Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Be a Better Writer

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The first step to being a writer is to proclaim yourself. “My name is [fill in the blank] and I’m a writer.” By doing this you give voice to the fact that you have an unshakeable, deep-seeded desire to communicate with words. To describe situations. To tell stories. You can’t help yourself. You may have come to this realization early in life. Some writers begin when they’re children. Or you may have chanced upon it late in life, as I did. No matter when this amazing incident occurred, it did happen.

If you have any insecurities about who you are, take a deep breath, close your eyes, spread your arms out wide and shout, “My name is [fill in the blank] and I’m a writer.” Your voice might be tenuous at first. Even a little wimpy. But with practice you can stand there with the best of them and be comfortable.
Now that you’ve proclaimed yourself, it’s time to enhance your status. Writers need to write. It’s a given and you can’t ignore it. Beginning writers often think everything they write is perfection. The learning curve can be tough. Demanding. But it’s important to your craft. If you want to get better, here are some ways to improve.

Don’t be shy. Network. Facebook and Twitter are an okay place to start, but be brave. Hang out with other writers, in person, and be a sponge. Soak up information. People love to share about their wins and losses, their challenges, how they overcame their obstacles. Maybe they have a cool story to tell. Maybe you have a great story too. Go to events, conferences and meetups. If you’re truly shy, make it your goal to talk to just one person. If you’re dynamic and outgoing, talk to a bunch of people. Pay attention to what they figured out along the way and see if you can apply their lesson to your own journey. Learn, and see how you can help others.

Take Classes
You’ve just finished your first draft and it’s a terrific manuscript. Why would you need a writing class? I wrote six novels before I admitted I had a problem with plot. I also had weak characters and unbelievable situations. I would stake my scenic descriptions against any bestselling author, but beautiful descriptions do not a bestseller make. I found my solution in online writing classes, specifically one on plotting. Who knew that GMC was so important, or that it would offer the key to the mystery of great storytelling? I didn’t. But after that class, my writing reached a new level; one that worked!

Writers Online Classes ( and ( both offer good and affordable classes for about $30. Classes last about a month, you get 2-3 lessons per week, feedback from the teacher, and interaction with other writers. I met two amazing editing partners in one class last year who were a tremendous help with my latest novel.

Join a Critique Group
A critique group is a group of authors who read each other’s work and offer constructive feedback. Writers in a critique group are committed to writing and to learning about writing. The beauty of a critique group is having multiple eyes view your work. Fresh eyes. Your critique partners don’t know your story like you do, so they won’t make assumptions. If something doesn’t make sense in your story, they’ll find it and point it out.  

It may take some trial and error to find the right group. Not all personalities mesh, nor do all writing styles. Always, always be honest with your feedback, and be compassionate as well. Expect the same in return. And realize you’ll need to develop thick skin. My first experience with a critique group was awful. I swore I wouldn’t go back. Two weeks later I’d recovered from the initial shock and I returned. It was the best decision I could have made.
Don’t write in a vacuum. If you don’t share your writing with others, you’ll never know how good or bad it is. Consult your local area writing organizations for a group near you.

Write a Novel in a Month
November is Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, the time when writers from all over the world sign up to write a novel in a month. Sound crazy? You bet. Last year there were over 250,000 participants and almost 37,000 crossed the finish line. You begin your novel on November 1. Your goal is to complete 50,000 words by midnight November 30. You have to start from scratch (you can’t use anything previously written). You must be the sole author of your work. Your work has to be a novel (not a memoir, autobiography, essay or other nonfiction). And you can’t use the same word 50,000 times.

Nanowrimo isn’t for everyone. It requires dedication, concentration and a lot of stream of consciousness flow. Fifty thousand words over 30 days means at least 1666.66 words per day. No staring at that blank computer screen. Put something on it. No editing what you’ve just written; you don’t have time. Just write. The reward is a 50,000 word manuscript when you’re done, and that’s a serious piece of writing. You’ll also meet lots of other writers and explore different ways of writing. To sign up for next year's challenge, go to  
Now that I’ve listed these tips, I’m standing up, I’m spreading my arms out wide, and I’m shouting, “My name is Nanette Littlestone, and I’m a writer!”  


Nanette Littlestone is a freelance editor, writing coach, and author who has worked with both fiction and nonfiction for 20 years. She specializes in helping authors to use their passion to achieve their own unique voice and message. For more information, please visit

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