If you love to write and you’re looking for specific ways to improve your writing, I have five simple ways to help you become a better writer today. I just returned from a week’s vacation on the Big Island, where I managed to sneak in a complete read of my favorite book on writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. My wife knows me all too well, yet despite her objections…
I took five books, two magazines and IMAGE journal with me on vacation. I dabbled in one magazine and started The King’s Speech (my Oscar choice for Best Picture), but it was Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that I devoured. With great enthusiasm, I poured over every page of this bestselling writing memoir. So, it’s only appropriate that I share 5 Specific Ways to Become a Better Writer Today. Not only is On Writing a great read, it provides specific, easy to remember ideas on how to make your writing clearer and more compelling to your reader.
1) Write in the Active Voice: Get rid of all those passive sentences filled with passive verbs. King notes, “With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something.” John eats. Bob shoots. Nancy stabs! King continues, “With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. In other words, the subject is just letting it happen.” Yeech! Way too passive! For more on active/passive verbs, check out The Elements of Style in my post, My Top Five Books on Writing.
2) Assassinate Your Adverbs: Anything ending in -ly is an adverb and adverbs absolute-ly weaken your writing. I try to use as few adverbs as possible because they are a weak substitute for creative active, vivid description. As King notes, “Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Like the passive voice, they seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind.” In other words, the adverb is not your friend. Assassinate your adverbs today. (My words, not King’s.)
3) Use “he said/she said”: Dialogue attribution is what it’s called. “You are such a dwit!” he said. Stephen King devotes several pages to dialogue attribution and what I like most about what he has to say on this subject, his strongest point is letting the reader’s intelligence figure out who’s doing the talking. King’s pet peeve is dialogue attribution filled with those pesky adverbs and yes again, those adverbs are to be used sparing-ly. “But I love him,” she said. Not…”But I love him,” she said pathetically (or passionately or contemptuously!). Every so often is okay, but use your adverbs judicious-ly.
4) Read A Lot & Write A Lot: When someone asks Stephen King how to become a better writer, one of his first questions is, “Do you like to read?” If the person answers “no” or says they don’t have time to read, King seriously doubts their commitment as an aspiring writer. Writing and reading are two interchangeable disciplines. Aspiring and proficient authors learn a lot about writing by doing both. I love this quote, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” Amen!
5) You need a Room with A Door: Blow up your TV. Get off Facebook or email. Stop putzing around the house. I’ll leave you with these final words by Stephen King, “But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal (a daily page or word count), as well. The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse.”
What are the best ideas you’ve discovered for improving your writing? I want to hear them…jump in, the water’s fine!
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