Writing is both an art and a skill. Most fiction writers consider themselves storytellers, emphasizing the art of writing rather than the skill. As the author of a single published novel, Away from the Spotlight, I do not profess to be an expert in the “art” of writing. However, as an attorney and business consultant for a number of years, I do profess to be an expert in the “skill” of writing. The following are ten tips to become a better writer.
1. Ensure you understand the subject matter of your written work.
A good understanding of the subject matter is a pre-requisite to any writing. If the author does not understand the subject matter well, there will be gaps in logic and detail that will be obvious to the reader.
2. Work on your organizational skills.
Good organizational skills on the part of the author ensure a logical flow of the written work.
3. Work on your analytical skills.
Good analytical skills help the author determine what information is important and should be included, and what information should be omitted.
4. Identify the author (if you are writing for someone else) or the voice of the narrator(s).
The author or voice of the narrator determines the tone (formal vs. informal), words used (e.g., slang, technical terms, etc.), and the type of detail provided.
I wrote Away from the Spotlight in first-person narrative style from the point of view of a twenty-four year-old law student from California. Consequently, the voice of the narrator needed to sound relatively young; use idioms appropriate for the narrator’s sex, age, nationality and location; and sound as articulate as would be expected of a law student.
5. Identify the audience.
Without adversely affecting the author’s creativity, the author’s tone, style, words and plot devices (if applicable) should be appropriate for the genre in which the author is writing and the expectations of the audience for that genre. For example, if the author is writing a young adult story, the material should be appropriate for the age-range of the audience.
6. Determine goal.
In non-fiction and business writing, the author must determine whether the goal to is to inform, request or persuade. When writing a fiction series, the author must determine what he or she intends to accomplish in the particular volume of the series.
7. Determine format.
In business writing, the author must determine whether the communication is better served by a MS PowerPoint presentation, memorandum or e-mail. In published works, the author must determine whether the format of the work will be an article, short story, novella, novel or series of novels.
8. Prepare an outline.
An outline: (a) ensures a logical, linear progression, (b) helps to avoid duplication, lack of clarity, and unnecessary length, and (c) ensures that all necessary (plot) points are made.
9. Prepare an initial draft.
Consider your first draft a “stake in the ground.” This draft (or a draft after further revisions) may be provided to beta readers in order to obtain feedback regarding the mechanics of the writing, the characters and the plot.
10. Engage in the revision process.
Check the spelling, grammar and punctuation. Spell check is not enough. Look for inconsistencies. Have a “second set of eyes” review the document. Mistakes become difficult to see after many reviews of the material – someone not as close to the material will see things that the author misses. A second set of eyes also will ensure that the intended story is clear.