So you're a writer? Fantastic! Have a great idea? Even better! Stuck in a rut?
Well, if you're a writer, you'll probably get stuck in that rut at least once in your career: that spot where you're doing alright, but you're not really improving and maybe you're even getting bored because your writing just isn't getting better.
It's one of the most frustrating aspects of writing, to be in control of entire realms and still not be able to put what's in your head down on paper properly. Writing is a career in which you are (or should be) constantly learning, so while this rut might be cozy at first, it's incredibly important that you don't stagnate. How do you improve, though?
Explore outside your comfort zones.
I know, I know – it's a lot easier to just stick to the areas of writing you feel safest. You can improve your strengths by practicing with pieces that no one else will ever see. If you're afraid of failure or a piece that isn't so great, remember that even failure is an improvement and a learning experience: you learn what not to do and how to improve so you can avoid it in the future!
So what if you suck at writing in the sci-fi genre, poems with rhyme, or even romance? While you might not enjoy the genre as a reader, try crafting your piece in a way that would make you, as a reader, enjoy it. You'll learn how to appeal to your own audience that way; to make even the disgruntled reader enjoy your work. Practicing it means that you're allowed to stretch your mental muscles; to see your writing from new perspectives. It's like exercise, only it's a lot less painful in the physical department.
Another way to improve involves your style. How do you write? Are you snappy and snarky, or do you prefer 1800s-style lengthy dialogue and descriptive language? Something in between? Try to identify your style and then attempt working on different styles of writing. You can also try writing characters with thick accents or informal speech patterns, which is more genuine but also a little more difficult to write if you're used to exercising proper grammar.
Next question: do you like writing books that are dismal, or do you err on optimism? That's your tone, and it's one of the most important features of a book. To improve your own tone, experiment with different ones. Try flipping your style and write a character opposite anything you've written before. Write a story, poem, or piece of flash fiction without a happy ending, or if you're a complete pessimist, let the prince save the damsel for once. This intertwines with style in that your language portrays your tone, so try combining both of these.
You can even start a story with the ending and work your way back. Doing so can allow you to more closely evaluate the typically linear timeline that stories follow. Flipping your understanding of writing can help you see your own strengths and perhaps you'll even notice something you're really good at that you've never seen before. It may also help you see where you're stuck at, if you're working on a bigger project and just can't get past a certain plot point.
Now, you've probably heard this one: "You should only write what you know." Um, what? How can works by J. K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Suzanne Collins, George Lucas, George R. R. Martin, and so many more even exist if that is a rule that good writers follow? As writers, we can improve our writing by breaking through the logic we know in our world and expanding our imaginations to accommodate. We aren't allowing ourselves to expand if we put ourselves into little boxes, and if any of those "greats" had done so, maybe we wouldn't even know their names.
Perhaps a modification is necessary to this misleading piece of advice. Include what you know about the world – what you've learned, tragedies you've experienced, how certain things make you feel, little tics you've noticed in people, etcetera – in whatever kind of story universe you want to create. This allows readers to find common ground and relate to your characters, even in the strangest of realms (even galaxies far, far away or when conversing with talking trees and-or lions.)
Finally, if you're looking for a way to trim down your word count and trying to figure out how to be more concise, try some flash fiction. There are prompts and challenges all over the Internet, like 6-word horror fiction, 5-word stories, and the like. Flash fiction is a very unique way to hone your skill with conveying your point in as few words as possible; a great exercise if you're wordy (like me, in case you haven't noticed. Oops). Plus, it's a really quick way to practice, even out in public or at work, as long as you have a scrap of paper and a pen. This is a big thing right now in magazines and journals, so you might even submit some of your better exercises for publication: win-win!
In short: write what you want, but make sure you're expanding and exploring constantly. Additionally, read as much and as diversely as you write; never is reading a waste of time when you are a writer (unless you're using it to procrastinate). And remember that you shouldn't view every single piece as something you can make money off of, and doing so can actually be very crippling and detrimental to your motivation (especially if you have self-doubt or a lack of confidence). Most importantly of all, have fun with it; practice makes perfect. Exploring new ways of writing can help you improve your current mode. Finally, think about defining your career by what you want to see in literature, not always what you think others will want. Chances are, someone else is waiting to see the exact same thing!
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Thank you so much to your contribution to our page, Michaela!