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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a writer better. Certainly, you have to be creative, that’s a given, and you have to love stories and reading. But what is that will make you better? Here’s my answer; time.

What do I mean by that?

With the exception of a few very talented people, most writers take years to hone their skills. Some writer’s like Stephen King say that a writer’s schooling is never finished. That writer’s always have something more to learn about the craft. There’s always a better descriptive phrase or character trait out there in the field of the imagination. And I do believe that.

A few things that I’ve learned over the years that have helped make my stories better is blogging. I try to post every two or three days if possible. The constant pressure of trying to come up with a subject and then write a post for the world to see has honed my storytelling skills. A now famous newspaper journalist-turned-novelist once said that the daily articles she provided for her editor prepared her for the rigors of writing a full scale novel. This writer’s name was Jennifer Weiner, bestselling author of numerous chic-lit novels.

The other thing I’ve learned about becoming a better writer is you have to talk to yourself a lot. I mean a lot! I know it sounds crazy but a few of you will relate. Tell yourself stories during the day. Make up things about people you pass on the street. I spend a good portion of my social activities imagining things about people I see, sometimes talking out loud to my wife about the fantasy lives I’ve concocted about these folks. She’ll look at me a little weird.

The last quick note I want to say about becoming a great writer is that you must write something every day. I know everyone’s heard that a million times but it’s so true. It makes you better and faster. My first novel took me three years to complete, my eleventh novel took one. And now I’m in the throes of a four book dystopian novella series that I’m planning one complete book every three months.

Writing is a profession as difficult as any. You can’t take a magic pill or a single college course and learn all there is to the craft. A real writer knows this and knows with time they will only get better.
 

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Personally, I think the two most important factors are 1) critique and 2) developing a sense of objectivity toward one's own work, so that one can reliably provide one's self with critique.

Also, reading a lot. I mean, a lot.
 

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@ Neil,
What you mention, in my not so humble opinion, makes a writer.

@ ElHawk,
I agree that what makes us 'better', i.e. improves us through personal growth and improves our work, is critique and self-reflection.
 

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Depends on what you mean by "better."

Outside of some editing skills, which can be learned, I don't think there's a lot of room for change. We think how we think, write how we write.

I think acceptance is more important than striving to be better; ironically, the acceptance will make you better.

On a technical level, having notes that are specific to you, and a formula of sorts, really helps. I have checklists, for example.
 

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Read twenty novels.

Then write twenty novels.

Try not to rewrite if you can help it, since doing so removes your "voice" from the material.

If you want to see a bad case of rewriting (i.e. Frankenstein scripts), read the screenplays for Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull and Prometheus.
 

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Joining a very honest critique group with people who were better writers than me helped immensely. I really needed that outside perspective to take my writing To the Next Level, and I'm not sure I would have been able to do it without help. Or else it would have just taken much longer.

These days, I find the editors I hire to be most helpful. I'm discovering that I suck at English in new ways with every book I put out. :p
 

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Try not to rewrite if you can help it, since doing so removes your "voice" from the material.
I don't agree with this. I rewrite and edit constantly. I think that makes my voice more clear, rather than removing it. Certainly rewriting can be done to excess, but I think rewriting and editing is crucially important to creating a good final product.
 

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I read writing books and try to practice what they teach. Usually I read a chapter a day, then attempt several demo exercises, like I would in school. Some, like in Jill Nelson's Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV, have exercises at the end of each chapter. After the demo exercises, I take several sentences from a chapter I worked on the day before and try to make them better using what I learned that day. I also have a running development section on my Workflowy that has the things I learn each day, an example, and sometimes a note of where I am the weakest on that skill.

It helps, with the books that have exercises, to try to "beat" the author's good examples. ;)
 

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MegHarris said:
I don't agree with this. I rewrite and edit constantly. I think that makes my voice more clear, rather than removing it. Certainly rewriting can be done to excess, but I think rewriting and editing is crucially important to creating a good final product.
I totally agree with this. And I firmly believe in Hemingway's injunction to "kill your darlings." Every now and then I'll read a passage that seems totally out of place but has something about it that makes me think "this is a darling that writer didn't have the courage to kill."

What makes a better writer? Read. Read. Read. Read widely and in many genres. Read the classics - they are classic for a reason. There was a great deal of pulp fiction written back then, too, but it did not survive for a reason. I also think it is critical to understand the psychology of human behavior. It is the only way to create characters with depth. Read novels by writers from other cultures. Try to main a level of objectivity. Most of all - read.
 

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Soothesayer said:
Read twenty novels.

Then write twenty novels.

Try not to rewrite if you can help it, since doing so removes your "voice" from the material.

If you want to see a bad case of rewriting (i.e. Frankenstein scripts), read the screenplays for Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull and Prometheus.
The simplest things, said in half-jest, are normally always right.
 

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MegHarris said:
I don't agree with this. I rewrite and edit constantly. I think that makes my voice more clear, rather than removing it. Certainly rewriting can be done to excess, but I think rewriting and editing is crucially important to creating a good final product.
This.

Not everyone that thinks they have a voice actually has one. Rewriting and editing helps find a voice for many people. Granted, for some it might be time better served to just move on, but doing so could also be good practice applying new things you learn. Learning something new isn't a bad thing. Understanding that you always can learn something new isn't a bad thing. Believing there's nothing for you to learn is always a bad thing. That pretty much covers life in general.

And I do also agree that it can be rewritten to death, but that's also a part of learning how to write, rewrite, and edit. You have to learn when to stop. You don't learn that until you've overdone it though.

When you're making the same mistakes others are making, it's hard to say you have a unique voice. Everyone has a voice. Not everyone takes the time to find it.

Learning how to write and learning how to improve is different for everyone, but there are two things that always need to be present. You have to WANT to be better. You have to ACCEPT that you can be. Once you have those things, you can take criticism and not be offended when someone says you need to work on something. An ego is the worst enemy any artist can have. ETA: It's also the hardest thing to get rid of.
 

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I think the single thing that makes you better is willingness to BE better.  A lot of people aren't open to that so it doesn't matter what critique they get, how much time they have, what the editing process is, what classes they take or anything else.  They won't be better.
 

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AndreSanThomas said:
I think the single thing that makes you better is willingness to BE better. A lot of people aren't open to that so it doesn't matter what critique they get, how much time they have, what the editing process is, what classes they take or anything else. They won't be better.
I don't know if this is the biggest factor, but it's one of the big ones. I was a member of a good critique group for years, and one thing that struck me was how many people attended regularly, seemed hungry for feedback, but would return with their work reworded but the problem not addressed. There were several over the years who argued over every critique, even though it was against group rules. We also had instances such as the woman who came once and had what everyone praised as a great first chapter, but who refused to return because we were "mean" to her. I was there. No one was mean, but we all agreed on certain suggestions for improvement. How is anyone that sensitive going to make a go of writing?
 

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I think reading is the key.  It's the key to a lot of things, but writing well is especially dependent on what the writer has read.
 

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Learning about the world, how things work. Machines, politics, healthcare, etc...so that, when you're talking about those things, it feels more realistic. You know what to call things, instead of coming up with an approximation.

Reading, and re-reading your work, because you realize how much work you have to do. You realize what you sound like, particularly if you let it sit. I think authors should read their own stuff even after they publish.

Digging into the thesaurus, dictionary, the style book of your choice until the things they tell you become second nature and you think of words, better words on the spot.

And the rest of the stuff everyone else said.
 

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ruecole said:
Practice makes perfect. I think that applies to writing as much as any other skill. :)

Rue
+1

When I write everyday consistently, I find that I have to edit less because my prose is tighter and cleaner. When I write in spurts, I spend a lot more time on the edit. For me, this works the best.
 

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I think what makes a writer better, is the one thing I am not good at - waking up each day, and putting aside time to write. Each day, every day.

Do that for years, and sooner or later you become a writing Ninja. But it would probably take a long time -- I think that 10,000 hours rule probably sounds about right.

I'm a long way away from my writing Ninja belt, but I think if I did it each day, I might be able to get there one day - I can at least see myself getting better, just from writing and putting the work at my writing Dojo. So there is that at least.
 
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