When it comes to looking at how to improve your writing skills, we can sometimes feel a bit lost. With so much to cover and so many different suggestions, where do you start?
In this detailed guide, I’m going to show you 8 easy ways you can improve your creative writing abilities. They range from the obvious like reading and practising to joining writing groups, such as my community of writers.
However, while they may seem obvious, do not dismiss them. There are unique approaches you can take to ensure you get the most out of each one. For instance, reading analytically. But more on that below.
If you know of any other good ways to improve your writing skills, please share them in the comments below!
Why Is It Important To Improve Your Writing Skills?
Much is learned from life’s harsher lessons. When it comes to looking back on previous pieces of writing, we can feel embarrassed or ashamed. Instead, I say look back with pride. Look at it with the reassuring feeling that you’re able to see what’s wrong with it, what its weaknesses are, how you can change it—this shows you’ve improved your writing skills.
You know that next time you will do better and appreciate that in recognising all of these things, you’ve grown and improved and you’re now a better writer.
Here are a few of the most effective ways I’ve learned that help me to improve my craft.
”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Stephen King.
Reading teaches you the craft of writing. You learn new words, new perspectives, sentence structure, pacing, characterization, plotting techniques, worldbuilding approaches. You see the ‘writing rules‘ and how they can be broken. Reading empowers you with knowledge drawn from first-hand examples.
Here’s another insightful quote from George RR Martin:
“The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read! And not just the sort of thing you’re trying to write, be that fantasy, SF, comic books, whatever. You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy, SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones — what not to do).”George RR Martin
As well as enjoying (or hating a story) it’s important to pay attention to the craft of how it’s written. If you’re unsure of a word, take the time to look up the definition and a few example sentences. With a critical eye observe word usage, syntax, structure, plotting.
To get through a few more books, you could try audiobooks or podcasts. Stephen King says he listens to them while driving, a much more productive alternative to listening to Led Zeppelin IV for the umpteenth time. There’s a website (and also an app), audiobooks.com, which has few free ones. You’ve nothing to lose in trying it.
And it’s definitely one of the most effective ways when it comes to exploring how to improve your writing skills.
You practice your craft as much as you can. With everything life has to throw at us it can be hard to find the time and motivation to write. But something is better than nothing. Every word is a step in the right direction.
Take a leaf out of Joanna Cannon’s book (excuse the pun). While working as a psychiatric nurse in an underfunded NHS she wrote her debut, bestselling novel, cramming in words before work, after work and during breaks.
Remember, you’re practising and improving. Don’t put the pressure of trying to write a good book on your shoulders. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment and explore.
“The more you write, the better you’ll get. But don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those “literary muscles,” you’ll never develop them.”George RR Martin
Lessons linger around every corner, but you must seek them. Everyone knows something you do not and there’s no shame in that. Those that succeed, listen. Begin with the basics and build from there. Read books on writing (like A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook), watch lectures on YouTube, sign up for webinars, courses, workshops. Join forums or writing groups, discuss, share, critique.
You’re learning a new craft, and unless you’re James Joyce reincarnate you must take time to learn. Carpenters, electricians, doctors, lawyers go through years of training to master their fields. So must you.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. That’s about 90 minutes a day for 20 years. A daunting prospect, but achievable. Put in the work and trust that everything else will follow.
If you’d like to get started with workshops and lectures, here’s my free webinar on how to write a fantasy novel. For me, resources like this are one of the best ways to improve your writing skills.
The real world has the power to inspire you. Go hiking, walk around your park, even just walk down your street. Catching a glimpse into the personal life of a stranger can provoke ideas for characters and development, so can seeing an unusual building or landmark.
Seeing the diversity in the appearance of people is a great source for character development. It’s remarkable how unique we all look; something I certainly take for granted. And it’s the little details that make wonderful stories.
Take a pen or paper, or make notes on your phone. Who knows when ideas will pop into your head.
5. Embrace failure
In failing we learn our weaknesses and better understand ourselves. It’s part of the process. So embrace it and absorb all of the feedback you can, whether from editors or beta readers.
Don’t let those lows extinguish your desire and enthusiasm. You can write and you have a story worth telling. Accept that you’re not going to get it right the first time, but be determined to keep going and succeed. When you finally achieve your goal it’ll feel better than taking any drug.
So don’t let rejection dampen your spirits. Use it to help you improve your writing skills.
6. Keep faith
This one’s linked to failing. No matter how down you feel, how ill-motivated you are, how low your confidence may be, always cling to that flame of hope.
Savour the little successes, as slight as they may be. A new subscriber to your mailing list, a few lines of feedback in a rejection email, achieving your daily word count, even just writing a word (some days it can be that hard). The world may say no, but the only person who can blow out that hopeful flame is you.
Further reading – Mental Health In Fantasy Books
7. Defeat procrastination
This is perhaps the most personal one of all for me. I’ll check my emails and 45 minutes later there I am scrolling through Twitter, a blank page before me.
Remove temptations. Turn off the wifi, leave your phone in another room. Tackle whatever defeats you head-on, and be bold in your steps. No half measures, as everyone’s favourite meth cook Heisenberg would say. Allow your mind to focus, to forget, to engage.
Further reading – 11 Essential Ways To Stop Procrastinating
8. Join An Online Writing Group
One of the best approaches I’ve come across when it comes to looking for ways to improve your writing skills is to collaborate and work with fellow writers.
I find that whenever I’ve worked with someone who’s provided me with feedback, that I improve my writing skills. I learn new approaches, see things in different ways, experiment with new styles or gain greater confidence in my voice.
And that’s why I’ve created my own writing community, to enable other writers to share in the same benefits that I enjoy every day.
While we congregate in our private Facebook group, we also have a dedicated Discord channel within which you can chat with fellow writers, arrange beta reading and discuss ideas. This can only help you improve your writing skills.
To join, just click below.
Join A Writing Group Full Of Passionate Writers
Get More Help With How To Improve Your Writing Skills
If you’d like any further support and guidance with improving your creative writing ability, then there are lots of other resources that you can take advantage of.
Chief amongst them is my fantasy writing podcast, The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed.
While this has a focus on the fantasy genre and its many subgenres, we cover all kinds of general writing subjects, such as creating conflict, plus episodes on how to get published.
To listen, just click below.
More Guides and Resource On How To Improve Your Writing Skills
If you’d like to read up on some other ways you can improve your writing skills, then I have some other related guides you may enjoy, as well as tips from some other reputable sources:
- Head here to learn more about viewpoint, tense and narrative distance
- For more general writing tips, head here, or go here for fantasy writing advice
- If you’d like help finding publishers and book reviewers, check out my writing tools page.
- Learn more about improving your writing flow
- If you’re into academic writing, this guide will help you
If you have any questions about how to improve your writing skills, please don’t hesitate to contact me.