I see this advice tossed around on a lot of blogs. Write more and improve your craft. But does it really work? I think it does up to a point. For me at any rate, writing more makes it easier to write. Getting ideas from my head to computer file does come easier but…
Just because it is easier to get your words into a file doesn’t always mean that they are better. If you are striving to improve, your storytelling will advance. Scene timing will get better but I’m not sure how much writing you would have to do to reach a professional level.
What is the answer then? How about getting help? Your editor is one step. They can help find repeat words. For instance, for me, some days certain words get used a lot. A good editor will catch these and suggest you find an alternative.
One good source I found to improve my writing is the local authors’ group. Our group here, Authors of the Flathead, has a wide spectrum of talent and experience. One of the members gives a lecture once a month. He wrote as a screen writer for Hollywood for years. His credits include McGiver, Airwolf and several other top TV series. His hints about character development, world building, etc. have been invaluable in my improvement.
Another is a published author from the Authors of the Flathead who pointed out the use of ‘was’. At open readings, he used a red pen to circle that word on my pages. He also noted phrases used over and over. When he handed my first selections back, they looked pretty bloody. But, going back and correcting his red circles made each story a little more vivid. Concentrating on not using ‘was’ forced my writing to pace a little faster and descriptions to become brighter. The story flowed better.
Other speakers pointed out point of view. Think of it as a camera focused by the character. If you jump to another character’s point of view, hand the camera to them. Do something to let the reader know the camera has been handed off.
The authors’ group also offered a critique group. This group helped with show, don’t tell. They also pointed out when I would tell what would happen and then go ahead a sentence or two later to show it.
Can you run into problems with an organization like this? Yes, I had one person who focused on minutiae. I read one story at an open reading about the travails of a small town mayor faced by government bureaucrats of the EPA. The EPA was going to levy a large fine. The person wanted lots of details about the government agency and the exact amount of the fine. The story didn’t need either one. The reader can discern that EPA means ‘big government’ and a large fine will vary from person to person. To some $100 would be large and to others $10,000 would be.
If you run into someone like that, you have to ignore them or switch groups. If everyone in the group finds the same problem with your writing, is it time to change? Using their suggestions did help improve my writing.
The biggest key is finding someone with real life writing experience. Those writers I chose to listen to had years of experience and had all sold screen plays, magazine articles or books. All of these types of writers had something to help me. The ones who wanted to discuss minutiae were still working on their first great novel and wanted my writing to fit their ideal. Most ideas have a kernel of help for your writing but you don’t have to accept them all.
I have found that writing some short stories helped, too. I could try different techniques and genres without spending weeks on a project. Some stretched my ability while others just helped polish my storytelling.
My conclusion, yes, writing more does help but it really zooms into the stratosphere if you get quality, experienced critiques and editing. Avail yourself of opportunities to expand your knowledge and experience. Keep writing. Sometimes a little idea will bring big results and turn on the light bulb in your head. Then each new project becomes a little more professional and enjoyable to read. Does this mean that my writing is perfect now? No, but even my editors and critiques agree with me that my stories are improving with each one.
Terry Compton author of Sci-Fi, fantasy, westerns, political satire and other stories that don’t really have a genre but fit in several.