How many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of “write for yourself?” Or maybe, “Don’t worry about what your readers like, just write what you like.” Now, I’m not going to tell you this is bad advice, in part because I’ve said it myself. But also because almost all advice contains elements of truth, depending on the point being made. But really, this isn’t great advice overall. Unless, of course, you don’t care if anyone reads your work. If that’s you, you’re special and don’t need to read any further.
If you’re still with me, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not you. Or maybe you’re not sure. So let’s keep going and see if I make my case.
Is an Audience of One Enough?
Let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you talk about your work on social media?
- Did you put your books up on Amazon?
- Do you want or ask people to post reviews?
- Do you want or ask them to share your story with others?
- Do you hope to make money as an author?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you’re not just in this for the fun of it. But hey, I’m not judging. I’m not writing for the thrill either. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s more than okay. Because at least you do not deny the truth. You’re an author, and, like me, you want an audience to enjoy all your hard work and creativity.
Now that we got that figured out, what do we do with it? Well, in short, it means you have to stop writing as if you don’t care. And you have to start taking your writing career (more?) seriously.
12 Ways to Level Up Your Writing Skills
Almost all authors I know are story-rich but cash-poor. We have more stories to tell than time on our hands. Let’s look at things we can all do to become the professional authors we want to be.
- Treat your writing time as sacred – I read a lot of people posting their daily word counts. Let me take a moment to applaud you. You can’t make money on what you don’t write. That’s step one. But what do you do if you’re in a rut and the words don’t come?
I have learned to carved out time each day specifically for my writing job. If I’m not actively working on a novel, I’m doing something else. That’s author time, and I WILL do something to fill it productively. If you don’t know what, then keep reading.
- Read a book on the craft – I always try to be reading a book on the craft of writing. Some are better than others, and many say the same things, but it never hurts to hear good advice over and over. But what helps me the most is the examples of what good writing looks like. That’s pure gold, and every book on writing will have different examples. The more of those I read, the more applicable any writing rule becomes.
- Read a writer’s magazine – Magazine subscriptions aren’t free, but they are cheap—less than a subscription to Netflix. If money is tight, you may even find issues of one or more writing magazines at your local library.
- Read blog posts that inspire you – Oh, look, you are! Hopefully, this post will inspire you in one way or another. (If it does, subscribe because there’s more where this came from.) But there are many other blogs out there that will be just as or more helpful to you. Seek them out, subscribe to them too, and consume them as much as possible.
- Join a writing group – One of the best things I did was join a writing group with some fellow writers I met on Twitter. We help each other, challenge each other,
make fun of each other,and support each other. We even wrote a collection of short stories together. Find a group that challenges you to be a better writer.
- Get a writing mentor – This is a hard one but worth its weight in gold. Find someone you know who is a great writer and willing to read your work and provide feedback. Get them to go deep; Not just tell you what needs to be fixed but teach you to see your weaknesses yourself so you can fix them as you write or edit.
- Enter a contest – Many writing magazines have story contests. Enter them. And then be sure to read the winning entries and see if you can figure out why they won. What can you learn from that?
- Be someone’s beta reader – Why give away your time and expertise for free? Because you can use it as a learning experience. I find that I can see other people’s flaws much better than my own, but by doing so, I learn how to see my own as well. Help yourself by helping a friend.
- Take notes while watching a movie – For me, movies are a great way to study story development. I see great storytelling so much more in movies than I do in books. But this is especially true with movies I’ve seen before. I no longer need to watch to enjoy, but I can watch to learn. Make notes of what the writers did to make their stories compelling and what you can apply to your own work.
- Write a short story or flash fiction – Writing short stories instead of a full-length novel is like a 100-meter dash versus a full marathon. The short stories help you train for the novel. Plus, they are hard. That’s a great recipe for improving your writing sill. Just be sure to edit the heck out of it like you would a novel. Perfect it, and soak up every bit of the experience you can then apply to your longer works.
- Edit your novel – if you’re still not sure your writing is reader-worthy, then keep editing. Don’t be in a hurry to publish what isn’t perfect. But also, don’t let perfection stop you. Get it the best you know you possibly can, sit on it a month, and then see if you can improve it some more. Don’t put out a book that won’t captivate your readers. And be honest with yourself about that.
- Get beta reader feedback – I submitted my novel to beta readers at least three different times. Each round had 5-10 beta readers, and I got tons of great feedback that ultimately helped me fix many issues and errors. There are always people willing to read a free book in exchange for some honest answers. Find them and value them.
Many struggling authors seem to be stuck writing only for themselves. That may work for them, but the truth is, buying your own books doesn’t pay the bills. It’s time to get out of the “this is for me” mindset and get into the mindset of what your readers want. And that comes down to two things: a good story and good writing.
It’s time to stop writing for an audience of one and write for an audience of won.