Do you dream of changing the world with your words? Do you want to be the next Harry Mulisch or David Foster Wallace? Or do you want to be able to express your thoughts and feelings better? You become a great writer - or just a good one - through practice and knowledge. However, if you are willing to work hard for it, you may soon be an example for someone else!
Method 1 of 4: Better basic technique
Step 1. Write actively instead of passively
One of the most common mistakes writers make is to use the passive voice too often. This causes the subject of an action to become a direct object of the sentence with verb forms such as X was attacked by Y rather than simply Y attacked X. Try to avoid such constructions as much as possible.
- "The book was written by Anne Frank while she was still at school is passive. Frank wrote the book while she was still at school is active.
- It's not always a bad idea to use the passive voice. Sometimes there is no clear way to make a sentence active or sometimes a passive construction makes a sentence just a bit lighter. However, before you make an exception, learn the above rule first.
Step 2. Use strong words
A good text is precise and surprising. The right verb or adjective can make a simple sentence memorable. Therefore, find words that are as specific as possible and try not to repeat words too much, unless you want to build a certain rhythm with them.
- An exception to this rule are the words used to describe dialogue. Bad lyrics are full of fragments as she told and he replied. A well-placed stutter can sometimes add something extra, but often a simple statement is enough. It may feel strange to repeat this word constantly, but the constant switching between verbs makes it difficult for the reader to follow the conversation. In dialogues, you want the reader to hear the character's voice, not the writer's.
- Strong language does not mean that you have to use complicated words. For example, say don't use when you can also say use. He sprinted is not necessarily better than he ran. Does certain language suit the text or the character: use it, but don't overdo it.
Step 3. Keep your text short and sweet
A good text is simple, clear and direct. You don't score points with extra long sentences. Good texts use the right words and the length of the text is of less importance. In a first draft, it's good to include countless ideas and details in each sentence, but this won't make your text more readable. If a sentence or phrase adds nothing to the story, it is better to delete it.
- The overuse of adverbs is a classic mistake in mediocre texts. An adverb in the right place can work great, but often they are unnecessary. For example, do not write she screamed anxiously; guild already indicates that fear is present.
- Sometimes it's good to shorten your text late in the writing process. This way you don't have to worry about the most concise way of phrasing something while writing, but you have plenty of room to express yourself and shortening is a concern later on.
- Your text does not exist in a vacuum, but also takes shape in the imagination of your reader. You don't have to describe every detail; the reader can fill in the rest on the basis of a few fragments. If you give directions in the right places, the reader will make connections between them.
Step 4. A classic rule of writing is to show things rather than explain them in detail
A character's background can trigger plot changes, but that doesn't mean you need to provide a full character biography. Rather let the character's past come to the fore in a different way, for example through the character's choice of words and actions.
Step 5. Avoid clichés
Clichés are sentences, ideas or situations that are not original. They may once have been great examples but have now been used so much that they no longer have any impact. It is difficult to point out what makes a cliché a cliché; this is often a matter of feeling.
- "It was a dark and stormy night is an example of a cliché. Compare these similar opening lines:
- “It was a light, cold day in April and the clocks struck one. - 1984 by George Orwell. It is not night, not dark and not stormy, but you immediately notice that something is not quite right in 1984.
- The sky over the harbor was the color of a television set on a snow transmitter. - Neuromancer by William Gibson, in which the word cyberspace was first mentioned. Not only do you get an idea of the weather, but you immediately notice that you have entered a dystopian world.
- It was the day my grandmother exploded. - The Crow Road by Ian Banks.
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of folly, it was the period of faith, it was the period of disbelief, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, all doors were open, all doors were closed, we all went straight to Heaven, we all went the other way - in short, the time was inasmuch as the present time when some of the loudest authorities forced us to receive it, for better or for worse, in a superlative way or just for comparison. - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Weather, emotions, damnation and despair - Dickens' opening line has it all and ensures that the reader is prepared for anything.
Step 6. Break the rules
The best writers don't always follow the rules - they know when and how to break them. Everything from grammar to the writing advice above can be tweaked if you're sure it will make your writing better. You have to do this in such a way that you know you're breaking a rule and you're doing this on purpose.
Step 7. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite
Don't believe your Dutch teacher: there is no perfect text. Any author can make adjustments to even his most celebrated masterpiece, given the chance. Rewriting is essential to achieve good work. Once you have finished a text, put it aside for a day and then look at it again with a fresh look. Remove typos, delete paragraphs - do whatever it takes to make your text better. Once you're done, read it again and then again.
Method 2 of 4: Consume the written word with enthusiasm
Step 1. Devour a stack of good books
Read and learn the works of great, influential writers to see what's possible with the written word. By immersing yourself in the most impressive stories and ideas, you expand your vocabulary, learn about the world and enrich your imagination.
- Learn about different ways in which a text can be constructed or told.
- Try to compare how different authors approach the same topic.
Step 2. List the references to literature in your own culture
You may not be aware of it, but books, films and other media regularly refer to classical literature. By reading these works you build up cultural knowledge that you can then use when you write your own stories.
Step 3. Make sure you know why a classic work is considered one of the great works in literature
Sometimes you read a classic like The Catcher in the Rye and don't see why this is such an important work. If this happens to you, try reading essays on the play to find out what makes the book a classic. This is instructive and also of value for your own work.
Step 4. Go to the theater
Watching a play may be a passive activity - like watching television or the news - and you hardly need to read anything for it. However, your imagination can be stimulated by it and that is also worth a lot.
More than in a film, words written in the theater come to life, with the director's interpretation and the actor's acting as filters between the pen of the author and the ear of the spectator
Step 5. Read magazines, newspapers and whatever more
Literature isn't the only place to get ideas - the real world offers countless fascinating people, places and events that can inspire the writer's brain.
Step 6. Know when to let go of influences
It happens all too often: you read a book and can't wait to sit down at your desk yourself. But once you sit down, the words that come out of your fingers don't sound original, as if you're unconsciously imitating the author whose book you've just read. While you can learn a lot from great writers, you need to develop your own voice. Learn to let go of the influence of certain authors by taking a break from writing, tinkering with old work, or taking a relaxing walk.
Method 3 of 4: Write a lot
Step 1. Buy a notebook
Not just any notebook, but a good sturdy one that you can take anywhere. You get ideas everywhere and of course you want to be able to write down your best ideas right away.
Step 2. Write down your ideas
Titles, subtitles, subjects, characters, situations, sentences, metaphors - whatever sparks your imagination when you're sitting at your desk.
Step 3. Fill your notebook with words and keep writing
When a notebook is full, label it with the dates you wrote on and general notes. This way you can always pick up the book again if you are short of inspiration.
Step 4. Participate in a writing workshop
One of the best ways to improve your writing skills and stay motivated is to talk to others and get feedback on your work. Find a local or online writing group and ask for opinions about your work. What did they like, what less and what do they think could be improved? Giving and receiving feedback teaches you a lot about improving your skills.
Step 5. Write every day
Keep a journal, write letters, or set aside an hour each day to just write. Simply pick a topic and start writing. It doesn't matter what the subject is - the idea is to write. And write. And some more to write. Writing is a skill that takes practice, a muscle that needs training and that you have to keep challenging to keep it tense.
Method 4 of 4: Building a story
Step 1. Choose a topic and write down a rough outline of your story
This doesn't have to be complicated, but is a way to give you insight into the plot. Take, for example, the classic Hollywood storyline: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back again.
Step 2. Write a sketch
It can be tempting to simply start writing and decide the course of your story later. Don't do this though! Even the simplest outline of your story can help you see bigger connections. This can save you hours of rewriting. Start with a basic gradient and break it down into parts. Then add characters, locations and so on.
Keep in mind that of the parts of the story, the latter often takes up the most space. If you need more than a few words to describe a part, create an extra layer to break this part up into several pieces
Step 3. Write the first draft
You are now ready to write your rough draft. Use your sketch and outline the characters and story.
Step 4. Leave some space in the story to add characters and give each their own story
This way you get to know your characters better and you gain insight into how the characters will react in certain situations.
Step 5. Don't be afraid to jump from one part of the story to another
If you have a brilliant idea for solving a situation at the end of the story, be sure to write it down, even if you're still tinkering with Chapter 1. Never waste an idea.
Step 6. Let the story guide you
Let the story have its say and before you know it it will take an unexpected, but also very interesting direction. You remain the director, but be open to inspiration.
Step 7. Finish your first draft
Don't focus too much on fine-tuning the story just yet, but finish the first draft. If you find out along the way that a character is actually the ambassador of Dubai rather than a lawyer, write this down so you can add this detail later.
Step 8. Rewrite the story
First version, remember? Go through the story again from the beginning, now knowing how it ends and how the characters will develop.
Step 9. Rewrite your story from start to finish
Once you're done with the second version, you'll have all the information about your characters, the main plot and the subplot in order.
Step 10. Read and share your story
Now that you've completed the second draft of your story, it's time to read it as openly as possible. Preferably, share the story with some friends whose opinions you value and trust.
Step 11. Write the final version
Armed with the feedback from your own reading and that of your friends, go through the story again and make adjustments. Try to resolve conflicts, knit pieces together and delete characters that add nothing to the story.
- Equations and metaphors are a lot of fun to use! If you do this right, they are sweet as the scent of a rose and you also come across as smart by using them.
- Writing should be fun. Or torture. That depends on the person you ask. You can feel very happy, but also exhausted. There is no right way to write and no right way to feel about writing. Find your own style.
- If you don't like an idea at first, try to make something out of it; who knows where it will lead!
- Do not plagiarize! Presenting someone else's words or ideas as your own is serious business in science as well as journalism and fiction. If you are caught, you can be expelled from school, charged or fired. So never do this.
- Pay attention to the words you use. The quickest way to come across as stupid is to use a word in the wrong way or in the wrong context. If you are not sure how to use a word, look it up in a dictionary.