10 ways to improve your writing

Image by woodleywonderworks

1. Take a class or workshop at your local writing centre. You will learn at least three things you didn’t know, you’ll meet other writers, you will be energised and inspired and, best of all, you’ll feel like a ‘real writer’.

2. Buy a book – choose from my top three of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, or check out this list of a coupla hundred on Goodreads!

3. Research a subject – the sky’s the limit (no pun intended). Read about Saturn’s myriad rings, the Milky Way, line dancing, serial killers, war (might need to narrow that field down a little). Much is made of developing character but your wonderfully multifaceted teeming-with-inner-life hero(ine)s need a world to move in – a profession or passion. Reading up on a subject is a guaranteed expressway to inspiration. The odd and fascinating worlds you open can also provide fuel for your theme. My short story ‘Illusion of Love’ began as a simple study of old lovers meeting up for a drink. While reading about memory which I fancied Jessica was studying I came upon the subject of art, and from there allowed my interest and instincts to lead me to illusions. Illusions in art were woven into the story and also helped form the title.

Image by Sathish J

4. Go back to basics – it’s amazing how much we forget without realising. Reconnect with the basics of grammar and you’ll learn new rules or remember others. In my first year as a professional writer I quickly learned there was a different rule for apostrophes and plural possession. I hadn’t even known I hadn’t known.
Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

5. Study story structure. We absorb much by osmosis – particularly what we love. If you’re writing, chances are you know a good deal about story structure. But what carpenter ever built a house without a plan? Dan Wells’ YouTube tutorial on story structure is excellent. And it’s free! Gotta love the internet.

6. Attend festivals – know what to expect from them and how to ‘behave’ there. I haven’t been to a writer’s conference or festival yet but I hope to soon – and I’m excited. I want to pitch my book to agents, meet up with other writers and feel at home with all the other crazy people who build word-worlds. There’s heaps of advice out there on what to do to prepare for a conference. Research. And get the best from it.

7. Cut – remove adjectives, clean up ambiguous sentences, solidify indecisive statements. Get rid of words like maybe, perhaps and sort of unless they are part of your character. Make your sentences stand with their feet planted squarely on the ground.

Image by runneralan2004

8. Critique someone’s work. Because we are all self-obsessed the process of critiquing someone else’s ms may well shine its brightest light on all the niggles that are present in your own project. It’s also a great way to look objectively at what works in a structure, where and why a story flags, what makes a character appealing, and where a writer is being lazy. Help your fellow writers, build your network, then shine that light back on your own work.

9. Understand the importance of theme – Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is a story about ‘Mischief, Mayhem and Soap’. Why? Soap springs up in many forms in Fight Club; it’s the symbol of the consumer society the unnamed narrator is rebelling against – and it’s made with the fat sucked from rich women’s thighs. The Paper Street Soap Company finances Fight Club and Project Mayhem. And it’s a mere chemical hop from soap-making to bomb-making. Read more about theme in Gotham Writer’s Workshop’s Writing Fiction: A Practical Guide.

Image by Geraint Warlow

Image by Geraint Warlow

10. Care about something. What do you need to say and why? Whether you think the world needs more music, or more meditations on poverty write what you truly care about. Don’t chase fallen angels or zombies or girls in Manolo’s unless you’re sure you can perform seventeen hundred rewrites about them. (Believe me).

George Orwell

Care. Then write.


How was your writing week?

Tangled | Image by sk8geek

Tangled | Image by sk8geek

What did you work on last week?

This weekend I went out to get air and space and write about Josef. He is complex, myriad, messy and he confuses me. From a literary perspective he frightens me. He doesn’t have a neat personality swatch.

I’ve written him already. I’ve written all the scenes he is in – all with Aimee. I have whole dramatic situations which haven’t made the cut – thus far. I’ve expanded him, contracted him, and I still struggle to know what to put in and what is extraneous.

However, I sat down with him, a glass of wine and a laksa and I just kept coming at him. His rules, his cruelties, his obsessions, his sweetness. I aimed to write slowly instead of running at him, over him, trying to skip the hard bits – he is intricate and exhausting. I aimed to drain one whole thread of his being at a time but my thoughts came out of order and I scribbled as much as I could; there were lots of arrows. I drafted analogies and imagery to support my claim that he is tangled and frightening. Soon I will find the way to make him neat enough for a reader – but he’ll never be perfect and I will never fully understand him.

That’s one thing I do know – that Aimee is never allowed to know what is inside him. She can only ever guess.

How did your writing week go?

What’s your favourite children’s book?


I have been lucky enough to read many of my favourite children’s books with my children. Enid Blyton is always the go to for my generation, and it’s been fun re-discovering Moonface and Silky and J’s love of Saucepan man (and 1950s puritanism).

My favourite children’s book is not a book I read as a child – though I loved the old BBC serialisation. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is a rich and evocative celebration of the Yorkshire moors that brings me to tears every time. I adore the idea of a secret garden, I love sour-faced Mary (J is endlessly fascinated by a ten year old girl who doesn’t know how to dress herself,) and we both revel in Martha’s breezy chatter and the star character – the Yorkshire dialect itself. It’s too full of prose for today’s child – I skipped text when I read it to J, but its essence remains; friends, animals, trees, flowers, secrets and redemption.

What books did you love as a child? Are they the same children’s books you love now?