Creative writing tips

How To Be A Better Writer: 6 (Overnight) Improvements

Sitting down to write can be one of the most difficult tasks in the world, even for experienced writers. As the efficacy of writing courses is controversial at best, the only way to be a better writer is generally to work at it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some quick ways to make significant improvements though! If you’ve been churning out words for a while now and you’re looking to overhaul to the way you write, here are six easy things you can try to take your creative writing to the next level.

How to become a better writer overnight... As easy as overnight oats
As easy as… Overnight oats! (Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash)

How to Become a Better Creative Writer Overnight…

1. Just Get There

Worried about how a character gets from Point A to Point B? Transitions between scenes can be hard, but there’s good news: You can skip them. Go ahead, do it. Just put three little asterisks on a line and jump to a new location or a week into the future. Your readers trust you to guide them through the narrative without leaving out anything important, and that gives you the power to skip the boring stuff and to worry about how to hook readers… At least for the first draft!

Sure, you may find that some readers do have questions, or that you have skipped some important information. That’s okay. You can always go back and add transitions later. But during the writing process, just get there. Jump to the scene you want to work on when you’re hit by creative inspiration, and get it down on paper. You can always iron out the details as you revise.

2. Go Analog

Nothing kills creativity like a smartphone. If you find yourself reaching for your phone to keep from getting bored on the subway or in a waiting room, stop! You’re missing out on really valuable opportunities to observe the world around you. Keep an old-fashioned notebook and pen with you for these situations, and treat yourself to some observational writing time by jotting down a description of whatever’s in your line of sight. This kind of creative nonfiction will get those creative juices flowing, and it’s a super quick fix. You can also transcribe conversations you overhear to hone your dialogue skills.

Putting pen to paper can also provide some important creative writing help when you’re dealing with a bout of writer’s block. Hand writing forces you to slow down to find creative flow, and studies show that it activates more of your brain than typing does. This could allow you to access more creativity than you otherwise would. Writing by hand can also be a calming activity — perfect for combatting performance anxiety you get from staring at a blank computer screen for too long.

3. Change Genres

Not sure how to approach an aspect of your work? One way to get unstuck is to pretend you’re a totally different writer. For example, try writing a troublesome scene as a poem or place the characters in fairy tales to help you focus on essential elements of description. If you’re stuck on plot, take out your reporter’s notebook and write a news-in-brief article or a factual blog post — just the facts, ma’am. Become a temporary playwright to zero in on dialogue for a while.

Being a genre chameleon helps you break out of unhelpful patterns in your thinking and gives you permission to try new things. You may also find that you come up with some useful passages that you can put into your piece. Even a line or two of description that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of makes this exercise worthwhile.

4. Take a Break

There’s a lot of advice out there about writing through the pain. You know the drill: all those people who say there’s no such thing as writer’s block if you just keep writing. If that sounds sadistic, well … it is.

There’s actually a decent amount of research that suggests breaks are important for creative work, reducing decision fatigue and allowing space for inspiration and problem solving. The best breaks are about 20 to 30 minutes long and get you away from your computer and out into nature. So take a walk, take a nap or have a healthy snack. When you come back, you may find that your brain has worked out a thorny issue while you were away from your desk.

5. Find Readers You Trust

A parent or a spouse isn’t the best person to turn to when it comes to getting honest opinions of your work. Friends and family may not approach your writing with a critical eye — or if they do, it can end up being unexpectedly painful. Let your loved ones be your champions, not your editors. 

Instead, consider joining a writer’s workshop or creative writing 101 class to get constructive criticism from your peers. You may find a casual group through your local library or community college, or you can try an online writing workshop. Even english literature or non-fiction writing classes will throw you together with people who can offer advice! Don’t be afraid to test drive a bunch of options until you find one that works for you. It may take a while, but you’ll know it when you’ve found your people. 

6. Double up as an Editor to Trick Yourself into Being a Better Writer

When you’ve spent weeks, months or even years up to your eyeballs in your work, it’s nearly impossible to catch errors or goofy typos when you skim it for the zillionth time. To get your work ready to present to readers, you’ll need to look at it with fresh eyes. You can trick yourself into approaching your work from a new perspective by making it look different on the page.

To do this, try changing the font on the whole piece to something a little quirky — perhaps a handwriting-inspired font that will make it just a little bit harder to read. Then bump up the font size to 18 or 20, which will completely change where the words are located on the page. This should be enough to force you to slow down and read the piece as if for the first time — and that means you’ll definitely catch some errors that had slipped through the cracks. You can also use an editing tool to beef up your editing efforts.

Final Thoughts

Remember – the best writing tips are the ones that work for you!

Search for techniques that you think make you a better writer, keep an open mind to try new things, but don’t be afraid to let go of any exercises or advice that no longer serve you. When you trust yourself, you’ll always do your best work.