Hello writers! If you are a frequent visitor to our blog, I could probably go as far as to guess that you really care about your writing and wish to make it the best it can possibly be. Any good writer hopes to present a final draft of a work that they can confidently say they did their very best on.
If any of you are like me, you are your own toughest critic. You are stuck continuously striving to be better, yet you never actually reach “better” in your own eyes. I’m here to tell you that simply by putting the effort in to make your work the best, you are progressing and becoming better from an outside perspective. We are here to help you in your never-ending journey towards greatness, so here are a few tips we use for you to try.
#1. Make an outline.
We’ve all had to do this in school at some point in our lives. As a college student, this tip really saves my life with any paper I am assigned. When beginning a story or simply making notes of ideas that come to your head, it helps to organize those thoughts into an outline. If you have the plot thought out, make a section in your outline just for your plot. I usually start with a detailed (and spoiler filled) summary of the plot for myself. It’s basically my whole story wrapped up into one or two paragraphs without dialog. Then I move on to making a list of plot points or scenes that I want to include. If I have specific dialog or descriptions that I want to use I will put them in this list.
Often times I have ideas for what I want my characters to say or actions I want them to take, so I make checklists to follow as I write. If my story has specific characters, I make a list of them and write down a brief summary of each of them. I take note of how I want them to look (hair type/color, eye color, height, etc.) and the different traits that I want them to have (awkward, confident, loud, shy, smart, clueless, etc.). Before I begin writing any story, I make sure that I know each and every one of my characters as I would know my own child. After I list out my characters, if I know that my story will have chapters or parts, then I list out what I want to happen in each chapter. I usually make a beginning, middle, and end of each chapter. This part of your outline does not have to be extensive or detailed, this is just to keep you on track and working toward all of your plot points. For example, you could say “Chapter One: Leyna and J.D. are introduced. They visit the junkyard and the gang is introduced. J.D. gets a tattoo and his love for racing cars is introduced.” That’s a beginning, a middle, and an end of a chapter rolled up into three short and sweet sentences.
Your outline should be just as much a living work as your story itself. I know that I personally lose so many good ideas if I don’t write them down in my outlines as soon as I can. Even after you start your story, do not forget about or drop your outline. Continue to use it as you go about writing your story. If you change an aspect of your plot, take note of it in your outline so that you can make sure everything adds up in the end. If you have a new idea for chapter seven but you’re only to chapter five in your writing, use your outline to take notes. Don’t lose those ideas! They’re too good to be forgotten by a distracted mind!
#2. Proofread and grammar check your work.
I know this tip is kind of a given, but it is important none the less. For me, proofreading is kind of a time consuming and grueling task. I have to make a cup of coffee and put on a specific proofreading playlist. I have to put myself in a proofreading mood and it usually takes half a day, depending on the length of the story. When proofreading, I like to section my work off and read through piece by piece. On the first read through, I highlight the mistakes that I see instead of immediately correcting them. This prevents me from falsely correcting something that I thought was wrong on the first read through. I might be the only one this happens to, but it happens to me all the time.
I have the tendency to second guess myself and assume that I’m wrong. This is a bad habit to have when proofreading, so my compensation is highlighting first. I also highlight sentences or phrases that I feel need to be reworded or rewritten. If something looks weird or doesn’t flow with the surrounding sentences or dialog, I highlight it to come back to it on the second read through. Once I’ve read through the section once, I take a little break and look away from it. I’ll walk through my house or take my dog outside, then I will sit back and start the second read through. In the second read through, I begin correcting things and rewriting things. This is usually the shortest read through because, if I’ve done well in the first read through, I have highlighted the portions that need attention. I take another short break after this read through (do you understand why this is a time consuming task for me?) and rest my eyes a bit before returning. Then I begin my third, and usually final, read through. My third read through consists of reading my work out loud to myself or to my dog. I don’t normally do this around other people because I’m shy and self-conscious, but if any of you are comfortable reading to someone then go for it.
Hearing your work aloud can help you hear and pick out places that don’t quite flow as well as you thought they did in your head. If your work flows well aloud (especially dialog) then it will flow smoothly in the minds of your readers. I repeat these three steps as many times as it takes to proofread my entire work. These steps and techniques may seem excessive, but keep in mind that I am a chronic perfectionist. These steps work for me. If you think they might help you in your proofreading ventures, then try them out next time! If they don’t work out, keep searching for the method that fits you the best. As someone who is working toward being a professional writer and editor, proofreading is very important to me. It’s almost on the same importance level as the initial creative process. It is also important to remember that proofreading and editing is step two.
Step one is to write! Get everything in that beautiful mind of yours out on paper first! To once again quote the great Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.” If you spend too much time trying to perfect your first draft as you are writing it, your creativity and ideas might drain at a rapid rate. Just write! Worry about editing in step two.
#3. Get good and effective feedback.
Okay, I know we push this one a lot, but there is a good and a useless kind of feedback. Feedback and criticism is meant to give you a different perspective on your work, so that you know how at least one outside reader views and interprets your work. In order for feedback to help you it has to be thoughtful and genuine. The useless kind of feedback is the short and unspecific little comments that seem very unpersonal.
If, like me, you let your mom or your sibling or a friend read your work and they say “Yeah it was really good. I liked it,” then it does nothing for your progress. It’s important that readers enjoy your work, but what do they enjoy about it? Specific and detailed feedback and criticism answers questions like that. If a reader tells you the parts of your work that stand out to them or parts that they think could be revisited, then your journey towards continuous improvement is made so much easier.
The useful and good kind of feedback is when your reader tells you something like, “I loved when you gave Charlie an interest in baseball. It really reminds you that he is just a kid. I think you went too deep into describing the dreamy color of J.D.’s eyes, they’re just blue.” This kind of feedback gives you specific portions of your story to look at. This particular reader likes when they are reminded that a tough character has youthful interests and qualities. They don’t like the over describing of seemingly simple features. This feedback tells you what to keep doing and what you should take another look at.
Remember that just because one reader gives this feedback doesn’t mean all of your readers perceive your work the same. And your feedback does not mean that you have to rewrite anything. If you think the description of your protagonist’s eyes should take up a paragraph, then by all means keep it! This is still your work, and you have complete creative control. But who knows, maybe you hadn’t realized that you took a whole paragraph to describe the color blue.
Seeing your work from another person’s perspective allows you to notice and see things you might not have noticed or seen before. Just make sure you are receiving the good and useful kind of feedback and criticism. I’ve found that I get the best feedback from fellow writers or avid readers. Reach out to someone in the community and exchange feedback. You could make a life-long friend!
#4. Expand your vocabulary.
We have already established that writing is an art, which is why expanding and understanding broad terms of vocabulary is so important. Some of you are probably painters, so I’ll make this analogy: If a painter were to paint all of their pieces using the same two colors, say red and blue, then eventually all of their canvases will turn into similar red and blue blobs. It will eventually get boring or even difficult to look at, and viewers might not be able to make out the theme or meaning behind this art. They will tire of looking at this work and move on.
If a author writes with the same dull or simple vocabulary, then readers will tire of the same descriptors and terms and look elsewhere. You can begin to recognize and improve your vocabulary during your proofreading. If you read through and realize you used the same verb or adjective for five sentences too many, then highlight them. Research synonyms or similar phrases to replace some of the phrases that you’ve used. If you’ve used “she looked” six times in a row, try replacing some of them with “she glanced” or “she gazed.” As a reader, I really appreciate when an author has a broad vocabulary and uses intelligent and colorful terms. If I have to pause my reading and search a word’s definition, then the author has succeeded in my eyes. Now this does not mean to use Shakspearian or unnecessarily complicated terms for simple things.
Try to center the complexity of your vocabulary around the feeling and complexness of your work. In other words, don’t just throw big and complicated words into your story at random. Keep the complexity of your vocabulary consistent all the way through to the end of your story. You don’t want to describe your protagonist as “cute” and “quirky” and then suddenly call them “vagarious.” If you want them to be vagarious then start with that. An example could be: “Lisa never could sit still. When she was young, her parents sent her to therapy to try and understand her restless spontaneity. Now at twenty-three, her vagarious actions had gotten her into trouble.” This flows better and makes much more sense than: “Lisa had been a outgoing and quirky person her whole life. Her parents never understood her vagarious behavior.”
A broad vocabulary can really help in your creative process and overall makes an author seem much more professional. Something that I do to broaden my vocabulary is to learn a new word every day. I go on Pinterest every day and get a word of the day from all kinds of different boards. Try a word of the day from the platform or website of your choice! I’ll kick it off for you:
Word of the day: Vagarious- (adj.) erratic and unpredictable in behavior or direction.
#5. Know your grammar.
This goes along with proofreading and checking your work for simple yet important mistakes. For me personally, poor grammar is very frustrating as I read a new story or work. I’m sorry, I’m an English major. Writers should have at least a basic understanding of the do’s and don’ts of grammar. I keep a grammar rule book close at hand anytime I am proofreading just to double check and make corrections on my work.
With that being said, I understand that grammar is a difficult and complex subject especially in English. Again this is where getting an editing friend for feedback and help comes in handy. Grammar can be very difficult when writing in a language that isn’t your first language. Trust me, I took four Spanish classes, it isn’t an easy thing to grasp while working with a language you aren’t as familiar with. If you speak or know English as a second language and are struggling with English grammar, reach out to someone who knows and understands the rules, and who can explain them to you and help you with your work. The same applies to English speakers who might be attempting another language. Reach out to someone who understands and knows the rules, and have them explain things to you and help you in your editing adventure.
While writing papers in Spanish, there were a number of times that I had to reach out to my Spanish speaking friends for help. Reaching out for help shows that you really care about your work and want to learn, and people will respect you all the more for this. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. Asking where a comma goes or for the proper arrangement of words in a sentence is not dumb in the slightest! It shows your professionalism and the effort you are putting into something important to you.
By reaching out and getting help with grammar and editing, you will be taking yet another step in the direction of making your work the greatest it can be.
My friends, by you putting in the effort to make your work the best that you possibly can, you have already won in my eyes. That effort and passion is so admirable, and I really am proud to be apart of this community with such hard working and passionate people. These tips are all things that I do on a daily basis to work toward greatness.
By sharing them with you all, I hope you can use them in your own great journey. I know you are all so creative and amazing, so I hope these tips help you to optimize that creativity and greatness. I want you all to be the best writers that you can be! We are here to help you become your best! I really hope these tips help!
I wish you good luck and happy writing!