How to Become a Better Writer Today

How do you become a better writer today without taking classes for an MFA in creative writing? To improve your writing, all you have to do is pay close attention to the texts you read: your favorite book, the article you found online, or the advertisements you see on a daily basis.

All it comes down to is being a better observer of the world. In this case, pay close attention, not so much to the contents of what you read, but at how the writer paints a picture inside your head.

Notice the Writing Strategy

Notice the strengths in other people’s writings. Which lines do you find yourself rereading because you loved how the writer composed a phrase, sentence, or passage. Why do you reread those lines?

The Writing Strategy

Sherman Alexie applies the following writing strategy in “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”: If you describe something with a series, start each item in the series with the same phrase or word for emphasis.

The Writing Strategy Example

Alexie writes:

“They ran then, hard as they ever had, faster than Billy Mills, faster than Jim Thorpe, faster than the wasps could fly. Victor and Thomas ran until they couldn’t breathe, ran until it was cold and dark outside, ran until they were lost and it took hours to find their way home.”

Billy Mills and Jim Thorpe were famous Native American athletes known for winning Gold medals in the Olympics. In the scene described above, two boys run faster than these athletes from a wasp nest.

In the paragraph that follows, we learn how much they run and how they run without thinking. These lines don’t let you catch your breath.

Why is the Writing Strategy Effective?

The repetition of the words and phrases in the scene form long sentences. The long lines emphasize how important it is for these boys to run fast and how much they need to run without the full stops of periods so that the wasps don’t catch them.

Apply the Writing Strategy in Your Writing

Photo by Min An from Pexels

After you notice the writing strategy in the text you’re reading, reflect on its effectiveness, and find ways to apply it to your writing.

Let me give you an example on how I applied this strategy in a short story that I wrote a couple of weeks ago:  

She wanted to find meaning in the way blood covered Marcos’ body and hers, in the way he called out her name to ask if she was okay, in the way she could not find the voice to answer.

from “After Missing Death By 43 Seconds”

I’m not saying the imitation has to be perfect. What matters is that you apply the new writing strategy as you continue writing until it becomes a habit.

Join the Conversation:

What writing strategies have you applied in your writing to strengthen your work? How do you find new writing strategies to use?

Works Cited:

Alexie, Sherman. “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume E, edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, Norton, 2012, pp. 1213-1222.

I’m Ashamed to Admit this, But This Will Help You: Writing Advice

I spend too much time in front of drive-thru windows buying fast food and coffee. More time than I’d like to admit. One drive-through lady nicknamed me “coffee girl”. When she told me, see you tomorrow, I knew I had a problem.

I’m ashamed of being recognized as a regular who buys coffee every day and who can’t be a responsible adult by preparing her meals. Despite this shame, the time in front of drive-thru windows has taught me a lot about people’s personalities and characteristics which I find useful when writing characters or describing people.

The Writing Advice

You become a better writer by being better observer. To write better character descriptions, start by paying attention to how drive-thru attendants serve you.

When I think of the best customer service experiences I’ve had in front of drive-thru windows, there are details in customer service styles that standout.

Memorable attendants call you endearing names like “sweetie”. They treat you like you’re family. Others look at you and greet you with so much enthusiasm that you don’t mind filling out the surveys they ask you to take. Yet, others speak in a monotone voice and look at you with eyes without shine.

When describing characters, ask yourself: what details make a character different from all others? What’s their tone of voice? What words is the character known for saying?

What details will make the reader picture a clear image of the character, so that if every reader of the same story were to draw the character, the drawings would turn out consistent from the descriptions?

Writing Exercise

The core of this writing tip is to be more observant of the world around you. A creative writing professor once recommended us to go to places with the sole intention of journaling about our observations once there. If you don’t have time for that, notice the subtle and not so subtle differences between your friends, customers, coworkers, students, and family members. What makes them them?

Join the Conversation:

What are your tips for writing characters or describing people?