Improving the craft of writing

Writing anything, fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or other, is best done by writing. How do you know if your writing is good? How do you improve the craft of writing?

We applaud everyone who has self-published. However, the advantage of traditional publishing over self-publishing is that traditional publishers use editors and acquisition staff and work with an author to improve those works. There is no requirement for a self-published author to do that.

KJ Matthews loves working with teenagers and young adults, and one of her goals, when she is more comfortable with the publishing industry, is to mentor beginning writers. It is hard, therefore, to see young people with a published book to their name, but that book is woefully under-edited. One such young author had an amazing cover, not quite on genre, but eye-catching, his blurb was decent. It had a great hook, kept the tension up and read fine. But when KJ Matthews looked at the Look Inside feature, the book was poorly edited. In the first few pages, many plot holes were already apparent. Unfortunately, at this stage, the young man cannot see the issues with his own work.

Another fledging (but much older) writer Jayne Thornber knows, and has amazing ideas for fan fict (work derived from existing worlds, movies, characters etc – legalities around publishing exist. Investigate if you want to publish fan fiction). His imagination surpassed his ability to create images in other people’s heads. But he invests time in improving his craft. Jayne is looking forward to reading his work in several years when his skills have increased to match his imagination.

Before publishing anything, KJ Matthews and Jayne Thornber wrote for decades (probably too long). However, that time did allow them to develop the craft of writing.

Take this early opening paragraph of a fantasy sci-fi that KJ wrote

The duel suns rose together.  The king died.  His son, tall, regal, royal: rose from beside the sick bed and nodded to the doctor.

“The king died.” This is a statement. We don’t know the king, and we don’t know anything at this stage except the setting is on an alien world, and they are ruled by a monarchy. When KJ gets back to this story, the king won’t die in the second sentence. She will use her skills and show the devastation it means for the planet that their ruler is now dead. She will use words to craft images of candlelight vigils outside the palace gates, perhaps sung prayers will waft through the windows along with the scent of sandalwood. Only KJ knows. But by studying other authors, attending writing workshops (the majority free–KJ loves a good bargain), and participating in critique groups (local libraries are a great place to find an in-person one), KJ more easily identify poorly written work and can go back and either completely rewrite (as in our example), or modify what is already there.

Don’t underestimate the power of reading books on how to write.

For now, happy writing.

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