21 Ways to Grow as a Writer (Whatever Stage You’re At)
This post was first published in June 2012 and extensively updated in March 2021.
Do you ever feel like you’re not really progressing with your writing?
Perhaps you’re at the start of your writing journey, but it’s hard going. You feel unconfident and unsure: you want to move forward, but you don’t know quite how.
Perhaps you’ve been writing for years and years, and you’re in a bit of a rut. You feel bored, stagnant: you want to take the next steps, but you’re afraid of leaving your comfort zone.
Here are 21 ways to grow as a writer, whatever stage you’re at. See what you could try this week.
If you’re new to writing, here are some things to try:
#1: Read Something – and Think About It
How did the author grab your attention on page one of that novel? How did the blogger keep you reading post after post on their site? What about the subject line persuaded you to open that marketing email instead of deleting it unread?
You can learn something from everything you read. Even if it’s a novel that you give up on after a few chapters, you can pinpoint what didn’t work, so you can avoid it in your own writing.
#2: Learn a New Word or Phrase (or Correct One You’re Getting Wrong)
If you come across a new word or phrase when you’re reading, look it up, and find out what it means. It might not be a word you want to use frequently, but the wider your vocabulary is, the more options you’ll have when you’re writing.
You may also want to make sure you’re using certain phrases correctly. Common mistakes like “for all intensive purposes” when the correct phrase is “for all intents and purposes” won’t do you any favours as a writer. Here’s a handy list of phrases that people often get wrong.
#3: Tackle A Writing Exercise or Prompt
Use a book (or website) with writing exercises, pick an idea from a list of prompts, or simply flick through a magazine and choose an image to write about.
While prompts and exercises can seem a bit artificial, they’re a great way to practice your writing, especially if you don’t yet have a big writing project you want to work on.
#4: Write As Often As You Reasonably Can
You might not be able to write every day (and I think trying to write daily doesn’t work for many writers). However, it’s important to make regular time to write, ideally at least once a week.
If you’d like some ideas for creating time when things are busy, join the Aliventures newsletter. You’ll get a free copy of my mini-ebook Time to Write, which is packed with practical tips. Plus, you’ll get the weekly blog posts (Mondays) and short newsletter articles (Thursdays) to support and encourage you with your writing.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’ve been writing for a while now, then improving is all about practice. Keep writing on a regular basis, and be conscious and deliberate about trying to make each piece a little better than the last.
#5: Correct Persistent Mistakes
Do you frequently confuse words like “its” and “it’s”? Do you muddle “affect” and “effect”? Spend some time learning the difference between them so you can easily correct these in your writing.
You might want to use a tool like Grammarly to help you edit your work. This will flag up grammatical mistakes (as well as spelling errors) and give you a brief explanation of what’s wrong.
#6: Practice One Element of Your Writing
When you’re aiming to improve your writing, it can help to hone in on specific areas. If you’re a novelist, try writing scenes that include lots of dialogue (my collection of posts on writing dialogue should help you) or practice creating brief but telling character descriptions.
If you write non-fiction, you might want to nail great introductions, or create several different outlines to get to grips with planning and structuring your pieces.
#7: Keep a Writing Journal
After each writing session, take a minute or two to reflect and jot down your thoughts. How did it go? What worked (and what didn’t)? Did anything surprise you?
You might want to use the materials in Supercharge Your Writing Session to help you with this. Make sure you print out the writing session planner, which has space for recording notes on how your session went and what you want to do next time.
#8: Go Through Your Past Pieces of Writing
Look back at something you wrote months or years ago. See if it might have potential for development: is it something you want to return to?
This is also a great opportunity to see how your writing has developed. On a week by week basis, it’s often hard to see ourselves improving: by looking back at something you wrote quite a while ago, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come.
Help and Support
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, and as a writer, you might find you grow fastest with a little support from others.
#9: Share Your Writing with Someone Else
Show a completed piece of writing to someone you trust: maybe a family member or a close friend. You don’t need to ask for their feedback, unless you want to — just let them read it.
If you haven’t ever shown your writing to anyone, this can be a daunting step, but the more you share your work, the more comfortable you’ll get with putting your writing out there into the world.
#10: Get Your Writing Edited
If you want to improve your writing fast, pay a professional editor to edit an article, blog post, novel chapter, or whatever you’re working on. There are plenty of freelance editors out there who can do this for you.
When you get the edits back, look through everything carefully and see what you can learn. Is there a particular issue that comes up again and again? Is this something you could watch out for when self-editing your work in the future?
#11: Join a Writers’ Group (Local or Online)
Becoming part of a group of writers is a great way to meet other writers, get feedback on your work, and learn more about the craft of writing. You might join a small local critique group, or a large online forum … or even both!
If you’ve bought any of my products or courses in the past, or belonged to any groups I’ve run, you can join the Aliventures Club on Facebook completely free. It’s a private members-only group for writers to chat about writing, share their work, and support one another.
Shaking Things Up
Are you in a bit of a writing rut, or feeling uninspired? Here are some ideas to help boost your creativity.
#12: Try a New Form of Writing
If you only write in the third person, try first person. If you only write prose, try poetry. If you only write serious non-fiction, try a humorous piece. If you only write freelance pieces, try a short story.
Branching out into something new will help you explore your creativity in a different way. You might even find a new type of writing that you love. For some help getting started, check out Get Writing, which is designed to help you dip into new areas of writing (and go further with the ones you’re already working on).
#13: Read Something Outside Your Comfort Zone
That could be literary fiction, biography, erotica, westerns, a trade journal, a tabloid newspaper … absolutely anything that you normally wouldn’t read.
You might find you enjoy it more than you think you would. You’ll almost certainly spot interesting ways to use words or structure, or get a deeper understanding of the different conventions in different types of writing.
#14: Write In a New Location
If you’re struggling to get inspired, it could be your writing environment working against you. Try writing in a different room of your house. Make sure you’ve done what you can to make your writing space an inviting place to work. (Check out Supercharge Your Writing Environment for help with that.)
If you can get out and write somewhere away from home, try a library, a coffee shop, a park, or even booking an overnight stay in a hotel on your own. You might find it’s much easier to feel inspired in different surroundings.
#15: Take a Writing Course
There are so many options of writing courses out there. You could take an online course, attend an afternoon workshop, or even enrol on a creative writing degree course.
Writing courses can be a great way to get inspired in the presence of like-minded writers. Many people also find it helpful to take a course that includes deadlines and some degree of feedback, either from classmates or from your tutor. Just try to avoid buying writing courses without actually writing.
Aiming for Publication
Are you hoping to get your writing published? Here are some ways you might want to move forward with that.
#16: Enter a Writing Competition
There are dozens of websites, magazines, and writers’ groups that have competitions you can enter, particularly if you write short stories. Some of these require an entry fee, which will often only be a few dollars.
Even if you don’t win or get shortlisted, short story competitions are a great way to get practice in writing to a deadline. You’ll also often have a specific word count limit, and sometimes a particular theme or structure to use for your work.
#17: Pitch Your Book Idea to a Publisher
Developing your book idea into a proposal for a publisher helps you to hone your thinking. Even if your book proposal gets turned down, you’ll have gained valuable experience.
For a novel, you’ll normally need to send a synopsis of the whole thing, plus the first three chapters. For non-fiction, you’ll normally need a chapter by chapter outline plus at least one complete chapter as a sample.
#18: Submit Articles or Short Stories to Magazines
Getting a short piece in a magazine is often much easier than getting a book published. It can be a real thrill to see your name in print, plus this gives you valuable experience that you can mention when submitting your book proposal.
With articles, you’ll normally need to pitch your idea to the editor first, as they may have specific requests for how they want you to write it. With short stories, you’ll normally need to send the complete story.
Maybe you’re looking for some next steps or wondering what could make the biggest difference to your writing life over the next few months or years. Here are some things to try.
#19: Get Testimonials or Reviews of Your Writing
If you’re a freelance writer, or if you’re a blogger who’s created a written product that people can buy from your website, ask your clients/buyers for testimonials. This is a huge help in encouraging new business.
If you’ve written a novel, try to get as many reviews as possible on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Avoid asking friends or family for these (Amazon doesn’t permit this), but look for opportunities to give out free copies to people who might want to leave an honest review.
#20: Set Yourself a Challenge
What would you like to achieve with your writing? What would make you really proud of what you’d accomplished?
Maybe you want to get published in a national newspaper, or see your writing on a website that you admire, or win a specific competition. Set yourself a goal, figure out the next few steps, and start working towards it.
#21: Self-Publish Your Work
It’s easier than ever to get your writing in front of readers, and self-publishing has become much more accessible and legitimate over the past decade.
You might want to think about starting a blog, where you can publish pieces as often as you want, and build up an audience. If you’re a novelist or non-fiction author, you might want to publish your book on Amazon yourself. Some self-publishing authors make a very good living from this (J.F. Penn and Steffanie Holmes are great examples).
One of the great things about being a writer is that, whatever stage you’re at, you can keep growing and improving. Even if you don’t have very much time to write, you can make the most of what you do have.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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