4 Strategies to Immediately Improve Your Writing

What does a simple noun mean to you? What image does it evoke in your mind?

1. Practice word association.

Have you ever struggled with descriptive writing? It isn’t uncommon. Many writers, especially those just starting out, are often intimidated by it. One of my favorite ways to combat this is by attempting to understand word association.

In one of my undergrad communications classes, my professor had us describe three things: a dog, a grandparent, and a shoe. Naturally, when he asked for the responses, they were all different. This is the essence of word association. I can recall that my pair of sneakers are made of a generic black and white pixelated weave, yet someone else might recall their brown suede boots.

To practice, start by making a list of nouns and recall what each of them means to you. If you can picture it, close your eyes. Remember the five senses. How did it feel to touch it? Smell it? Was the color crisp or dulled? Did it make a noise? If it was a fruit, was it sweet or bitter? The more you can recall, the better you will be able to describe it. This exercise begins to train your brain to remember to pay attention to those details and makes them easier to recall when you need.

2. Don’t be a slave to inspiration, be a writer.

Being a slave to inspiration can mean one of two things. Firstly, it means you have to write even if you don’t feel like it. It means that once you start to write something you enjoy, inspiration will come. Waiting for it will get you nowhere on a blank page. This is good advice in general.

The second thing to be wary of is that, when inspiration hits, it is often fleeting. Like waking up from a dream, true inspiration is hard to recall once it has passed. And whether you keep a notebook, or just use the note app on your phone, always have something to write with.

Never assume you will remember. I can’t count the times I’ve heard some of the coolest stories and names and can’t recall them later. I seem to have this problem where, once I sit down at my computer, my brain likes to set the inspiration meter back to zero. I can’t recall most of what I experienced, the feeling behind it, or what inspired me in the first place.

People say to write what you know, and I think what makes some of the best writing is when an author is able to conjure up those small forgotten moments and give them meaning. It brings a realness and sense of wonder to any work when we can put ourselves in those moments.

You won’t remember how you felt in the moment if you don’t write it in the moment.

3. Rationalize nothing.

The bane of any good writing is rationalization.

Authors often feel like things need to be logical. They want to justify why things work in their writing; however, there will always be time for logic in the editing process. If you intend to give your writing a chance, you have to turn off the editor in your brain. For me, my critical voice is also my voice of self-doubt. I tell myself far too often things like: what’s the point? This doesn’t even sound good. I’m going to have to start over. I’m not ready to write this.

Turn that voice off. It will be your biggest asset.

Think of it this way:

You wouldn’t want to go on a super special date with your parents. It would be a truly different experience to have them standing right behind you and your partner as you share a first intimate kiss, or when you say I love you for the first time. That would absolutely kill the mood. You may still be passionate about the person, but adding in a third party diverts your attention. You wouldn’t be able to focus completely on the feeling and love in the moment.

So, fall in love with your writing, and don’t complicate it with those third-party thoughts.

4. Read Often. Read Widely.

This one is common, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

It took me awhile to get this, and I’m still working it out. But too me, I think that is kind of the point. There is never a quota for how much, or what things, a person should read. When writers read, they are not only refueling the creative energy they have spent, but are also expanding their knowledge of the world around them.

By reading in your genre: You expand your expertise on a topic. You find out what is out there and what tropes are common in the genres you enjoy writing in. You learn how to be successful in it.

By reading outside your genre: You absorb the knowledge of the world. By doing this you increase your bank of information and can add exciting concepts to your preferred genre that seems fresh and unique.

In order to create more effectively, take in as much information as you can. Whether that means reading a person’s twitter feed or a classical work of poetry, there is no wrong way to read.

You can learn from all types of writing as long as you read widely and question what makes it good.

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