As a creative writer, you know how important it is to hone your craft. In the same way that an artist invests time in taking drawing classes when they’re in college, you understand how beneficial it is to learn all the theory behind your writing. Whether you’re a fiction writer or a poet, whether you write memoir-style tales about your adventures traveling, there’s always more to learn. You love to write, and there’s nothing better than sitting at your favorite cafe or your desk at home and writing what’s in your heart. But sometimes, you need to stop, take stock, and think about how to improve it.
If you aren’t sure where to start, there are lots of ways to get better as a writer. From reading your favorite authors again to learning from a mentor at an MFA program, here are some of the best ways to improve your creative writing.
Read your favorite books again (and new ones, too)
For any writer, you started writing because of your love of literature. Maybe it was those first few lines of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye that got to you; maybe it was Sylvia Plath in her collection Ariel, tugging at your heartstrings with her rhythm and her sadness. Whatever book or author it was that made you fall in love with literature, it’s time to get lost in it again. Because that’s one of the best ways to learn: by imitation. Make notes in the margins of what your favorite authors are doing well, whether it’s dialogue or voice, and challenge yourself to pull it off in the same way.
Once you’ve reread some of your favorites, it’s a smart idea to read new books. Go to your local library and ask if they host any book clubs. Think about what project you’re working on currently, and think about what books would help you out. For example, if you’re writing a book that’s all in emails, take a look at epistolary novels.
And if you’re a crime writer, definitely become an expert in the genre: British retail sales of crime went up 19 percent between 2015 to 2017, which is a great improvement in a world where literature is supposedly “dying.”
Take a writing class
Some of us work best when we’re alone. But even the most solitary of writers need some help sometimes from friends or editors. Ernest Hemingway had Gertrude Stein helping him with his work; Raymond Carver had Gordon Lish cutting down his stories so that they have the stark, poetic nature that he’s so famous for today. If you’re more into being solitary, get a writing partner. But if you think you’d benefit from sharing your work with a group of people, it’s smart to take a writing class or join a writers’ group.
Additionally, consider enrolling in an MFA program. Even though writers aren’t exactly famous for making much money and student debt plagues American universities, you might be surprised. MFAs are usually quite affordable. Many of them offer tuition remission, and will often give you extra money in the form of fellowships or TAships. How can you say no to all this, when you’re getting one to three years to focus solely on your writing?
To give you an idea, Naropa University offers scholarships and graduate assistantships, and more than 75 percent of their grad students receive federal financial aid. To learn more about the fully-funded programs, take a look at this list.
Have some new experiences
The most important element of being a writer is writing as much as you can. Any writer needs to have a daily routine where they focus entirely on their craft and force themselves to write even when inspiration doesn’t come. But another element that is almost as important is experience. Life is full of experience and feeling, and that is where great literature comes from.
According to The Creative Penn, “As writers mature, their content and style are increasingly influenced by their life experiences, which can become a crucial part of the writing process. Whether it’s a scene or location that you long to recreate, a nuance of someone’s personality that is just what your character needs, or the recall of a hurtful feeling that helps portray emotion… each could be valuable.”
In 2017, poetry book sales increased 66 percent over the last five years--and it’s no surprise, considering the state of the world we live in today. Living in a crazy, fast-paced time, where people are craving the emotions and experience that only a writer can give them, means that it’s a good time for you to learn from your experiences and write.
These are some of the best ways to improve your creative writing skills. What other strategies do you use to get better at your craft?