Store Is Closed
1. Learn the Technical Stuff
It pays to study the fundamentals of sentence structure. The comma, semicolon, colon, quotation marks, em dash, and other such punctuation marks are valuable tools for the writer. Learning the pitfalls of sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and other technical errors assists the writer in forming coherent sentences.
The best method I have found for tightening up my grammar is having a skilled writer correct my work. Absent of that, I peruse countless resources on the web. For example, I had a problem determining when to use it’s and its. I simply google it’s its and came up with this page. I learned that it’s is a contraction for it is or it has, whereas its is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to something. This simple process of googling questions can clear up a lot of issues quickly and easily. Just be sure to verify the answers from different sources.
If you have the patience, try reading a guidebook on writing. I had a friend give me an excellent resource: Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. This guidebook explains planning, drafting, strategy, mechanics, citation, and all sorts of other things. Regularly, I reread certain sections as a refresher—my mind tends to lose the data over a period of months and years.
When you learn the mechanics of writing, you can learn to bend or break it to your purposes.
2. Read Good Writing
In the past, I frequently read classics even if I didn’t like them, simply to learn what makes good writing. However, I find this method of limited use. Eventually, I broke off from authors I didn’t like. Emerson is a good example. After reading a lot of Thoreau, people told me that he paled in comparison to Emerson. Naturally, I picked up Emerson, but could never relate to him for some reason. I simply stopped trying.
I’d give the classics at least a few chapters before discarding them, but I was able to quickly determine whether or not a novel resonated with me. When this happened, I dissected the novel, trying to put myself in the mindset of the author. I branched out to different works by the author, getting a feel for the growth of their writing style over time.
Ayn Rand is an author that comes to mind. After reading The Fountainhead, I resonated so powerfully with her viewpoints and writing style that I branched out to her other works. I read her first critically acclaimed novel, We the Living, and drew parallels between the two novels. Without reading her biography, I gained a strong sense of her early adulthood and how this shaped her life and viewpoints.
After filling up on a certain author, I liked to write in their mindset. In other words, I emulated their personality, and drafted my own journal entries or short stories. This helped me shape my own personality and writing style.
If you have read my novel, you may realize that Arthur Conan Doyle has a powerful influence on my writing style. His Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories resonated so strongly with my personality that I made a careful dissection of Doyle’s writing style. In order to maximize the effect, I reread some of his works as I am writing. His personality tends to wash into the pages as I write.
As you collect favorite authors, your writing style becomes more robust and intricate. I have a plethora of personalities stored in my mind that I have collected by reading these authors. At times, I ask myself, ‘what would this author do?’
3. Practice Writing
I may hold the record for most meticulously composed email messages. I do not laboriously shape my emails for the recipient, per se, as much as I shape them as a matter of practice. I like to think of the recipient as my market. I am trying to achieve a desired result. I try to understand their mindset, and how to most effectively communicate my mindset to them in as few words as possible. Since I have to write the email anyway, I might as well make the most of it.
I also keep a journal, perhaps one of the stranger journals. There is no specific format for an entry, save the date of entry. This is where a lot of the dirty work gets done for my writing style. It is analogous to a sketch book for an artist. I simply write about whatever I’m thinking about. Sometimes I experiment with different writing styles and mindsets.
As an extreme example, I went through a conscious stream phase. I learned this writing technique where you write without thinking, even if the words aren’t real or the sentences don’t make sense, you simply write. Looking back at the sentences, I started to noticed a pattern in my thoughts. My thoughts kept drifting in a specific direction and even certain words repeated themselves. The more I wrote, the more I observed these patterns. Some patterns I explored and improved upon, some I later trained myself to break.
To go further, I explored an accelerated conscious stream on the computer. I started typing without thinking. I increased my speed until the words turned into incomprehensible groups of letters. From this, I was able to observe the preferences my fingers had towards certain letters and word lengths. Even these observations are useful.
The main idea of keeping a journal is to experiment, try to refine your strengths and explore your weaknesses.
4. Get Feedback
When possible, share your writing with people you respect and who aren’t afraid to be honest. With feedback, you can see your writing through other people’s eyes, as it were… Just don’t get too caught up in what everyone else thinks, otherwise your writing will become too self-conscious, restrictive, and apologetic.
5. Live Life
It’s easy to imagine a certain experience like going on an interstate bicycle tour. It’s simple enough to write about it without ever experiencing it. However, there are subtle intricacies that are impossible to factor in without actually going on the bicycle tour. There are sights, sounds, experiences, and epiphanies that simply cannot be factored in. By exposing yourself to new experiences, you build in your mind a cascading array of sensory data that trickles down into the folds of your synapses, lingering in your subconscious, quietly steering the flow of your paragraphs. Whenever possible, try new things, it will help you grow as a person and a writer.
For advice on writing a novel, view this guide