How to Become a Better Writer

March/April 2012 Writer's Digest | How to Become a Better WriterWe’re always excited when a new issue of Writer’s Digest hits newsstands—especially when it’s delivering something our readers have specifically been asking for. So we’re especially jazzed about this week’s release of our March/April issue and its theme, “Make Your Writing Stand Out.” Whenever we poll the writing community, time and again we find that writers of all types and skill levels agree on one thing they can’t get enough of: tips and techniques that can help them learn, simply put, how to write better. And this issue is full of them!

Here’s a preview of a few of my favorites:

3 Tips for Better Writing

1. Avoid overdoing themes. Rather than building your story around a theme (love, forgiveness, freedom) or advice (“Follow your dreams”) or a cliché (“Time heals all wounds”), drive your narrative forward through tension and moral dilemmas. So, instead of using the theme “justice,” let the events of the story pose a more engaging question: “What’s more important, telling the truth or protecting the innocent?” Rather than giving the advice, “You should forgive others,” let your story explore a dilemma: “How do you forgive someone who has done the unthinkable to someone you love?” —From “5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make,” by Steven James

2. Go beyond the five senses. The best authors add texture to their work by using body language in their narratives. If you read up on body language, you’ll find that two things are at the root of all of it: anxiety (or lack thereof) and hidden desires. Consider this:

Brian paused and lit a cigarette. He exhaled a stream of smoke at the window.

That doesn’t tell anything about the character. If Brian needs a cigarette, use the moment fully:

Brian paused and lit a cigarette. He held it close to his body, as if he didn’t want to take up too much space. He exhaled a stream of smoke at the window, avoiding Anne-Marie’s eyes.

We learn something about what’s going on with Brian here, without having to plow through an internal monologue from him or Anne-Marie. —From “7 Simple Ways to Make a Good Story Great,” by Elizabeth Sims

3. Customize your own searchable database from your research. Whether you’re conducting research for fiction writing or for a factual piece, it’s details you’ll find that will lend life to your story—but only if you can find them when you need them! Because computers have search functions for locating files as well as words in the documents themselves, it may be worth your time to scan in articles or chapters you’ve turned up in your hard-copy research. Digitizing these documents will allow you to search for keywords and scan through weeks’ worth of reading instantly to find that reference you thought you saw. —From “Research Like a Pro,” by Charles J. Shields

This is just a taste of what this issue has to offer—so if you like what you see, be sure to stop by your newsstand (or our online shop) to find these complete articles, alongside plenty more great advice to help you become a better writer. You can also download the whole issue instantly here.

Free Issue Giveaway: Share Your Tips on How to Be a Better Writer

Win a copy of our March/April issue! Simply leave a comment on this post sharing the best quick tip for better writing that you’ve heard or read recently. Then check back next Monday to find out if you’ve won!

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest

Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser
Like what you read from WD online? Don’t miss an issue in print!

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24 thoughts on “How to Become a Better Writer

  1. Ventura811

    When you write – live your words. Use hand gestures when searching for that “right” word. Act out your character’s body language – it will help you discover his/her hidden emotions. Talk out loud as you type. Become the character you write about. Have your character be completely honest…reveal the inner self. This will make the story believable and the reader will identify with it. When you do this you will be able to capture the passion you feel in your heart and transport it in writing to the reader.

  2. rachelgiesel

    1. If you’re struggling to find conflict, make your characters argue. Even if it’s about something not so important, there may be a deeper issue worth exploring.

    2. Prompt, prompt, prompt! Even if inspiration doesn’t immediately strike, your writing may lead you in a new direction and surprise you.

  3. puppeterry

    If you are self-publishing, never trust a spellcheck. Just because spellcheck says the word is spelled correctly, it doesn’t mean you have the right word! In one paragraph I read, the hero “messaged her temples” and “barley touched her lips.”

  4. Alkazaar

    Tip: If you have trouble thinking how your story might go or how it might be structured do this; think of 5 random scenes that really stick out to you. Then find a way to connect those scenes and write a plot that pleases you, trust me this works every time.

  5. khattsmeow

    The best advice I have ever recived is in 2 parts: first listen to your muse, what you want to write and what is rolling around in your head may be two different things so get it out of your head and you can get back to the original project.
    Second: Don’t be afraid to try new things. If the only thing you have ever written is poetry, try writing a short story, a novel, or an artical. If you’ve only written fiction, try writing a memoir or something historical. Stretch your abilities as far as they can go.

  6. Popper99

    Write the stupidest sentence possible. As a recovering perfectionist, I find this helps get me past the times when I feel blocked because I no longer have to worry that what I write must be, well, perfect.

  7. catbr

    Be an avid reader. This actually gives you first hand exposure to what good writing looks like when reading an author you admire and should give you some useful tips for your own writing. And/or if you read something absolutely horrible you should be able to pick up on what to avoid.

  8. ldraconus

    If it’s making you uncomfortable, you’ve nailed it. I have writing parts that make me squirm, since I’m writing about a relationship between two people who have been hurt in the past. It’s making me uncomfortable. I know the writing is real then, from my own heart, from places I don’t want to look too closely.

  9. Melissa

    I have the terrible invisible “back-seat” reader syndrome. I have this nagging section in my brain that’s always worries about how people would respond to my writing. I mean, what would my grandmother think! So when I read this extremely simple piece of advice, you can imagine my relief:

    Write the first draft for yourself, and the second last draft for your readers.” (Sorry, I am unsure you who originally said this paraphrased statement, but it is said a lot I’ve noticed.)

    Even though I have already hear it, and read it often, I have to remind myself of it regardless. The first draft’s for me baby, and you can’t read it!

    1. HuffmanHanni

      I’m struggling with this as well. I’ve just started writing in ernest the last few months and it’s hard to sit there and think about how a certain scene or idea would go over with say, my mother-in-law. She has very strong opinions and doesn’t mind telling you in a not-so-nice-way that you are wrong or something disgusts her. I actually blush about writing a love scene and I haven’t even gotten the courage to actually write one yet!

      But then, when I started reading some books, especially Stephen King’s “On Writing”, it really hit home why I’m attracted to writing. I’m writing for myself. I’m writing what I like to read. What really intrigues me about a character. I guess if and when I ever get published, I’ll just have to remind myself “Haters going hate.” If I was pleased with the product, then that’s all that matters.

  10. barbie22

    To see how strong your verbs and nouns are write without using: is are was were had has have been should could it get. Without these words, you’re forced to use stronger verbs, thus stronger images and better sentences.

  11. Caleb McFarland

    Put things how they are not in a way that seems interesting. If the character puts a book on a table, say so, if he opens a door and steps out, say so, don’t try to pzazz up (nice word huh?) what you’re saying, simple things should be put simply unless they can lend something to the story by being put in a more complicated form. Plain writing is not bad, it is needed, and sometimes it gets the point across more accurately then a longer sentence. More complicated writing should only be used when it needs to be, good writing is not complicated writing, it is accurate, and that comes in many forms.

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