Today, you’ve decided to get better at writing. General wisdom says there are only two ways to do so:
- Write more
- Read more
Reading develops your taste and your sense of what makes a good story. And the only way to actually create a story or a book, or whatever you’re working on, is to write.
Fine. But what if you want to write better, right now?
How can you become more creative instantly? How can you write with a sense of passionate urgency, and make the most magical words flow from your fingertips?
It can be done.
Here are 10 ways to improve your writing in 10 minutes or less. These writing techniques will help you focus and write some of the best words of your life.
Warning: after you read this, your writing process may change forever, and your confidence will blossom to new heights…
Let’s start writing better, right now:
1. Warm Up the Right Way
Your brain is not a muscle, but it does need time to warm up.
This is your best chance to dampen your self-criticism, and open the door for your creative mind to take control.
I love the analogy of preparing your mental altar for the sacred act of writing. Creation is the most wonderful thing human beings can do, and writing is one of the purest forms of creation.
With your words alone, you can turn thought into reality… even if it is fictional.
3 rules to perform a 5-minute writing warm up:
- Keep it short
The longer you spend warming up, the less time you’ll spend with the hard work of real writing. Don’t use warm-ups as procrastination.
- Do NOT focus on editing
When we warm up, we must refuse the desire to trim and cut and edit. So, let the words flow, and don’t change a single one.
We’ll talk more about this in a moment.
- Write whatever pops into your head
Some people write stream of consciousness when they warm up. They’ll write things like, “I’m staring at my mug. It’s half empty. There’s a picture on the mug that says…”
But, unless you’re writing in a very interesting place, this can get old. I try to match my writing warm-ups with the emotions I intend to write in my real writing session.
Let’s say, today, you want to write a scene where two characters bond.
In your warm-up, write about a memory of meeting your friend, or a scene from one of your favorite stories that feels similar.
Embellish it. Feel free to lie, to explore the senses of that moment.
Because these moments have already happened—or already been written—it’s easy to write about them. You don’t have to invent new structures or settings, you can just put the thoughts onto the page.
Now that you’re warmed up, it’s time to get to the real writing.
2. Outline Your Next Scene First
I used to think I was a discovery writer, the kind of person who takes a character and throws them into a situation, and writes without a plan.
Then, I tried outlining.
My word counts shot up. My characters got better. Best of all, my readers started raving about my stories.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a 500-word flash fiction, or a 500,000 word epic series; outlining is a powerful tool for improving your writing.
If you’ve never tried outlining before, try it with your next scene. It’s flexible, easy, and it can be done in a few minutes.
How to Rapidly Outline Your Scene
This is one of my favorite outlines for writing a scene:
- Want: what do the main characters of this scene want?
- Action: what action do they take?
- Change: what is the result of this action, and how does it affect their progress?
So much can come from those three verbs: Want, Action, Change. The possibilities are literally endless.
You can call your scene outline complete just by answering those three questions…
…or, you can go deeper, and write a bullet for each action or emotional beat that will happen in your scene. You’ll be amazed at how much more impactful your next scene becomes with this simple outline.
Also Read: The 7 Best Ways to Outline Your Novel
3. Use the Power of “the Middle Action”
Most authors I know tend to “think” through their fingers. Writing allows them to turn thoughts into concrete words.
That’s miraculous. No other life form (that we know of) can do anything like that.
But thinking through your fingers can hurt your ability to tell a story.
When you think through your story, you tend to start with the ideas that happen way before the real story is set in motion.
We don’t need to know how the Hobbits were created or who they descended from. We only need to know that a wizard with a pointy hat knocks on Bilbo’s door, and summons him away from his quiet life.
New writers especially start their stories way too early.
The easiest way to fix this?
Start In Media Res
In Media Res is Latin for “in the middle of the narrative.”
For you, this means start your story as close as possible to the major conflict.
Often, that means right in the middle of a scene – not at the hours and days leading up to that scene.
But what about your backstory? Aren’t the events that lead to this moment important?
Of course! However, when you start in media res, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to let the backstory bubble up during the action, like flecks of gold seen through a rushing stream.
Instead of wading through slow-moving backstory, this technique injects urgency into your scene, and lets you immediately dig into the powerful emotions that pull your readers deeper.
As a minor bonus, you can use this technique to bypass “first sentence syndrome.” So many writers will waffle around and get stuck on “how does this story start?”
Meanwhile, you get to sink your teeth in, and just start.
4. Push Your Characters Towards Progress
Great characters are the key to great stories.
Kurt Vonnegut once said:
“Make your characters want something right away, even if it’s only a glass of water.”
If you can give your character a powerful motivation, you’re on the right path.
After you choose a motivation, think about how you’re going to show the character’s progress to their goal:
- How far away is that goal?
- What obstacles might get in their way?
- What is the very next step they need to take, and how do they take it?
We love stories because we love watching our favorite characters progress.
So, when you next sit down to write, try crafting a scene where your character attempts to take the next step towards their goal. Emphasis on “attempt.”
The most interesting goals should be exceptionally difficult—if not impossible—to reach.
5. Cut Back on Characters (Seriously)
The problem of having too many characters is deadly. It can even bring a billion-dollar franchise to its knees.
If your story has too many characters, you’ll end up chasing too many threads, and the whole tapestry of your narrative will become a sprawling, confusing mess.
Who are we supposed to care about?
Your main characters won’t get the time they need to grow and shine, and your side characters will congeal together in a single amorphous blob.
If you take anything from this post, take this:
- Cut your redundant characters
- Blend interesting characters together
- Kill your darlings to create as small a cast as possible
The general rule is the longer your story, the more characters it can allow for. For more, see my guide on cutting out characters here.
6. Strangle Your Inner Perfectionist
If you suffer from constant editing and rewriting, this is the best way to improve your writing.
Use your bare hands if you have to.
One of the most painful writing blocks any author will experience comes from the desire to create “the perfect story,” or to craft “the perfect sentence,” or to find “the perfect word.”
Perfection is a myth.
First drafts are not meant to be beautiful, pristine works of art, lauded for all time. First drafts are meant to be messy, shaggy, multi-headed monsters.
Some of you might say, “But I want my story to be good.”
No, my friend. You want your story to be done.
Otherwise, you will chisel and polish the hand of a statue, while the rest of the marble is still buried underground. That hand is just going to chip and fall off when you finally dig it out.
7. Walk to Boost Your Creativity
I get stuck when I write.
Fortunately, there’s this wondrous place, brimming with inspiration. It never fails to refresh my mind, and help me come up with creative solutions.
This place is called “outside,” and, dear writer, it is everywhere. I’ll bet you have an outside near you.
Numerous studies have linked going outdoors with boosting creativity. Every writer I’ve ever admired had a habit of visiting nature (even those who lived in dense urban cities).
When I walk, I always bring my phone. It’s old, but it allows me to dictate my ideas into a note-taking app. Sometimes I even write entire scenes while I walk.
Walking and talking to myself makes me look like a lunatic. I don’t care. In my view, writing is the most productive form of lunacy, one that requires a well of fresh ideas.
You’d be amazed how many great ideas bubble up when you go outside, and take a few minutes to yourself.
8. Write for Fifth Graders
I’m not saying you should dumb down your stories.
I’m saying you should write in a way so that even 10-year-olds can fully comprehend your sentences.
Many of the world’s greatest authors wrote at a very low level, including Ernest Hemingway.
Cut back on flowery sentences, craft simpler sentences, and compose your thoughts in the simplest language possible.
Paradoxically, writing this way allows the story to ferment far more complex ideas. When you write simply, you are far more free to experiment with subtext, hidden meanings, and deep, emotional themes.
All this, while you also create a smoother reading experience for your readers.
9. Steal from the Masters
When I fall in love with a book—and I mean, really fall in love with it—sometimes I’ll take a favorite passage and copy it out, word for word.
It only takes a few paragraphs to gain the benefit of this technique.
Then, when I feel like I’ve captured the style and feeling of the passage, I’ll dive into my own work.
This exercise will help you write better for a few reasons:
- You’ll see, at the ground level, how great writing is put together
- You will naturally borrow the author’s style in a way that mixes with your own
- Because you’re borrowing from an author you love, you’ll end up with something you love
Copying an author you love means you’ll be copying (that is, learning) how to write something that is proven to make readers say, “this is AMAZING.”
Obviously, don’t plagiarize. Focus on their word choice, how they put sentences together, and the language they use to build a scene or execute an emotion.
10. Finish Something!
The first chapter is where most books go to die.
Too many writers spend forever working, reworking, editing, polishing, and rewriting that first chapter.
It doesn’t matter how good you make that first chapter. Or the second. Or the third.
If you don’t finish writing your book, then it’s automatically not a good book.
If the boat has a world-class outboard motor, but no hull… well, that motor ain’t going far, is it?
So if you want to write better, finish writing something.
And don’t worry about making it something “great.” Nobody agrees what constitutes great writing anyway.
One person’s trashy vampire romance is another writing, person’s favorite book of all time. And sometimes, that “trash” smashes records and becomes a global bestseller.
The most helpful advice I can give you to write better, right now, is to finish writing the story you’re working on now.
Nothing will teach you more. You’ll learn everything you need to know about characters, and plot, and setting, and hooking your readers with a compelling narrative ONLY after you finish something.
With that in mind…
Scroll up, and choose one of these techniques. Use it to jumpstart your writing, and go finish something today.
Need more writing fuel? Read this: The 7.5 Best Books for Writers