“Sorry, but the writing is just not strong enough.”
As a writer, those are the last words I want to hear on a rejection letter. If you tell me you don’t like my characters or my plot is full of holes, I can fix that. But the writing? Where do I begin to fix that? How does one learn to write stronger?
Here are few things I’ve learned in my quest to learn the craft of writing fiction:
Read Everything and Study Everything You Read: Obviously, you should read in your genre, but it’s important to read outside your genre too. Your outside interests might provide the distinctive elements that make your story feel fresh. And study what you read. Notice how the writer handles story structure, hooks, conflict, backstory, and setting descriptions. Don’t forgot the non-fiction how-to-write books. There are hundreds of them, but the two I hear mentioned most are Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Goals, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon.
Surround Yourself with Writers: The problem with being a new writer is that you don’t know the right questions to ask. Alone, you might fritter away hours on misguided efforts. Other writers can help direct you. They’ll help you discover your strengths and weaknesses. They can point out opportunities to grow as a writer. Find a critique group, join a professional writing organization like RWA, take a class, or go to a conference. Most conferences make recordings of their sessions. If you can’t make it to the conference, you can always borrow or purchase the recordings. If you are a historical romance writer, Hearts Through History offers interesting classes at reasonable rates.
Find your personal Yoda: This is harder than it sounds. We tend to speak of “great speakers” and “great teachers”, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s not enough to find a writer you admire who is a good speaker and has years of publishing experience. What you need is to find someone who reasons the same way you do. When she explains something, it immediately makes sense and sticks in your mind. You will know you’ve found this person when you see a writing problem, and your immediate response is to quote this teacher. That’s your Yoda, stick with him, and you will make progress. Every writer on this board has a teacher like that, somebody they quote when things get rough. The rest of us may roll our eyes and groan because we’ve heard that teacher’s name so many times, but it’s an excellent way to learn how to put writing lessons into action.
Free yourself with knowledge: One of the best things I ever got from a writing workshop was a list of rhetorical devices and their definitions. I discovered there were names for techniques I used intuitively. Now when someone criticizes me for repeating words, I can justify my work. It’s not repetition, it’s conduplicatio or anadiplosis. That knowledge liberated me to write freely, without fear of criticism.
Write, Write, Write: The writing comes first. Plan ahead to write every day. Set a time and stick to it. The more you write, the more likely your writing will flow naturally.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received? What do you do to make your writing stronger? What classes or books have significantly improved your writing?Please leave a comment and share your experience.