What can I do to become a better writer?

writing notepadAll artists want to become better at their craft – writers are no exception. One of the most frequently asked questions within the business is, “what can I do to become a better writer?” Unfortunately there is no magic formula or quick fix that will ensure you’re a better writer, but reading and listening to those that are already better than you and understand the craft is absolutely invaluable. With that said, here are a few words from some of the best writers and professionals in the business.

“Be clear, be concise and always, always follow your heart, not the money. Explore what genuinely excites you on the deepest possible level. Interrogate and challenge yourself, because if it feels safe, you are doing something wrong.”

Stephen Volk

“Read widely across a variety of genres because you can always find different writing techniques that can be used in your own work. It can add texture to your prose that might not otherwise be there if you stick to just one genre.

Write something every day even if it’s just a micro-fiction or a paragraph about anything at all – just keep in practice. Grow a thick skin and learn how to distinguish the helpful advice from the unhelpful, and always remember that the first draft is never, ever the last draft…”

Angela Slatter

“Like Stephen King and everybody says, just read. And read and read and read. Read things you don’t expect to like. Read stuff off the best-seller list. Read stuff that’s fifty years old and has stains all over it. Read read read. But hopefully this goes without saying, too. So — but this is just as obvious — write. A whole lot. With me, twenty or thirty stories in, I felt like I had a handle on the craft. Some good suspicions anyway. But then I got to sixty or so stories and it was like a little distant bell chimed in some dark recess of my head, and I recognised that, oh, yeah, this is how you do it. This is how you write. Which, you forget it all after each story, have to learn it all again every time. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you get more confidence, kind of. That, if you have one line, one scene, one chapter, then the next is going to be there waiting. Also, a big trick is not miring down in just one story for months. I like Bradbury’s model, of a story a week. You learn a lot that way, and produce a lot. And, I guess the easy answer to this, and I maybe should have started there, it’s ‘Have talent.’ But, talent or not, you still need to hone it. And you can’t do that without setting pen to paper over and over, every chance you get.”

Stephen Graham Jones

“I am presuming that, as a writer, you have an extensive vocabulary and a reasonable knowledge of grammar and sentence structure. After that, the secret is to live whatever you are writing as if you were really there. Forget about the page or the screen in front of you. Be there. Feel the wind. Hear the voices of people talking behind you. No matter how much research you have done, tell the story as if you are living it. Your research will come over without you lecturing your readers. Cut out any fancy words that people won’t understand. Get the rhythm of your sentences right so that they don’t jar when people read them. Write lots of poetry and very short fiction for practise. If you can’t write a poem you can’t write a novel. This is a very abbreviated version of my words about writing. You can check out more at the Fiction section of my website under the heading Rules of Writing.”

Graham Masterton

“Writers first begin to sell consistently when they find their own particular way of writing complete, satisfying stories. And once you find your own particular way that works it’s tempting to stay in that mode your entire career. But to improve as a writer you have to step away from that, writing stories about subjects and emotions which make you feel uncomfortable, using unfamiliar approaches and structures, sometimes pushing aside what you know about genre or even what constitutes a story in order to discover a new ‘way’ with each piece you write. Most importantly, you have to start writing stories you may believe you’re not yet good enough to write. Don’t be afraid of writing a ‘bad’ story–sometimes you will–it’s the price you pay for risk.”

Steve Rasnic Tem


Conrad Williams

To become a better writer I must continue to be vigilant with each line of prose, omitting unnecessary words. I’ve now got into the habit of challenging every sentence by asking myself whether it could work as well with fewer words. Often I find that a phrase consisting of two words can be replaced with just one. Other words like ‘now’, ‘then’ and ‘well’ can often be removed altogether. The finished product – leaner, zippier – gets closer to the way experienced professionals write. The reader perceives no ‘slack’. Incidentally, that second sentence above – the one that starts, ‘I’ve now got into the habit . . .’ – well, we can lose that ‘now’ easily enough. That’s how fussy you have to be.”

Gary Fry

“I’m always wary of any kind of writing advice, so let me answer this question in terms of myself. It’s my belief that everyone can become a better writer. We all strive towards the kind of perfection that we will never reach. For me, I believe that practice is the key. I write all the time, and nothing is wasted. I write and I write and I write, and then I write some more. I also read the best to see how they do it. Reading crap is a waste of time. It teaches you nothing but how not to write. By doing these things, I hope that each new writing project is better than the last, and that I understand the mechanics better through repetition. Hopefully before I die I’ll have become the best writer that I can be – because I’m not in competition with my peers. I’m in competition with myself.”

Gary McMahon