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Over the past couple of years, I’ve released dozens of videos and written dozens of articles on the topic of authorship. Some of those videos and articles focused on the craft of writing, while others addressed such varied things as how to land an agent, how to self-publish, how to market your work online, how to use Word or Scrivener, how to make money ghostwriting, and on and on and on.
At the end of the day, my goal has always been to help writers become better writers, not just in the practical sense, but also emotionally and financially. To that end, here are my 6 Top Tips to help you improve your writing. I have hundreds more, but this is where I tell my clients to begin.
1. Learn the Difference Between “Better Writer” and “Great Writer”
I hear this all the time from my coaching clients, who range from first time authors to old hands who have written millions of words. “Tim, I don’t want to become a better writer. I want to become a great writer!”
When I ask what that means exactly, they usually drop a few names off the top of their heads to give me a point of reference. “You know, like Hemingway, Capote, King, Vidal, Chandler, Christie, Grisham, Patterson, Dr. Seuss (seriously, it’s been dropped).”
Come on folks, who among you under the age of say 40 has ever read a word Hemingway wrote that wasn’t mandatory reading? Or Capote? Or Vidal? Then stop namedropping them, even though they are among the greatest writers of all time.
So, the question becomes: can I make you a great writer?
To which I reply, can anyone?
Probably not. I can offer tips and advice that might make you a better writer in the future than you are right now. Someone else may help you become a more successful writer, or a more notable writer. But becoming a great writer is up to you, and depends more on your God given talent and abilities than anything you can learn in a video or blog post from me or anyone else.
We writers wear our hearts on our sleeves and our egos around our necks like heavy gold chains. We would all like to be considered great writers by our audience and peers, but what matters is your opinion of yourself and how you define great.
Do you think you’re a great writer, even though you’ve only sold a handful of books? Or no books at all?
If so, good for you, because basing your opinion of your abilities on sales is a mistake many writers make, because most writers, great or not, never sell a ton of books.
Greatness in our industry is typically based on sales volume and dollar signs, not true talent. I’ve seen terrible books sell millions of copies, and great books languish in the Amazon basement.
Stop trying to become a legend and work to improve your writing and hone the talents you have so you become a better writer.
2. Write Every Day
This should go without saying, but here goes. To become a better writer, you must write every day. Writing is like every other skill that can be improved through repetition and practice. Or a muscle that must be exercised to grow big and strong.
It’s the old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall” routine. Practice, practice, practice.
Or the “10,000-hour rule”, which states that to master any skill, you must practice for 10,000 hours or more. If you want to become a better writer, write more words more often. End of story.
3. Don’t Follow the Herd
The herd mentality is alive and well in the writing business. You look at what’s selling on Amazon and decide that you should follow that herd because if other writers are making a killing in sci-fi, why shouldn’t you?
Or you hear of someone in a Facebook group who is making a bundle writing romance, so you figure, why shouldn’t you, even though you’ve never even read a romance, much less written one.
Just remember this when you decide to follow the herd; sometimes the herd turns and tramples you into the ground.
Rather than following the herd, look for ways to start your own herd. You do that by focusing on becoming a better writer, not a better follower.
4. Write What You Love
Again, this should go without saying, but many authors forget this simple rule because what they love to write isn’t selling, so they try to write in other genres they think will offer faster, easier paydays. That’s when writing becomes a chore, and quite often, the joy of writing dies along with your desire to become a better writer.
When you write what you love, you bring passion to the work. You focus on the writing, not the sales numbers. You put your heart and soul into it, not to mention a fair amount of blood, sweat, and tears. And you do it because you love it, not because it pays the bills. You’re proud of what you do, because doing it makes you happy.
When you write what you love, you also tend to write more words, more often (see tip #2). You will become a better writer in that genre. And maybe someday your dedication to writing what you love will pay off. Even if it doesn’t, you would have followed your heart and not the herd (see tip #3).
5. Read as Much as You Write
Stephen King said it best, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I believe if you want to become a great writer you have to read a great deal of books in your genre. For example, if you want to become a great sci-fi writer, read the current bestsellers and classic sci-fi books (bestsellers to determine what’s selling in the market today and classics to see what has stood the test of time). Listen to King. He knows his stuff. Read as much as you write.
6. Write with the Reader in Mind
Have you ever read a book that left you scratching your head, wondering what point the author was trying to convey to you, the reader? I see this quite a bit with coaching clients who are new to the craft of writing. They write their masterpiece without ever giving a single thought to the reader, the person they expect to buy, enjoy, review, rate, and recommend their work.
As an old entrepreneur, I believe you should consider the reader to be your customer, and everything you do in creating your book, i.e. your product, must be done with the reader in mind.
What do readers expect in a book like yours?
What tropes must be served?
How do you achieve customer satisfaction and garner great reviews?
If you don’t write with the reader in mind, you’re setting yourself up for failure from word one.
A final piece of advice: don’t let others define your greatness.
You’re a great writer when you believe that you are, not when others say you are.
Tim Knox is an author, ghostwriter, editor, and publishing coach who has ghostwritten over 100 books in various fiction and nonfiction genres, and produced over 200 videos and podcasts on the topic of how to become a better writer. Tim’s company, Knox Publishing, works with new and established authors to help them improve their writing skills and marketability. His novels, Angel of Mercy and Sins of the Father, as well as other works, may be found on his website at timknoxbooks.com.