Written by: Nicole Catarino
Learning the skills to be a productive writer can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. I’ve been developing my style for years, and even then, I’m always looking for ways to change and improve the way I write. Luckily, the longer you write, the more advice and wisdom will find its way to you — and I believe that all good advice deserves to be shared. Therefore, here are the five best pieces of advice I’ve ever received to help me think critically about my own writing.
- Be concise.
Not to be confused with short and sweet.
Being concise is all about being specific and direct. I have a bad habit of cramming as much information as I possibly can into long, comma-heavy, run-on sentences. To counteract this, I’ve tried to develop a new habit of re-reading my work with an intent to scan for brevity. Ask yourself questions like: What’s the fastest way to explain what I want to say in this sentence? Is there a better verb that can do the job of this adverb? How many times do I repeat the same idea, just reworded? Shortening your piece is not the goal even if that may be the result. What you’re really trying to create is extra oomph and a larger emotional impact, which you can achieve by getting right to your point from the start.
- Make your writing sing.
Soundtrack not included.
The musicality of my pieces wasn’t something I used to consciously think about until recently. However, I’ve since realized that this can be just as important as good diction and well-written prose. Of course, I don’t mean literal music, but rather varying your sentence structure. Mixing up the length of your sentences can help create a more natural flow and rhythm within your piece. Staggering short, clipped sentences among longer, more drawn out phrases is the best way to not only hook your reader, but build tension and set the emotional tone for a scene. Play around with asyndetons and syndetons, cater your syntax to the mood you’re trying to create, and give your writing a melody!
- Seek out inspiration when you’re drained.
Can’t pull water from an empty well.
It may be the most self-explanatory piece of advice, but it was crucial for me to learn. If you find yourself lacking inspiration, don’t force yourself to sit down and write anyway. Instead, find other media to spark your creativity! Watch a movie in a genre you normally don’t explore, read a book by an author whose style you’ve always admired, get invested in a TV show with an intricate plot line, or even just talk to other creative people. The important thing is that you don’t berate yourself for having a drop in creativity and you give yourself the time and resources to get your motivation back.
- Write in styles outside your comfort zone.
Try something new. You might like it!
When it came to honing my own writing style, experimenting with new writing forms has been a saving grace. Not only does it introduce you to new ways to express your ideas, but it forces your brain to work and think differently while expanding your writing repertoire at the same time. If you find yourself producing lots of free verse poetry, give a stricter form a try, like a Shakespearean sonnet or sestina. Want to strengthen your ability to write something shorter than 2000 words? Try writing vignettes that are only 100 words long — and then tell a full story with just ten of them (you can find examples of this style here). There are hundreds of unique styles of writing out there. You may learn something about your own style from the form you struggle with the most, or you may discover a new form you enjoy!
- Give your writing room and time to breathe.
Step away from the keyboard, slowly…
If you’re like me, tunnel vision is a very common side-effect of getting too invested in your writing. Sometimes I find myself creating imaginary deadlines in my head which leads to me getting exceedingly frustrated with any writing blocks that I come across along the way. But I’ve come to learn that stepping away from your piece is necessary for the overall process. Even taking a break to grab something to eat can mean the difference between a writer’s block and an epiphany. Simply jot whatever ideas you have down in rough bullet points, close the computer/notebook, and leave the piece alone for a couple hours or several days. By the time you come back, you’ll be in a better place to start editing what you’ve already written and continue from where you left off. There’s no rush to finish. Allow time to work in your favor.