Monday 5 August 2019

A Dozen Ways to Hone Writing Skills

By Alyssa J. Montgomery

To date I have twelve published novels and three more books scheduled for release. I reflect on my novels and wish I could take the first couple of books back and rewrite them. That's a good thing because it means I've improved in my craft. Hopefully I'll look back on what I'm writing now and feel the same way in another few years, then I'll know I've grown as an author.

Writing is a craft which constantly needs to be honed. This came to light for me again at the end of last year when a lovely fellow romance writer critiqued a manuscript before it was submitted and pointed out a fundamental error - I had written 'He scratched his head in frustration'. She stated what should've been obvious to me - 'Leave it at 'He scratched his head' and let the reader figure out it was in frustration.'
Such a tiny, basic point and one I was well aware of, yet the error had slipped in to my writing and I hadn't identified it and polished it out.

With tight publishing schedules and all sorts of demands on our time as authors, how can we best continue to develop our skills so all the basic things become so fundamental we don't fall back into committing rookie errors a few years in to our careers?

1. Work with an editor.
Editorial guidance while writing a story is invaluable.

2. Read as many books as possible both within and outside the genres where we're published.
We can learn from others styles - what we like and what we don't like, what works and what doesn't work for us.

3. Attend conferences - even the odd boot camp. 
Although I was already published, I paid to attend a two day Boot Camp in New Orleans at a conference I went to some years ago. I was about to start another book and it was perfect timing because it forced me to revisit all the basics. Popular conferences will generally try to aim their workshops at various levels - aspiring, emerging and established authors - and have craft sessions to suit writers of different levels.

4. Look for on-line courses.
There are a plethora of these available. Speak to other authors and see if they've completed any they've found useful, or do a search for a topic you think might be one you specifically need to focus on.

5. Read back through 'How-to books
Don't let those old How-To books sit on the shelf and gather dust. Get them out and read them cover to cover, even if it's just a page at a time while you have your morning coffee or before you switch off your bedside light.

6. Be part of a writer's group/network.
Being around other writers not only stops the isolation so inherent in this profession, but allows for sharing of ideas and experiences. One of the things I find particularly useful in the Breathless in the Bush group is the way the group reads a title per month. At the monthly meeting there each person gives their opinion on the story/character development/appeal/writing techniques. Now I found last year I seldom had time to read the assigned title, but I certainly benefited from listening to the opinion of others and what to do and not to do is strongly reinforced.

8. Have your work critiqued by your peers.
If you can do this, it's gold! A great learning opportunity. When I was part of a critique group we found we each focused on different things when we were critiquing each other's work. All very valuable.

9. Surf the net for on-line articles
This can be very valuable even if it is time-consuming.

10. Read reviews and consider reader feedback.
Okay some people dread reviews but I'm not one of them. The only thing I don't appreciate in reviews is a reviewer giving away spoilers without spoiler alerts. If a reader doesn't like part of the story, that's fine. Sometimes I've learnt valuable things from reviewer comments, other times I might not relate to what they're saying, but then I accept it's a difference of taste. Someone commented an ending felt rushed. I've taken care since to ensure I spend a little longer wrapping up my stories. 

 11. Enter contests that give you feedback.
If you can handle the feedback and look at it as a way to improve your skills, great! Keep in mind, some feedback may be a matter of personal opinion and you can't please everybody all the time. 

12.Run courses
What better way to improve your craft than to teach it!

What do you do to ensure you continue to hone your writing skills?

Love to Love: Finding ways to improve.

Love to Laugh: At some of the errors I've made. (actually, I probably cringe more than laugh!)

Love to Learn: Through others critiquing my work.


  1. These are all wonderful and valid reasons to keep honing our skills. I'm looking forward to the Australian RWA conference for the same reasons

  2. Some worthy advice there, Alyssa! I'm a great believer in participating in workshops on writing craft, be they online or classroom-based. They force you re-visit all the things you thought you knew (but had actually forgotten ;) ). Kate Forsyth's 'History, Mystery and Magic' (through the AWC) was incredibly worthwhile.

  3. It's always great to have things reinforced, and sometimes presenters put things in such a way that it makes more sense than it has before...not to mention the new gems we can learn along the way from each other! See you in Melbourne at the RWA Conference.

  4. Thanks for all of these fabulous suggestions Alyssa. I love being part of our BITB writers’ group and find critiques of my work especially valuable.

    1. Critiques are invaluable because I think we really get too close to our own work so a fresh eye can see the plot point flaws or the things that we need to tighten or elaborate on. Good luck with your writing!

  5. All excellent things to do when honing your craft! I particularly love the 'excuse' of reading as much as possible in the genre. You can always say 'I'm working' when you're reading...wonderful!

  6. Ha! That is a great way to hone our craft!!


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