August 05, 2008

Daily Blog 5: 10 Steps to Improving Your Writing

An article I recently read in a magazine about improving your life started me thinking about ways to improve your writing.

1. Start Small

Big projects can sometimes be overwhelming. Break them into bite-size pieces. I'm guilty of stressing over not writing the 20 pages a week I'd planned. Setting goals smaller, say 3 pages a day, will get almost the same results, with less stress. And if you don't get the exact amount done, don't beat yourself up. Even one paragraph or page is one more than you had before, and 500 or so words closer to your final word count.

2. Believe in Yourself

A bad review can hurt, but the pain is temporary. But that inner critic that tries to hold you back and tear down your efforts (you're a lousy writer, you'll never get anywhere, why are you wasting your time?...) can be worse. Believe in you. Think on what you've accomplished and move forward. One rejection is just that. It's not the end. Don't let rejection stalk you. Send that story or project to another publication and move on to the next one. Having at least a few stories circulating (some say 10 or 12 if you can) will prevent you from obsessing over one.

3. Learn From Others

Success comes from listening to others who have already been there. Check out the experiences of other writers in your genre. Study the works of writers you admire to see how they did it. No matter how many years you've been writing, there is always something new to learn.

4. Review Yourself

A little self-evaluation can be good to gauge where you are in your writing goals and progress. Be honest; don't be afraid to point out your shortcomings, but also decide on how to improve them. Maybe you've only been published in lower paying markets and are afraid to move to the next level. Pick a market you haven't written for; study the content, and work on a story to submit. Becoming a better writer doesn't mean treading water; test the waters in new markets.

5. Make Goals

Goals keep you from stagnating, but make them reasonable. Start with one goal, like planning to get published in a new magazine in your genre, or working on a story in a different genre or field. When that goal is accomplished, make a new goal. Keep moving forward and don't stress over how long achieving that goal may take. It isn't a race. Work at the pace you feel comfortable with.

6. Seize the Day!

Swallow your fears. Some opportunities only come once. Don't be afraid to take a chance. You never know where it will lead.

7. Don't Fear Mistakes

You'll make mistakes; you'll write less than stellar stories. We all have. It's one mistake. Even if you make the same mistake, it's not the end of the world. Learn from them. Every mistake only makes you stronger.

8. Don't Be a Victim

Self-pity leads to depression, which leads to inactivity, self-doubt and can be a vicious spiral that robs you of your energy and happiness. No matter your circumstances, there is no reason to sit still and be unproductive. Don't make excuses, do something. There are tons of free resources available. Use the Internet and computers at the library. See if there is a niche in your community where you can volunteer or provide a service. See #5.

9. Be Happy

We all can't be Rockefellers or live like them. Always thinking the grass is greener on the other side will never make you satisfied. Look closer and you'll find crabgrass and weeds there, too. Enjoy your faith, friends, family, pets, and hobbies. Shut off the computer and make time to exercise and have some fun. You'll feel better and be more productive.

10. Think Positive

It takes less energy to think positive and will add more to your life and your writing.

** Your turn: Have any favorite tips or lifestyle changes you've made that also helped to improve your writing? Please share!


  1. All great tips -
    Wjhen it comes to low paying markets, realize also that if you query a publication and they ask you for your rates, (investigate if you can what their normal pay rate is), don't under value yourself. Ask for the highest plausible rate (if you find they pay up to $1/word, don't ask for $5) and let them know you are willing to negotiate. but do let them know that you value your writing, it is a strong indication to them theat you are worth their time.

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  3. Great tips, Chris. Another variation of what you've already laid out:

    Learn to use small amounts of time effectively. Most of us have jobs, responsibilities, a Life! Don't wait until everything else is done or you have a large, perfect block of time with the perfect noise level and comfy office. If you have twenty minutes between appointments, use it: look up a reference, make a small edit on one of your project, move something forward.

  4. All good advice! (Especially the Be Happy tip.)

  5. I thought this was solid cogent advice. Irelated a lot to the being a student of your craft part. I didn't read books to learn about good writing until after I became a writer. Now when I read a book, I'm studying phrasing, style, voicing, character and plot development - all that. And I agree, any serious writer should be reading other writers continuously. Good post!

    Marvin D Wilson
    blogs at:
    Eye Twitter 2 -

  6. Excellent advice and I'm trying to follow ALL 10 tips in my daily writing! of course, if I miss a tip, I beat myself up over it... :-)

    Seriously, the best writing tool I have right now my ALpha Smart for writing on the Muni ride to and from work...


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