How to be a better writer (for beginners)

Just about every day on /r/writing on reddit, someone posts a question about how to be a better writer. It's mainly beginners seeking to unravel the magic of writing. How to excel in it, how to make their words echo through people's minds, and how to make characters that readers fall in love with.

Yet, those posts get attacked almost immediately, or downvoted, or just marked "stupid". And for a good reason. They happen every day, and the most useful advice is the one that no new writer wants to hear: "write!"

I decided to comb through the posts, sprinkle a little bit of what I personally know, ask the audience what questions they hate to hear and give it to you in a plain format.

Read, write, edit, repeat (the most important and singularly defining advice)

Easy enough to start with, but it is actually the most crucial step. By reading other authors, then writing, and finally editing your writing, you will learn how to master this art. It's a pretty easy concept, a rehash of "observe, do, fix/learn".

Let's say you want to write a book. A fantasy book. The best thing you can do to learn how to write a good one is:

  1. read many fantasy books and figure out what makes each one unique. What is the twist of each one? How do they differentiate?
  2. write a fantasy book. Let's say, during NaNoWriMo so that you have plenty of community support.
  3. edit your book. This way, you will see the mistakes you've made and learn about yourself as well as your writing.

Reading over your own material is crucial because often times, you will think a hundred thoughts but write down only one, without realizing that the specific one thought required twenty others to make sense.

Anyways, this is the best you can do, so keep at it!

Push through the "crap"

The first stuff that you will start with will definitely be crap but that's fine. No one expects a masterpiece. The task of becoming a "Master Writer" may seem daunting after you edit your work, and realize that you don't like it. Or that it's shit. Howevever, the first step to improving this shit is recognizing for what it is.

Congratulations. Becoming a better writer is about recognizing your mistakes, and pushing through it. Every iteration, every work you do should build on your past experiences and past attempts.

If you find yourself frustrated by your work "not being good enough", chill out for a second and recognize how far you've come and that you can take another huge leap past this "level of crap" you're currently producing.

Take one second, right now, and realize that all authors go through this. Every single one. It's kind of the point of the Creative Writing major in College. You face other future writers, and their critique.

All of this makes you better.

Learn, learn, and write

If you're writing non-fiction, it won't come as a surprise that you should be writing about what you already know, or at least about something that interests you that you can learn about.

However, what do you do when you're writing fiction?

Same deal. You learn, and you write what you know. I'd say that half of writing is actually experiencing and learning rather than spending time above a piece of paper with a pen (or on your laptop and a blank Word doc).

For some, this involves research into world building and experiencing the world itself. Learning more about the world at large helps them write better. If you're writing fantasy, you should know what it's like to take a walk through the forest. If you're writing about science fiction, you should learn how to appreciate the impact of technology on you. If you're writing a detective story, learn about how detectives work. If it's set in the past, learn about that part of history.

First of all, there's nothing worse than an author that writes about something they don't understand and know nothing about. Second, it'll make it easier for you to write as well.

There is no single "writing" technique.

I've written about this before but just keep it in mind that there is no single method of writing. You'll see all kinds of tips, including these, that will tell you how to do things. But, there's no "magic bullet" so to speak. No shortcut, no special process that makes writing a simple art. At least, not one that works for everyone.

However, that said, there are some techniques that work really well and have made their ways across the internet, including:

  • The Snowflake Method
  • Plotting - just plot out your story and then write it
  • Bootstrapping (my own naming convention) - just write with a simple idea, and let that idea guide your writing. No pre-planning
  • Acts Structure

No, there isn't a text editor that will make you better

Despite popular belief that lends people to believe that equipment will ALWAYS make you better, it's not necessarily true. Your Moleskine notebook won't make your notes more coherent, your brand new Scrivener license won't make your writing stellar either, nor will that app you just subscribed to and gave permissions to for your facebook information.

Honestly, using tools is about comfort but nothing more beyond that. I personally use Scrivener to keep documents organized. But I used to use Word, and it was just as good. I don't like minimalist editors but a lot of people do.

So, to keep you from asking everyone yet again, here's a brief list of different editors you can use:

For writing

For notetaking

Got it? Cool. Now stop procrastinating!

Write with others, get critique, and give it too.

When I did NaNoWriMo for the past three years, it helped me with connecting to other writers and shedding tears over difficulties together. Do the same thing. Connect with other writers, see what they're doing, what they're saying.

Getting critique from these writers will help your own writing. It's basically like someone underlining parts of your work that you need to edit. It helps to get someone else's perspective, especially a writer's because a fellow writer will be better at explaining what's wrong.

Ever run into the issue where you know something's wrong but can't quite put your finger on it? Maybe someone else has when they read your work. Another writer will be able to help you out by verbalizing that "thing" better.

Give critique too. This reverse process lets you identify why a piece of work is good or why it's bad. Or what's wrong with it and how to fix it. And since you're not operating on your own work, you don't have the million thoughts of backstories, explanations, and understanding but rather, you come to the scene as a clueless person, reading another work, understanding it as a regular reader.

There are tons of places to practice like /r/writingprompts, /r/keepwriting, and /r/poetry.

Outside resources

I'm sure you're already thinking, "Man, is there, like, uhhh, course for this, maybe?"

Sure, there are some classes and books that you use:

Also, google is your best friend (or Bing).

For all the MISC questions

I kindly asked on a reddit forum for all the "stupid" questions people ask to get an idea of what basic tools I could provide you with in order to minimize confusion.


Fun fun stuff. Naming is pretty easy. Unless your story depends on the name (most of the time, it doesn't), you just need a phone book. If that's not inspiring, here are some options:

There's even a pet name generator! :) Good luck!

In all seriousness, pick a name based on the character. Is your character a "regular Joe" that finds adventure? Name him "Joe". Is it a regular lady? Name her "Jane"!

If you want to stick with a certain time period, look at the top 1000 names for the year.

Are all ideas taken?

YES. All ideas are taken. Every idea has been done or at least thought of. Guess what? It's fine. Most of the time what REALLY matters is: execution. Keep that in mind.

You know this really good book series...err..what was it...oh yeah, Harry Potter? What about Harry Potter? Checkout the Harry Potter influences and analogues on wikipedia. Even better, read the comparison of The Worst Witch vs Harry Potter and you'll really grasp the idea of what I'm talking about.


  • don't fear that someone will steal your idea. It's unlikely.
  • don't fear to share your idea. Sharing your idea will help you develop it better

How can I keep motivated?

Another frequent question. And there's no ONE answer. It's all about YOU. Look up how to keep motivated in general. Try HabitRPG or similar sites to keep yourself in check (BUT DON'T SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON IT!). You can (shameless plug) checkout my own productivity blog for various techniques.

But no one other writer will have the EXACT answer for you.

Also, give /r/getmotivated a shot, you might find useful motivating quotes and advice there!

I have an awesome idea but I can't write!

Well, that's kind of the point of the article. Start writing! Even if it's crappy! Or at least take notes and learn how to write (by writing!), come back to the idea and finish writing it!

How do I write XXX?

How do I write horror? How do I write XX character?

Read my tips above. RESEARCH! If you're trying to write about a homophobic vampire, read about powerful homophobic individuals. Read about their reasoning. There are plenty of memoirs written about people who feel this way. Then read about vampires. Start world building, figure out what makes your vampires unique, and finally, merge the two together (homophobia, and your version of a vampire).

If you want to know how to write horror, then please, read horror! Take notes, what scared you? What surprised you? How did the author achieve it? What about movies?

I have writer's block!

Someone smart has said this (and I can't remember who): "Writer's block is an illusion". And it is true.

Writer's block is a mythological state of mind where one has no idea what to write or just "can't" write. The solution to this is to switch topics and just write. Doesn't matter what. That's the beauty of it.

Have you cornered yourself in your writing? Skip over the "blockage" and start writing the next scene. Feel like you can't come up with any ideas? Then don't, just keep writing. Do some writing exercises or writing prompts. It'll come to you.

But remember that nothing is stopping you from writing (unless it's physical).

What authors should I read for my specific genre?

So whom should you read? Everyone suggests classics but classics don't breed today's literature. The best answer to this question is to get a Goodreads account, and use their search tools. For instance, if you're looking to read poetry that doesn't date back several centuries, you might want to checkout their Poetry genre page which also has some neat book lists such as Best collection of poetry by living authors.

Will music make me write better?

Yes and No. This is all up to you to experiment. Everyone listens to something different. Best thing you can do is put pandora on, create several stations across genres. And listen.

I, for one, enjoy listening to Enya, Mike Oldfield, and trance music. Other people like metal, rock, or whatever. Does it matter what others listen to? Not really. It won't help your writing any. You're welcome to discuss music on music forums but writing forums won't help much!

For everything else

There's Google, there's Bing and there's Goodreads.