Happy birthday, Seekerville! Myra here. Wow, just think—all this began nine years ago when many of us still resided in little grass shacks on Unpubbed Island! Look how our mainland village has grown!
For my part in our birthday celebration, I’m offering nine proven ways to take your writing skills to the next level. I hope you’ll share a few of your own tips as well.
1. Study craft books. Many excellent resources have been mentioned here in Seekerville. I listed several of my personal favorites in my post “The Writer’s Reference Shelf” (March 10, 2009). To that list I’d also add:
- The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success, by Stanley D. Williams
- Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between, by James Scott Bell
2. Take online classes. Writers’ organizations like ACFW and RWA offer a variety of online courses available to members at no charge or for nominal fees. I’m currently enrolled in an RWA course on author newsletters. ACFW’s online course archives are available for any member to peruse. Topics include self-editing, writing a novella, marketing, research, and many more.
Many writers have also benefited from taking one or more of Margie Lawson’s Writer’s Academy courses. Check out her offerings here, and also see what’s available under her menu tab for Lecture Packets, which are archived lessons from previous online classes. You won’t have the benefit of daily instructor feedback, but there’s plenty of valuable information to study and absorb at your own pace.
3. Analyze good books. In my February 11, 2014, post, “Read Like a Writer . . . Then Write Like a Reader,” I offered several pointers for how to study and learn from novels by other authors.
Another method for analyzing a novel—a book you’re reading or your own work-in-progress—is described in the blog post A Taste of the EDITS System by Margie Lawson. Here, Margie describes how to use different colored highlighters and pens to mark various components of a scene. When you see all the colors laid out on the page, it can help you see where there might be too much of one thing or not enough of another. In analyzing a published novel, highlighting can give you visual clues as to the author’s style and technique, and you can judge for yourself what works and what doesn’t.
4. Join a critique group. Here again, your membership in a writer’s organization is the best place to start. ACFW members can access critique group information here. For RWA members, click here. Or, if you participate in a local writing chapter, that could be the best place to look for a critique partner or group.
Remember, critique groups or partnerships are not “one size fits all.” Tina Radcliffe shared her advice in “The Art of Critique” (May 23, 2013). Seekervillagers Naomi Rawlings and Melissa Jagears described their experience as critique partners in “CPFs – Finding and Keeping a Critique Partner Forever (or at least for 3 years…)” (September 11, 2013).
5. Attend conferences. In addition to the annual ACFW and RWA conferences, Debby Giusti described several others worth checking out in her post “Writing Conferences Across America” (July 18, 2012). If a national conference seems too overwhelming (or too expensive!), investigate smaller regional conferences, which may offer equally informative workshops if not quite as many choices.
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and attend a conference, review Seekerville guest Kathleen Y’Barbo’s tips in “Making the Most of Your Conference Experience” (July 11, 2014).
6. Follow industry blogs and websites. We love our Seekervillagers and want you to keep coming back, but you should be aware of other blogs and websites out there where you can glean additional helpful information on the writing craft as well as the publishing industry in general. Here are several you can check out:
- The Steve Laube Agency Blog
- Jane Friedman
- The Write Conversation
- ACFW Blog
- Seriously Write
- The Creative Penn
- Writers Helping Writers
- Writer Unboxed
- Story Mastery
- Author Earnings
- The Literary Entrepreneur
- Helping Writers Become Authors
- The Ambitious Author
For even more websites and blogs that might be of interest, visit the Links tab at the top of our page.
7. Master basic grammar skills. As Grammar Queen reminds us every chance she gets, language and grammar are the tools of our trade. We owe it to ourselves—and to our editors and eventually our readers—to handle the English language with the same level of skill we apply to mastering point of view, description, characterization, plotting, and every other aspect of writing a book.
You can review all of Grammar Queen’s Seekerville lectures here.
GQ’s favorite grammar reference books include:
- Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation, by Anne Stilman
- The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson, by June Casagrande
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White
- The Synonym Finder
8. Enter manuscript contests. Once you’ve gotten feedback on your manuscript from your critique group or perhaps a mentor/coach, you might be ready to enter your work in a contest. As so many Seekerville Contest Divas have said, manuscript contests can be a great way to get fresh eyes on your story, along with valuable feedback from the judges. Finalists may even get their manuscript in front of an editor or agent, and who knows where that could lead!
For a complete rundown of writing contests, check out Seekerville’s monthly Contest Updates.
9. Write every day. You know the old saying about how to get to Carnegie Hall . . . practice, practice, practice! Writing is no different. If you want to improve, you have to write, regularly and often! You can’t always wait for the muse to show up. Examine your daily routine and figure out where you can schedule in writing time. Treat it like an appointment—write it on the calendar if you need to—and honor that time as you would any other appointment.
If at all possible, create a place you’ll use just for writing—an unused guest room, a closet, a quiet corner of the living room, or even one end of the kitchen table if that’s the only available space. Have all your tools within easy reach—computer, tablet and pens, reference books, etc.—so you don’t have to go hunt everything down each time you’re ready to get to work.
About Myra: Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards and winner of Christian Retailing’s Best for historical fiction. Originally from Texas but now residing in the beautiful Carolinas, Myra and her husband love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”