Well, I would completely agree with what Anne Lamott has said. A good writer didn’t become one just overnight. They had to go through immense struggle and self-doubts to be where they are today.
On one hand, not everyone can be a writer, since writing is an art which should come naturally, however, on the other hand, if you have the drive and are willing to face the challenges needed to go through the process of becoming a good writer, you will need few tips and tricks to succeed.
Now, I am no professional writer who has multiple books or articles in their name but I can very well tell you some of the hacks that I tried (and still apply) whenever I want my thoughts to make sense to the world.
Let’s get started
Remember what our teachers used to say when we had to improve our English? They told us to read. And if you want to become a good writer, this simple task becomes the most important aspect of writing. A good writer should read as much and as frequently as they can.
Initially, start reading books and articles of varied genres. This will help you in identifying your area of interest and also the authors and/or writers that you want to follow. Reading also helps in the flow of ideas, getting inspiration, learning new words, and various styles of writing. The more you read, the more knowledge you’ll gain about the art of good writing. A book also opens a portal to a world where anything is possible and your imagination can run wild.
Stephen King, a renowned author, in his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ has rightly stated:
“Books are uniquely portable magic.”
Be ready for scribbling, anytime and anywhere
Now that you have started reading, you are sure to get ideas of your own. These ideas will never wait for you to be sitting quietly in a secluded place, gazing at your beautiful garden, with a pen and paper ready.
No, that will never be the case.
The inspiration strikes at the oddest times such as when you’re watching TV or when you’re walking your dog or even when you’re taking a bath. You should be ready to jot down these inspirational ideas because there is always a risk that you may forget these ideas in a split second.
As R. L. Stevenson has said, “I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
So keep a small notebook or sticky note handy or in this era of technology, where everything is available on the palm of your hands, you can install any Notes app.
Before starting to write anything, make sure that you give an ample amount of time for research. You may think you know about a topic but it’s better to be safe than sorry as readers cannot be fooled these days. Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, article, or blog, you should start with creating an outline or a map of how you want your article to flow.
Once you figure out the topics you want to cover in your writing, you should start researching the topics that you’re unsure about. Researching on a topic will give you the confidence of your subject matter and many times, you may come across a fact that may inspire you with your next writing piece. A well thought out and researched article will give you the respect of being an efficient and good writer among the readers.
Use a dictionary and Thesaurus
The main difference between a dictionary and thesaurus is that a dictionary explains the meaning of a word, gives its pronunciation, and it’s usage. Whereas a thesaurus gives the synonyms and sometimes antonyms of the words.
It’s very obvious as to why you would need them handy.
Let’s take the word Omniscient.
The dictionary describes it as ‘a person who knows everything’.
A synonym for it would be ‘all-knowing’ or ‘all-wise’ and its antonym would be ‘unknowing’.
You see what I’m trying to explain.
For one word, you got the meaning, a similar word for it and it’s opposite. All with the help of a dictionary and thesaurus. You should treat them as holy books as they are the constants that will help you in the long run.
It is generally not advisable to use the same words repeatedly in a writing piece and sometimes, words like Omniscient may be too heavy for the readers. Do not assume that your reader will refer to the dictionary. In fact, they may disregard reading the entire article because they couldn’t understand a few words. Using synonyms can help in improving your writing and the article doesn’t feel too pretentious.
There are multiple dictionaries and thesaurus available in both online and paperback/hardcover, such as dictionary.com, Cambridge English, Oxford, Merriam-Webster(offers dictionary and thesaurus), thesaurus.com. They are the most widely used reference books around the world. Apart from English words, some dictionaries are available in other languages, for example, English to Hindi, Hindi to Marathi, complete Hindi dictionary, etc. Use them as per the language of your choice of writing your piece.
Keep it simple
Being a good writer doesn’t mean that you have to write like Shakespeare or speak like Shashi Tharoor. Many people will not give you their time of the day to read something so complicated that you would need to google every word. You can write in a way that connects you with your prospective reader.
Authors like Ruskin Bond (I don’t think he needs any introduction), Ravinder Singh (author of ‘I Too Had a Love Story’), Chetan Bhagat (wrote best selling books like 3 Point Someone, Half Girlfriend, etc) are a hit with the Indian audience. Why? Its because their writing style is simple yet so catchy that it strikes a chord with the young Indian readers.
As a writer, your main aim should be to keep the readers captivated. Keep the language simple but describe things so that the readers can imagine themselves in the scenario you’re trying to depict or feel the characters’ emotions.
Take time for editing
They say that you are the best critic for yourself. However, if you start editing as soon as you have finished writing a piece, you’ll not find many errors. The best way to self-edit is to give a gap of a few minutes or hours (1 or 2, not more than that) before you start the process. You are bound to find multiple errors that you have either skipped during writing or left to correct at a later time. You may also find plot holes, sentences that don’t make any sense, or words that you can remove/add.
Let’s take an example:
Can you identify the mistake(s) in the above picture?
Yes, you used spell check, by why is it still wrong?
If you look carefully at the second sentence, it should be ‘why’ instead of a mere alphabet having the same pronunciation as the word. Using SMS language is a huge drawback and shows immaturity. Also, what relevance does ‘wood’ have in this sentence? Shouldn’t the correct word be ‘would’?
This is how editing can help you in identifying such small blunders.
If you feel that you will be extremely biased of your work, you can engage someone who you trust to give you the real picture, it may be your sibling, relative, or a friend. Or if you have the money, you can always hire a professional editor. The crux of the matter is that you should be ready to see a lot of cuts, crosses, notes, or other markings, as to err is human; to edit, divine.
which brings us to the next tip;
Keep calm, it’s only the 1st draft
Post the editing, you may feel that whatever you have written is of no use and you decide to trash it.
Well, don’t hesitate. Go ahead and act on those feelings.
No writer or author in this world has ever published their 1st drafts because it either ends up in the dustbin or is revised heavily. Even in the auditing world, an annual report has to go through multiple versions before it’s finally published for the shareholders.
Don’t lose your confidence, it’s a natural process that happens every time, no matter how many years of experience you have under your name. It is an opportunity for you to learn from your mistakes and discover yourself as a writer.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
― Terry Pratchett
Imitate, don’t plagiarize
At a glance, it may seem that both the above words convey the same meaning, but there is a significant difference. The dictionary meaning of plagiarism is, “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own” whereas imitate is defined as “take or follow as a model” or to “copy or simulate”.
Now that you have read multiple articles, books, or blogs, you may have identified certain writers who have captivated you with their style of writing and you feel that you have found your calling. You want to follow that writer and their style. If you take his words and style as an inspiration and write your piece, that will be an imitation. However, if you have taken up words or sentences of that writer and merely copied it, without giving any credit to the original writer, that’s termed as plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a serious offense and can cause your career to be destroyed within a matter of minutes, hence, you need to be careful to differentiate between the two. These days there are multiple tools available online to detect any form of plagiarism in your writing such as Grammarly, Unicheck, Turnitin, etc.
And last, but not the least,
Practice, Practice, Practice
No one in this world is perfect, and a good writer knows to accept the fact that even though they may have 20 years of experience as a writer, you will still make mistakes. But if you keep practicing, you will become near perfect and that’s an achievement in itself. A good writer needs to adapt to the current trend and take note of the reader’s pulse. Keep writing every day, even if they are mundane things like your daily routine. Writing daily will help you in keeping away the writer’s block, where your mind goes completely blank and don’t know how to proceed. The more you write, the better you’ll be at conveying your thoughts on paper.
“I believe that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it.” — Chinua Achebe
My final advice-
Some people are born with the talent of weaving the words into remarkable sentences but that doesn’t mean that good writers cannot be made. Just like the phrase ‘leaders are made not born’, which means that people can be taught the set of skills needed to be an efficient and good leader, a person can also be taught the skills needed to be a good writer.
There are various articles, courses, and workshops that are available these days where you get the opportunity to meet new and experienced people in this field who are willing to give the best advice and suggestions needed to become a professional writer. You can attend those courses and workshops to hone your pre-existing skills or start afresh.
In the end, the onus is on you. You need to give yourself time and have the patience to not crumble when things don’t go your way. And remember, you just need to start and rest will flow automatically.
I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote by Ernest Hemmingway:
“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”