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How to improve, what to improve...

edited August 2015 in Writing
I'm not sure if my story is a typical one but here goes! Basically I'm a 33yr old guy who loves to read and wishes that I could be a better writer. I don't have particular aspirations to being a novellist or anything like that, but I enjoy contributing to online discussions and regularly write TripAdvisor reviews. I do also have a blog but don't really keep it up to date, primarily because I'm not sure it's interesting enough to read!

So my problem is that I would say I'm pretty good at picking up on good writing when I read it, but find it hard to write in a way that flows or can convey any particular emotion or humour. I work in IT and have in the past written quite a bit of technical documentation and received fair praise for it, so my writing tends to be very formal but not especially great to read (as you're probably already thinking...)

I wonder if part of the problem stems from the fact that I really didn't like English lessons at school and freely admit that my knowledge of the technicalities of writing is quite basic. Often times I find myself writing very long sentences and then going back over them, adding punctuation here and there but never really being sure it's in the right places. My vocabulary is reasonable though and my spelling generally excellent (for what it's worth in these days of ubiquitous spell-checkers...) Aspects of my grammar usage are strong (think "their, they're, there" etc.) but others very weak (think things like subject-verb agreement).

What I would like to know is where to go from here? Are there good online resources that could help me? I read plenty of books for fun and sometimes I do stop to analyse how particular paragraphs are written when they seem to flow so easily (or are funny or moving), but short of copying them exactly I wouldn't really know how to replicate the style.

This is my first post here but I'm hoping it's a friendly community and I'm looking forward to getting involved. Please be gentle though! :)


  • LizLiz
    edited August 2015
    Hey there, Willap.

    You don't have to be a novelist to be a writer.

    You seem to be doing lots of the right things (analysing etc.)

    I am a succinct writer, and I am a fan of being succinct.

    If you write a paragraph and think it is too long, try cutting it down by half, whilst still saying the same thing. Then try cutting a quarter off that. This is something that comes with experience, but doing it really hones your writing. The best writers say things in relatively few words, no extraneous adjectives or adverbs, plain, simple, direct English. If you can do this then your writing immediately becomes more interesting and pleasant to read.

    The technicalities of writing are easy to learn, and it seems to me you know them, so what you are searching for is a subject that allows you to be enthusiastic, so my advice would be to find something that interests you and write about that. If it interests you there will be others out there interested in it.

    You could start off by rewriting your comment above and see how much you can take away while still telling us the same thing.
  • Hi Liz,

    Great reply and thanks for taking the time to help me. You're right that when I see good writing, often I think it's because it gets straight to the point without feeling terse (in a bad way).

    I do love writing reviews and sharing my experiences with people so I definitely plan to continue that. I suppose like most writers my biggest critic is me, and often when I read back one of my reviews (be it days or months later) I find myself cringing at some of the sentences and wishing I could start over.

    Perhaps you're right and it would be good practise for me to take some past reviews and re-write them on my blog to see if I can refine them further.

    Thanks again,
  • Hi Willapp,
    Often times I find myself writing very long sentences and then going back over them,
    That's writing for you! It's usual for writers (all writers, not just novelists) to write drafts, then go back over them, rewriting and tweaking until it's as good as we can get it.

    If you can get something written and see it isn't perfect, you're a long way towards fixing it.
  • Willap, you have a good command of the written word. You're lucid, you make your point without wandering off into inconsequentialities; you use complex sentence structure, and you have a will to communicate your ideas.

    You don't have to have enjoyed English lessons at school; formal education can actually stifle a child's interest in a subject because it's taught in a way that doesn't and can't appeal to all. What matters is now. You read; you blog - go on, blog some more. It doesn't matter if no-one reads it - it's good for you to write regularly to a set word limit, about an event or a place or whatever it is that matters to you. No form of writing is a waste if it teaches you something, and what you seem to have learned is that you have to broaden or change your subject base to reach more people.

    What do you want to write? Fiction or non-fiction? Travel reviews are useful to many people, and you could make a name for yourself there (with a lot of hard work and a lot of luck, as is always the case!) Write what interests you; write what you want to say.

    No writer gets it right on the first pass; we all edit and re-edit in order to get to the final polished version. Bear in mind that what's perfect to you may not be perfect to the next person, beauty and the beholder being what they are, so aim for what satisfies your own inner critic.

    Simply - don't be afraid of trying. You've got the skills; what you need now is a subject and an outlet.

  • edited August 2015
    Hi Willapp, I agree with Mrs Bear - you have a good command of the written word, so don't worry on that score.
    I have always loved writing but I floundered for years because I just didn't know how to go about it! I kept starting stories and found myself unable to finish them. I knew I was capable of expressing myself, and I didn't know why I was finding it so difficult to get on with things. It was only when I entered a travel writing competition that required me to write a true account of a real event that I suddenly realised where I was going wrong... my field was non-fiction. So I began to write non-fiction and become a published travel writer.
    That was years ago and I'm now learning how to write fiction too.
    What I'm trying to say is, writing is a process - you have the skill, now it's time to experiment with different forms until you find your own voice.
    Good luck and welcome to this forum where you'll find loads of fantastic people who are ready to give support.
  • Agree with all that's been said.
  • Agree with all that's been said.
    I'm now soooo tempted to edit my post to say something completely different - possibly involving space ships and bananas.
  • ...really didn't like English lessons at school and freely admit that my knowledge of the technicalities of writing is quite basic...
    Mine is almost zero, but it doesn't stop me! :D

  • Just saying hello. Can't add much to what's been said except you've come to the right place for support and advice.
  • If you love to write...write.

    If you want to be a better writer...write more.

    Particular aspirations are nefarious little things that can sneak up on you when you least expect it. Not only would it vastly improve your writing skills to try different styles, you might even find yourself enjoying something you never thought you would. You might be a poet and not know it *ahem* sorry.

    Blogs are more interesting when they are regularly updated. The best article or post in the world won’t bring me back to a blog if I have to wait six months for the next one! Keep writing those posts, let the world decide if they’re interesting or not. Again, it’s all practice. If you got chance to practice in the Albert Hall you wouldn’t care if people turned up or not, because you’re just practicing. Keep that blog up to date, you never know what good it could do for your writing. Some of my best contacts have come from my posts, or me stumbling across someone else’s blog.

    Read! Read everything, in and out of your preferred genres. You’ll spot rules and conventions, and you’ll spot the rule breaking and the unorthodox. Learn the rules THEN learn how to break them.

    Don’t worry about English lessons (and don’t listen to have the bloody advice they gave you even if you do remember it!), they bear little relation on your ability to write other than the fact you might have to Google the odd ‘rule’ (and I mean odd) every now and again, but try not to get bogged down with that sort of stuff right now.

    I might get shot down for this, but you will pick up grammar as you go along. You’ll hear what does and doesn’t work when you read it aloud, and your beta readers will always be forthcoming with the red pen (whether you asked them to be or not!).

    Read Writing Magazine, stick on this forum, join any other you can find, traverse writing blogs using the recommended links on each…but…and it’s a big but…take only what you need.

    The best (and strangest) piece of writing advice there is…is don’t listen to writing advice.

    Ok, ok, read it – but take it all with a huge handful full of rock salt!
  • I am going to do this: read a book (or whatever you want) and make notes on how the writer does it, what you like and what you don't.
  • Sorry, I just want to say that I've read a lot, done a home course and a free future learn one(look for that it's good) but the best way to learn is through writing a lot.
    I'm still working on that one. You learn more about how you write and your process by doing it. Practice because no matter how much theory or advice you have without practice it's not worth anything (I learnt that too late I think)
  • ...a huge handful full...
    ...this was done intentionally as an example of writing advice to ignore *ahem*
  • Hi there Willapp - seems to me you're doing all the right things anyway. It helps if you put a completed piece away out of sight and mind for a short while. Then read it with 'fresh' eyes at a later date. The stuff you don't like will jump out at you and you can then give it a bit of a 'polish'. Oh... carry on writing and best wishes... I'm sure you'll find your particular writing niche eventually.
  • I'd just observe that writing for pleasure or fun and writing for money may be two different things.... but they both give us the opportunity to read in the genre(s) we enjoy, and to develop our own style while we fit into the genre(s) we want to work in.

    So writing good reviews (or good stories, or poems, or epic novels, or plays) will be easier if we absorb what's good in that field and apply it to our own (original) voice.

    Shorter is usually better than longer.

    So I'll leave it at that!!!
  • Hi Willapp.

    I don't know how I've missed this one for the last couple of weeks, but here goes.

    You write reviews. So do I - lots of them! In my case, it's mainly Amazon reviews of CDs, DVDs, books, etc. I keep track of which reviews receive the most helpful votes and try to work out what makes them different from my other reviews.

    "often when I read back one of my reviews (be it days or months later) I find myself cringing at some of the sentences and wishing I could start over." I lay in bed one night thinking about a review I'd written that day. I thought of improvements I could make and resolved to edit it the next day. Logged on to the computer the next day and my review had already had two helpful votes, so it remains unedited.

    Are you on Twitter? That's a great way to discipline yourself to trimming down your writing. Say what you want in no more than 140 characters - not easy!
  • I think you should start a niche blog and review something no one else does - garden gnomes, for example! Not really, but you see where I'm going! Have fun with your writing and try lots of different genres and styles. You'll find your thing as you go.
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