Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

pencil-sharpener-390609_1280 - 2A ‘Happy Sunday’ quickie – and a chance to catch some old posts too. A few ideas on sharpening up your writing – great tips and snippets of advice I’ve received over the last four years.

  1. Learn how apostrophes work; and semi-colons.
  2. Well, it’s really rather important that you just do this. Run search and delete on every instance of the following words: really, just, quite, rather, very, oh, so, well and suddenly. Check out my post ‘One Word At A Time’ for this and other editing tips.
  3. Practise Show vs Tell the Anton Chekhov way: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
  4. Take a chunk of back-story or exposition and rewrite it into a dialogue. Then repeat. Then repeat again. Dialogue is much more engaging than flat-text exposition and a page of conversation is easier to read than a thumping boulder of a paragraph.
  5. Focus on sensory detail. Not just sight, but sound, taste, touch and smell. It will enrich your reader’s experience. I blogged here about using all the senses.
  6. Every time you see two clever, descriptive adjectives side-by-side, delete at least one of them. Yes, every time. Writers can publish with excess of adjectives, but only once they’ve sold a gazillion books and are unassailable. (If you doubt me, check out J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith – but then go and delete half your adjectives, because you won’t so easily get away with it.)
  7. Review your work for any not-so-perfect tenses (past perfect, past continuous and past perfect continuous) and opt for something more immediate. I blogged about how this works here.
  8. Delete the first paragraph of every chapter. There’s no need for foreplay, dive straight to the action. Hmmm, personally, I appreciate literary foreplay, so I’m not sold on this tip – but better writers than me will endorse it.
  9. Delete the last paragraph of every chapter. Don’t hang about after the action. Get out, fast. This, I can vouch for.
  10. Clichés – avoid them like the plague… Yes, you guessed it, I blogged! This one might actually hit the mark (doh!)

58 thoughts on “Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

  1. Uh, I hate overuse of the word “very” the most. I’m never “very tired”, I’m “exhausted”. Very makes the noun that follows weaker.

      1. Out of interest, I counted the number of instances of “very” in my current WIP (29,000 words). Just 8 instances, 6 of them in dialogue *breathes a sigh of relief*

        1. That’s … very good! I think I’m on a par though. I’ve just counted the occurrences in Singled Out and in 89,300 words, I have just 20 very’s, only 2 of those occurring outside dialogue. Phew!

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog of my post – these are just a few learnings from the four years it took to write my first novel. I hope they’re a help to your readers as well!

  2. I plead the fifth regarding how many transgressions I have committed. In particular, I have an almost Tourette’s like addiction to starting sentences with ‘So’ or ‘Well,’. It’s habit forming and they must be surgically removed at all cost. You might want to update the ‘zero’

    1. Dang it, didn’t finish my sentence. (This comes of writing while at work. I keep getting distracted by my job.) As I was saying, you might want to update the ‘zero’ on the above Top Ten list. You ended on ‘zero’…which could be numerically funny…but probably is not what you intended.

      1. I think the zero is a ‘feature’ of the reader. On my iPad No.10 shows up without a number of its own at all.

        I sympathise too, as I also have writing ‘ticks’. I like to begin a sentence with the word ‘And’… an act of grammatical defiance which would have given my teachers of old an attack of the vapours.

  3. Apostrophes are a continuation that aren’t full sentences on their own, and semi-colons are tiny pieces of your colon. LOL!

    Wonderful set of tips here… Lots to contemplate! One trick I use, is an Introduction. It doesn’t give you the action, but it does describe it. I find it works for my audience to encapsulate what proceeds, for an all round big picture, and actually helps me to encapsulate my blog entry so I don’t ‘over-write’ it… Great stuff! Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! I’ve seen different advice about introductions and prologues – some say ‘go for it’ and other say ‘never!’… As with so many aspects of writing, the trick, I think, is to understand the differences of opinion – and then do whatever YOU want for your own writing.

    1. Thanks again for the reblog – it’s just (ahem) the best, when people like a post enough to share it with their own readers 🙂

    1. It’s funny, how sometimes the posts that come together most quickly and easily, are the ones that reach the furthest. I’m so glad you, and so many others, have found this one ‘a keeper’. 🙂

  4. Excellent blog post. Short and to the point, with links to relevant material. Thanks for sharing these tips. The most difficult one for me is “show, not tell.” The quote is lovely, like a small poem.

    1. Hi Connie, thanks for joining the conversation! I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, ‘show vs tell’ is one that trips me up a lot too. But the quote is a great way to think about it, don’t you think?

    1. Wow… Thanks for paying me the compliment of publicising and recommending my post – I’m so glad you found it interesting. 🙂

    1. Hi Lance, thanks for paying me the compliment of a reblog. The reblog button is at the foot of the post… But I think you’ve found it already!

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