created equal either. I suggest getting a useful book on synonyms like Rodale’s Synonym FinderThese are often better than the thesaurus. Also, go with your gut. If the word doesn’t sound or feel right, it probably needs to be changed.

4. Clarity

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King, WD

Clarity often means cutting unnecessary words and phrases. Reading my writing out loud, or better yet, having someone read it to me, helps me figure out where clarification is in order. Brevity is key with it comes to clear, concise writing.

5. Grammar and Punctuation

This might seem trite, but proper grammar and punctuation can make all the difference in your writing. Even though I’ve been writing since I was 11 years old, I found that I didn’t understand the rules of grammar and punctuation as well as I thought I did. When I started teaching writing, my level of understanding increased. Study the mechanics. Don’t fret over them in your first draft, but make sure grammar and punctuation are addressed when you revise.

I’ve presented just a few tips to help with writing, but what other tips can you suggest to improve your writing?


Photo credit flickr user .reid. 

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