Writing is a fantastic hobby to engage oneself into the world of letters and literature. However, like music, acting, or any performance based art your final product must be subjected to others. Since we are human beings who crave the approval of other human beings we must then attempt to make our product the best we can produce. In this series of guides, I hope to show you a few a tips that can help improve your writing and maybe help make people like you.
If you are a person who writes solely for your own enjoyment and never intend to have another soul read your work, then what you have is a diary and maybe you should stop reading right now. If you did not stop reading, then I will tell you that there is one such currently well-known writer who did the same thing in his formative years. David Sedaris has made a mark in the world of non-fiction with his diaries that he has turned into wonderful books full of humor, sadness, and truth. Remember, though, he didn't become famous until he shared what he had. His stories did no good locked away in a book and have now affected many lives in many different ways.
How do you get to the Library of Congress? Reading, reading, reading!
Yes, the sub-header does stink, but let's ignore that. The first thing to do before you decide to take writing seriously is to take reading seriously. If you don't care enough to read another author's writing, why should anyone care enough to read yours? Because your famous, I know. You can't just read for fun anymore, it's research. You should read books, short stories, poems, articles twice. You read the first time for the enjoyment and experience the impact of the work and the second time you study it trying to see how the author accomplished his or her given goal.
You'll discover that the more you read the better your writing becomes. Ray Bradbury said that if you want to become a writer that you should read one short story, one essay, and one poem a day for 1000 days. That was his minimum.
As soon as I see an overused clichÃ© in a particular work I think two things; either this writer is being very clever or this writer is just very dull. By the time I have reached the clichÃ© I have likely already made a decision. In case you're not sure what a clichÃ© is, here is a list:
- dead as a doornail
- quick as a whip
- easy as pie
- the lion's den
- shoestring budget
Of course, like in all of English, there are exceptions. A clichÃ© can be used in a character's dialogue to make them seem dumb, full of empty words, or some other trait you think using clichÃ©s portrays. They can also be used ironically, but in both these cases I'd warn to avoid it unless you've been at this a while or just a flat out genius and who I am to say that you're not?
Spell check is not enough
I'm not spending much time on this. You should already know that misspellings and grammar mistakes give a poor impression of the writer. It makes it look like you're sloppy and don't care, which may be true but there's no reason to let the reader know this. There are two good ways to proofread. The first is to simply read a loud. When the words are coming out of your mouth, you'll be able to tell if they are natural and actually sound like you (this really helps with dialogue as well and is a practice used by Jonathan Franzen). The next is to read each sentence by itself starting with the last and working your way back to the first. Reading each sentence on its own disallows your brain to fill in errors and self-correct.
Hopefully, these few tips will help you out for now. Don't be afraid to peruse your local bookstore for books on how to read literature or write it. Also, your local bookstore may have some literary magazines like The Paris Review or Zoetrope: All-Story (there are many other and a simple google search will help you find them). The magazines have stories and poems from current writers and usually have very insightful interviews with successful authors. Check them out before they die off.