Five Things You Can Do — This Week — To Become A Better Writer

Successful writers know they must constantly evolve and improve their craft. They know that reaching their full potential is a lifelong journey of hard work, patience, and dedication.

But for those of us who need more immediate gratification, here are five things you can do — this week! — to be a better writer.

Monday: Make a promise to write every day this week. Promise to write for at least five minutes in the morning or the evening (you’ll probably find yourself writing for longer than five minutes, whether you meant to or not). Five minutes a day…can you commit to that? At the end of the week, you will be five days closer to the height of your powers as a writer!

Tuesday: Compose a deep and honest evaluation of your writing. What are your strengths (setting, dialogue, action, insight)? What can you do to bring out and play up your strengths?

And what are your weaknesses (description, pacing, characterization, point of view)? What can you do to minimize them?

Each time you sit down to edit (as opposed to write), revisit your evaluation in order to be fully clear and honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.

Wednesday: Choose a paragraph or stanza from your work (just one!), and focus on it. Really dig deep into your lines — don’t give so much as half a thought to the rest of the piece. Go through each word, one at a time, as if no other word existed but the one you’re focusing on. Do the same for phrases. Are you choosing active voice instead of passive? Are you using vivid verbs? Are your word choices as precise as possible? Think micro, not macro. Then you can bring the lessons you learn to your larger project.

Thursday: Take a crash course in deleting. Remember that paragraph you worked on yesterday, picking out the best words? Now, cut it down. Get out your red pen and slash away! Be brutal. What is the absolute minimum number of words that you can use to make a point?

Friday: Being a good submitter is part of being a good writer. So this is the day that you vow to send a short story, essay, group of poems, or book query to a certain number of markets. Maybe you pledge to send to five places. Maybe ten. If you want to advance your writing career this week, you must make submissions.

So there you have it! Five concrete steps that you can take this week to become a better writer. As for Saturday and Sunday: Take time off. Unplug. And — this is important — read something that inspires you. Read deeply and often. Don’t read because it’s work or because you have to. Read because you love it. Let your books fill you up and nourish you. A writer who is not reading books is a car engine trying to run on air.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” — Stephen King

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