I’ve gotten so many questions that essentially come down to this: “how do I improve my writing?” Trust me, I’m asking this myself all the time. And from talking to authors I know, this is a question that never really goes away. It’s not a bad thing. Let it be this question that helps better your craft.
So, what is better?
I want to start this conversation by saying there is no objective “better” writing. There is “invisible prose,” or prose that while reading is so immersive that the text seems to fall away. Or there’s stories that successfully do just the opposite – stories that make you aware that this is a story being told that it perhaps leaves room for an “unreliable narrator.” Some writers favor overly lush and purple prose. Others strive for sparseness and clarity. Regardless, there isn’t just one way to “better” your prose.
So, figure out what “better” looks like for you. What kind of prose do you get really excited about? Pick out a few of your favorite books. How do those authors write? In my stack of favorites, I discovered I love books with a clear storyteller. Most are in first person, a few are in third, but generally the story is less in the moment, a little less immersive, and leans a little more toward introspection. I take time to deconstruct a scene or two – if I’ve read the whole book, I’ll take time to think on how this scene works within the whole of the story.
Read outside of your genre.
Another way to improve your writing is to read more and read critically. Read poetry and also read very short fiction. Seek out pieces that are concerned with sound. Read the classics. Read experimental fiction. Read the stuff that’s outside of your comfort zone.
I’ve gotten this question a few times from writers who do not like to read – which baffles me a bit. I love paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks. There are a lot of ways to “read.” And when it comes to reading outside of your preferred genre to some extent my word of advice is “just suck it up and read it,” because a lot of the time, even if I don’t love the book initially, I’m glad I tried something new. More often, especially if it was recommended to me, I’ll actually really like the book anyway.
Also, while reading outside of your comfort zone, try writing something in the style of what you’re reading. Treat it like an exercise. Try on a new style of language. No one has to read it. Someone told me to write one sentence at a time and let it lead to the next. I wasn’t to think about the piece as a whole, just let it grow and develop on the level of the sentence.