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This guide is for people who are trying to become better writers (those who want to get published).  This is not for people who write only to express themselves; while that’s a valid reason to write, this is not the guide for them.

This is long, but I call this 'quick tips' because they're a distillation of what I've learned in the last couple of years.  

I.  Non-writing steps

Read.  Read poetry, read novels, read non-fiction.  Read newspapers.  Read non-fiction.  Read about different time periods.  Read literary theory and criticism.  Read critiques other people have left on writing on dA.  Read some prose and all poetry out loud and listen to the effects of sound.  The more you read, the more you will know, and the more you will notice clichés, which will make it easier to avoid them.

Pay attention in English class.  A bad teacher is no excuse to slack off.  You’ll only be hurting yourself.

Discuss what you read.  Talk about it with book-loving friends.  Talk to your English teachers or professors before or after class.  Ask questions to the internet, your friends, your teachers.  Pay attention in class and speak up in class discussions, even if no one else does.  Have friendly brawls and spirited debates in the literature forum.  Make mistakes, be wrong, learn, grow, be right.  You will learn two or three times as much about literature that way.

Ask yourself questions.  Consider everything you read to be a tutorial in itself.   ‘Why,’‘how,’ and ‘what’ will be the most important.  Why is this poem considered a masterpiece?  Why did this piece of writing make me cry?  Why did the poet break the line here?  Why did the writer use ‘swallow’ instead of ‘bluebird’?  How does this form work?  How can I replicate this feeling in my own work?  What did the writer do right, and what did they do that wasn’t so good?  What do the woods stand for?

Critique or mentally critique what you read.  What worked for this piece of writing?  Why?  What didn’t work for the piece of writing?  Why?  Which parts were the best and worst, and why?  Were there devices?  How well did they work?

A lot of writers complain that they don’t get much critique.  You don’t need to receive critique.  You need to give critique, and that will teach you about your own writing.  If you wait around for other people to help you, you will waste time when you could be helping yourself.

When you’re waiting for the bus, or you’re bored in calculus, ask yourself what good writing is.  What is the difference between literature and good writing, if there is one?  What is the difference between a masterpiece of a poem and a nursery rhyme?  What is the difference between Dan Brown and Charles Dickens?

***Form your own opinions and be able to back them up.  This step is one of the most important things you will ever do when it comes to your writing.  You need to know what you consider to be the difference between writing and literature, what you consider the best literature, and you need an idea of what you want your writing to become.  No one’s going to hand you your own opinions.  You will form them naturally by reading and critiquing.  You will learn to back them up by discussing and debating them.  You will learn which of your opinions you may need to revise by losing debates; you will learn which of your opinions stands up to criticism by winning.  There’s a reason we tell you to read, critique, and debate.

Throw away your excuses.  A lot of people use ‘but I was never taught’ as an excuse for ignorance.  You are in charge of your own education.  Use your libraries.  Read books the libraries don’t have in the middle of bookstores.  If you are reading this, you have access to the vast reserves of information that make up the internet.  Use it.

Learn to be a better reader.  Learn to look for symbolism.  Hint: if you come across an object multiple times in the same novel, that object is probably a symbol.  If you add symbolism to your own writing, avoid the clichés (roses/dying roses for love, doves for love/peace, snakes for evil, journeys or paths symbolizing life, a maturing field to symbolize the maturity of life, etc.).

Learn the names of literary devices, and learn to identify them.  This will be easier if you’re doing it in conjunction with critiquing.

Learn to listen for sounds and sound devices.  This will be easier if you’re reading the writing aloud (see 1).  What effects do these sounds have?

Learn basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  If you call yourself a writer, try to present yourself like one.  Dyslexics, you’re going to have a harder time of it, but you still need to do it.

II. Writing steps

Experiment with writing all kinds of literature.  Poets, try writing prose.  Prose writers, try writing poetry.  Try poetic prose and prose poetry.  Scripts, anyone?

Experiment with styles and forms.  Write pieces in the styles of other writers.  This should be easy if you’ve done a little critiquing and have learned how to identify literary devices.  Use all of them.  Use meters in at least half a dozen pieces.  Save end-rhyme for last.

Experiment with symbolism.  Experiment with metaphor and simile.  Make sure your piece is still understandable on some level.  Perfect writing clearly before you start being cryptic.

Experiment with tone and voice.  Try writing like a 35-year-old housewife and a 68-year-old veteran.  If you’re an atheist, try writing about God like you believe in Him.  If you’re a Republican, try writing like a Democrat.  Leave your stereotypes outside the margins.  Borrow Whitman’s voice, or Larkin’s, or Dickinson’s, but only for a short time.  


Cut out abstractions in favor of imagery; words like ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’ mean nothing.  Lots of people think Chihuahuas are cute, but if you’d never seen one, you’d be very surprised when you learned they look like bald rats.  ‘Bald rats’ is imagery that gives an idea of what Chihuahuas look like.  ‘Cute’ is an abstraction that tells us nothing about the size, shape, appearance, smell, sound, etc. of Chihuahuas.

Cut out half the modifiers you use in favor of better nouns and verbs (turn ‘tall building’ into ‘skyscraper’).  Cut articles, conjunctions, redundancy.  Cut anything that isn’t strictly necessary.  Did you experiment with devices?  Awesome.  Are some not doing their job?  Cut them.

Keep it interesting.  Pronouns are not interesting; use some, but not too many.  “Go” and “walked” are not interesting in and of themselves.  It may be tempting to start a story with the cliché of a character waking up, but it’s not interesting unless there’s something more happening than getting ready for school or work.  “This/It is” and “There/They are” happen to be the two most useless sentence openings; all they say is ‘this exists.’  Prose writers can sometimes make these work; in poetry, they’re often a waste of space.

Keep some tricks in the bag.  Explicit images used for shock value will gain you some readers, sure.  It will also turn some readers away.  You may intend this in a poem about sex, but if you’re writing about a serious issue, you may want to tone it down.

Keep it moving.  A poem should progress—something should happen in the poem.  Maybe it’s a physical happening, maybe emotional, maybe a mental shift, a realization, a change in perspective.  A piece of prose should have a conflict.  A short story should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

III.  Miscellany

Poets: Stop trying only to capture emotion.  Any thirteen-year-old having a bad hair day can write with emotion and add line breaks.  Since we all share the same small set of emotions, why should the reader care about your love when they have or had their own?  Make the emotion new and different; set it apart as something unique.  Emotion plus unique (non-cliched) images, metaphor, and maybe symbolism and/or an idea behind it?  Tightly-knit nouns and verbs light on the modifiers, articles, and other filler?  All this and sound devices?  Now you’re getting somewhere.

Prose writers:  Keep it simple.  You are the only one who cares that your character has seven piercings and a birthmark shaped like Mickey Mouse behind her knee, or that everyone in Walla Walla Blinkerville speaks Wallawallese.  If you can tell the story without backstory, do it.  If you can rewrite the chapter using half the words and saying the same thing, do it.  Give characters names that your readers will be able to pronounce, or they will stumble over the name every time, disrupting the ‘flow’ of your writing.  Use the active voice instead of the passive.  If you don’t know what that means, learn it.

Revise.  Erasers aren’t just on pencils for the artists.  You can always go back to an earlier draft.

Set goals for yourself.  What do you want your writing to be like?  Would you rather have a description-rich, metaphor-heavy style like Raymond Chandler or would you prefer something more like Hemingway’s sparse prose?  Do you want to learn how to use the long line like Whitman and Ginsberg?  Do you want to keep a conversational style or transition to a more formal one?  Are you going for sentimental like Brideshead Revisited or matter-of-fact, like 1984?  Neither?

Hold yourself to a higher standard.  Hold your peers to a higher standard.  If you want to be a published writer, you’re going to have to write better than 95% of the writers on dA.  If you want to be a great writer, you’re going to have to write better than at least 99% of the writers on dA.  If you settle for average writing, you will fail on both counts.  You should always be looking to improve, by reading, debating, critiquing, and writing.  Since you’re critiquing, you will be helping your peers, too, and they might repay you by critiquing you when you need it.  Everyone wins.
Add a Comment:
SteelDollS Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2017
Link to active versus passive voice examples please.
Gameinggod1 Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for the tips. I love to write stories and I know this will help me a lot.
dragoeniex Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2013
*raises hand* I'd read a story that mentioned Wallawallese. It sounds like a fun detail to slip into a short, humorous work. Maybe the whole town is nonsensical?

Thanks for the quick tips. :) There are a few in here I don't think about as often as I should. The entry as a whole reads well, and it shows the effort that went into it.
Lacewinged-Beauty Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012   Writer

This is excellent!
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Your work is featured here! :D
SparrowSong Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you. :) I needed a boost.
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Well, if it makes you feel good about it, I link to your enjambment article for practically every poetry critique that I write around here. It is a wonderful resource for new poets. Taught me a lot about writing poetry. :D
SparrowSong Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you. :)
Mothhawk Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for writing this! I needed the advice.
SparrowSong Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome!
Eli-ArsNexus Featured By Owner May 2, 2010  Professional General Artist
Good article.
As a book-worm, I especially like the advice about reading a lot before attempting to write in a more serious and/or effective manner and try to broaden your knowledge about the written word.
On the topic of roses... I tackled those down in a fanfiction drabble once. Some of the clichès and the choice of flower were unavoidable as they were tied in to the character (Mamoru/Endymion, anyone? ), but there are other layers (as many as the numbers of a rose's petal, in true Middle Age symbolist fashion XD ) to a rose besides love.
Metaphors and imagery can be such fun to explore and fiddle with :D, I totally share your appreciation of those.
SparrowSong Featured By Owner May 3, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Eli-ArsNexus Featured By Owner May 6, 2010  Professional General Artist
thank you for the clear and wise article :D
jacobsmacob Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
wow..this actually helps!! it give me hope that i may not be such a suckish writer afterall!! :D yay! thank you! i shall try your wise advice!

YellowCommodore Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2009
Brilliant advice - very useful. Thank you. =D
kaiti-sukai Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2009
Some of it's good advice, but some of it I must respectfully disagree with. Lovecraft probably could've written using half the words he did and said the same thing - yet his work is masterful. Not all writing needs to be sparse. Some people do enjoy adjectival writing.
Hobbit-Almighty Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2009
This is extremely helpful; thanks ^SparrowSong!
AinuLaire Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2009
Awesome article.

Interestingly enough, I have become to be so simple about my character's appearances that my beta (editor) complained about it. I learned the whole 'too much character description is bad' and seemed to have stop using it XD It's difficult to find that perfect balance
Queenhypershadow Featured By Owner May 29, 2009
All I can say is thank you for this advice. As a writer who wants her books to be published, this motivated me on a lazy day.
FalconChain Featured By Owner May 29, 2009
This is so helpful. Thank you so much for sharing. ^_^
yilya4 Featured By Owner May 28, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Really good! It's a big help:) I would love to know were you learned all?
Death-By-Darkness Featured By Owner May 27, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
thanks for the Tips... it will be very helpfull with writing my first book
Thanks a Million!!!
narutoluvr4evr Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Absolutely love it. This is the most helpful article about writing that I've ever read. Thank you!

Also, I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding, but I think I see a grammatic error. Your sentence about abstract imagery states, "Lots of people think Chihuahuas are cute, but if you’d never seen one, you’d be very surprised when you learned they look like bald rats." If I'm right, I think that these "people" haven't seen Chihuahuas yet. Shouldn't the sentence read, "Lots of people think Chihuahuas are cute, but if you've never seen one, you'd (or you'll? I don't remember) be very surprised when you learn they look like bald rats."?

I'm sorry if I sound nick-picky. I'm terribly sorry if I'm wrong about this. I haven't had formal grammar lessons yet.
SparrowSong Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
I think the confusion comes because I'm using the same set of symbols ('d) with two different meanings.

"...if you [had] never seen one, you [would] be very surprised..."
narutoluvr4evr Featured By Owner May 27, 2009
Ah! That makes more sense! Thank you and sorry! ^^;
SparrowSong Featured By Owner May 27, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome, and you have nothing to apologize for. :)
alwazthere4you Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! :heart:
Vypor Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Thank you. C:
This helps a lot.

I myself am a writer, and have only discovered this gift after experimenting with a story here on DA.

Since then, it has all been a learning experience for me. As I write, I learn. I receive feedback from my readers here, what I lacked in, and what I excelled in.

It's been an incredibly helpful and exciting experience for me. :)
And all my fans have really encouraged me to push on harder with it.
a-lexaa Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
really helpful!
mariferh Featured By Owner May 26, 2009   Writer
One of the most usefull articles I've read.
Thanks for writting it! =]
jacenleonhart Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
This is just what I needed. Thanks so much!
Delicatesilver Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Definitely helpful! Thanks so much for writing this!
VodunToivoa Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
I actually learned a lot of this by reading different time periods, etc.
but, it's nice someone can put it in words. Thanks!
Nintendo-Nut1 Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Professional Digital Artist
Ooh. I recognize some points as those I keep telling people, but others I never thougnt of. Very cool. ^^
LunasGirl Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Excellent! Thank you for this!
serafinaG Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Whoever you are you need to promote yourself.
This is valid and worth sharing.
SpecialAgentArtemis Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
This is really helpful. I'm an aspiring author myself, and I could use all the tips I can get. And this a wondrful article, amazingly well done. Kudos.
Weird-Oddball-Girl Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Great tips, I'll have to use them. :)
callanerial Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
PhantomInvader Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Oh, wow! Awesome suggestions here. These'll help me keep on track for sure. I tend to ramble in my prose.
Laesuric Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
This is a great set of tips! The next time one of my friends comes to me and asks for some writing tips, I'll make them read this at the end. :D
Tatooine92 Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Student Writer
*clicks print* I'm keeping this by my keyboard.

Also, my short-term memory needs a little work, because I'm not sure if this got mentioned or not, but another good tip is to just write *a lot*. My English book is always telling me to just write a first draft without stopping for little details. Then, after it's finished, rewrite the whole thing. Rinse, repeat. Polish, edit, then do it again.

The pesky thing about writing is that you actually have to *do* it. If only my novel would write itself! Wishful thinking.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks for this!
Vibrant-Impulse Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Awesome! Well written, and very informative
thank you :)
kingtut98 Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Nice and clear, not too long- just as things should be. :-)
EveMonsta Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Ah! Thank you! This is very useful. I think I'm going to have to take some of your tips on board. Especially the one about using active/passive voice. Thank you :D
wynnesome Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Professional Photographer
These are great pieces of advice for anyone trying hard to improve their work. I think equivalent processes could be listed for any art form. Almost makes me want to write up a set for photographers now, something I actually might consider for a future article!
IceNova Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Student Digital Artist
This is awesome. this is mad help toward my original story! thanks!
Tempestazure Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
This is the best advice I have had for quite some time. Thank you, I was beginning to get a little worried because I had put everything I had wrote in for a critique and nothing happened with any of them. I now understand where I need improvement. :)
Otseis-Ragnarok Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
I am so very glad to see something discussing writing on here. Especially the third part, which seems to be the first hurdle for most non-serious writers to break into serious writing.
KonamiYoto Featured By Owner May 26, 2009
Very well done. Thank you for this!
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May 24, 2009


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