Caleb Cheong wrote:Would you mind giving me some advice as to how to cultivate habits of being a better writer? As a complete beginner, are there habits that I can cultivate or attitudes to be inculcated?
Are there any reading lists which you would recommend?
RachelM wrote:I'd also love to hear any advice you have for cultivating good writing habits. Do you recommend writing for a specific amount of time each day?
I have decided to work on writing articles with the hopes of being published in magazines or online sites. Would you recommend getting articles edited before sending them to a magazine's editor? I would likely have a couple of mistakes in my writing, even if I went over it carefully. Would that affect its chances of being published?
Caleb and Rachel, I"ll answer your questions together, since they're similar.
Good writing habits--that's an interesting question. When I was teaching, one of the buzzwords we educators liked to toss around was "multiple intelligences." Whole books have been written on the subject, so I'll grossly over-simplify it here: people learn and work in different ways
So it would be difficult for me to say that any one particular habit will work for both Caleb and Rachel (or for any other writer). What works for Caleb might drive Rachel nuts, and actually make her a worse writer. Instead, I'll suggest a few things that might work for some writers, and encourage you to try them out, and to use this list to explore other things that might work for you.
1. You already know your most productive time of day, and there are lots of variables that enter into that: family, your own body's preferences, your job, other things that need to be done. But whatever that time is, prioritize it
. That will mean different things to different people.
2. Similarly, it's good to have a specific writing place. Not everyone will be able to have a "writer's retreat" separate from the rest of their lives, but find a way to place yourself in an atmosphere that's conducive to writing. Think about things like furniture, lighting, and temperature. Most important, in my opinion--minimizing distractions.
3. About distractions: some people work best when there's music playing. I'm not one of them. I'm too finely tuned in to music; if there are voices, I'm going to want to sing along, and if it's instrumental, I'm going to hum. And my little brain can't handle that kind of multitasking. But if music works for you, find the kinds of music that make you most productive. However, I don't care to work in total silence, which is just as distracting to me. A news program playing in the background is just the right level of noise--but you'll want to find the noise level that's best for you.
4. Same thing goes for food and drink. And clothing. And whether the cat gets to be in the room. And how long you can work without giving yourself a break. And balancing exercise with work. You just have to know what works for you.5. This is the one that I recommend for EVERYONE, though. In order to be a good writer, you really have to be a good reader. I'm going to separate this into a few sub-points:
a. People who read lots and lots and lots of books have a better vocabulary, a better grasp of the world, a finer appreciation of allusion, more cultural references, and I could go on and on. Read, read, read.
b. If there's a particular genre that you hope to break into--read, read, read in that genre. You'll discover what kinds of things are being published in that genre, and any expected norms. In addition, you'll become familiar with publishers who are working with your genre.
c. Read like a writer. Analyze as you're reading; if you find a sentence that works particularly well, figure out why. If you notice that a writer has a particular quirk of writing, determine why the writer does that, and if you think it works. It will take you more time to read this way, and if you're a person who likes to devour books (because let's face it, books are wonderful), you may have to give books that particularly speak to you a second read in which you do the "critical" reading.
d. Don't read bad writing, if you can help it. And just because a book is popular, that doesn't mean the writing is good. Learn to discern good writing from bad, but if you're not sure, read reviews by professional book reviewers and pick up those books that are highly recommended.
Now--Caleb asked about reading lists. I recommend a grammar guide or style manual, for handy reference. Your questions about comma usage or whether to use "effect" or "affect" can be answered online, too--but some of the advice you'll find online is contradictory and from dubious sources. If you'd rather do your self-editing online, find a site that you trust, and know your sources.
I'd also recommend that you read books about writing
by writers you admire. "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott was such a book for me, or "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard.
Finally, Rachel asked about editing. I definitely recommend that you have your work edited before you submit it for publication. A polished work will be far more likely to be considered. Although magazines and publishing houses have their own editors and will certainly do more tweaking of your piece once they've accepted it, it'll never get to that point if they decline to give it a look because of multiple errors. If you have a writing friend who is very knowledgeable about these things, you might
have her do the edit for you--but I really don't recommend this. A professional edit is really what you need.
I hope I've covered your questions. It would have been easier, I know, to just give a very specific list of habits guaranteed to make you a better writer, but that just doesn't exist--God made us all so wonderfully different, and we just have to work out for ourselves what works best for us.