Where writing is concerned, let’s face the facts: the game isn’t the same now as what it was for our parents or their parents before them. Like almost everything within our society, change keeps us current, defines us as leaders or followers, and in the best case scenario, helps us to grow and evolve both as individuals and as a greater whole. Fortunately, reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary, and as a writer, you should be aware of (and working on) several constants if you really want to step up your game.
Find Your Voice
Roughly one quarter of the quality of your work can be attributed to your “voice”; the characteristic which communicates some truth about yourself whether individually, part of a group, or lost somewhere in between. The concept sounds simple enough, but many writers produce several publications before ever truly finding their voice. Some of that is undoubtedly caused by the demand, that everything we do as a culture should be profitable, but your voice as a writer isn’t something that one could find on a timeline, either; most will stumble upon it when their hands are too cramped to write another word.
Your voice is your passion, your anxieties, personality which comes through in certain phrases but holds back in others; your voice is who’s left in the words written after you stop reading them. When friends and family read your work, do they hear your voice as they read, or are they reading in theirs? Can anyone read your unsigned work and still know, that the writing is yours? Can strangers discern insights of your character from your writing? All of these ideas are part of your voice as a writer, and like you, your voice will likely change with you, but once you’ve got a grasp on who you are in your work, the other concepts should be easier to understand.
Practice Quality Grammar
Finding your voice is a good place to start, but even the strongest of voices can lose an audience with, “He don’t care what your doin.” Misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, logical fallacies… all of these are common problems in a very broad writing world, and even in the department of poetry, certain rules of grammar can make or break your work (and as a point of interest, if any of the issues mentioned sound foreign to you, remember that you’re not alone).
Learning proper grammar is as simple as picking up an English composition textbook. Many writers, however, struggle with dyslexia and other educational conditions which make sitting down with a (dull) book less than appealing. Instead, make a habit of practicing quality grammar. Taking shortcuts is common practice in our fast-paced, glowing-screened world, but emoticons, emojis, shorthand, and slang are all enemies of grammar, so teach yourself to live (and write) without them. Then remember to always remain open to feedback, since other readers will be your best source of constructive criticism. Again, utilizing proper grammar can take a long time and many poorly constructed sentences, but without it, your writing will remain little more than gibberish.
Dots, Dashes, and Much More
Another piece of the puzzle for successful writers is the bane of many an author’s existence: punctuation. Though admittedly less required than other facets of writing, you will be hard-pressed to find a publisher who will print 200 pages of completely unpunctuated text. Even though most of us can get by with our text messages lacking any punctuation and status updates keeping it to a minimum, you will not succeed as a writer if you don’t know the rules and practice them (and yes, that includes the dreaded ” s’ “).
Just like grammar, the best way to learn how to write with top-notch punctuation is to use it. Sure, you can read a book, too, but the basics are still taught in grade school, and the rules aren’t difficult. Simply start using the various ticks and hashmarks, though, and you’ll be surprised how naturally your thumbs and fingers learn to type them! Once you’ve got the easy stuff down, grow and expand! Throw in some semicolons for fun, dish out some fancy [brackets], and see where the night takes you.
Believe it or not, a huge vocabulary reserve is unnecessary for a writer. Can it help? Absolutely! A greater vocabulary can dramatically increase one’s ability to paint a picture through written word, but as Winston Churchill said, “Short words are the best, and the old words the best of all.” To illustrate further, not many people can recall a full verse of Shakespeare’s, “The Raven,” but many more know almost every verse of, Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. While a broad vocabulary will definitely enable you to stand out more, don’t focus too much energy in this endeavor; words will find you as the years go on. If you don’t know a word you see or hear, look it up before you forget it, and voila! Word bank expanded! Now all you need is a way to use it.
Focus on these concepts as you write, and as you add different lessons of grammar, new pieces of punctuation, and word after word to your repertoire, your voice as a writer will continue to grow and evolve, as well. Remember, too: no one is rushing! Developing as a writer takes time, but as long as you stick to it, eventually you will find all the enjoyment you could have asked for.
The calling to write is ongoing, and as changing individuals in a changing world, its our responsibility to continually add to our ability lest we become stagnant. Even though the subjects of our work and the ways in which we detail them will change with time, as well, these four constants keep writers of the first century connected to those of the last; how much you take them to heart will determine where you stand among them.
In coming weeks, Samuel, will be exploring a wide variety of craft-related topics. We look forward to sharing these with our readers and community members.
Samuel Blake ǀ @herheart_oncraft
Her Heart Poetry’s ON CRAFT area will be evolving over the coming months, but as Associate Editor, Samuel’s goal is to both educate and inspire readers and writers of all calibres. ON CRAFT articles will be published to teach about a different facet of creative writing.