by Liz Curtis Higgs
Whether you’ve yet to be published or have a shelf full of novels with your name on the spine, here are four simple steps to improve your writing: read, write, listen, and refine.
Read the best books in your genre, from time-tested classics to the latest award-winners. Study the rhythm of the words, the balance between plot development and characterization, the narrative pacing, the points of view. Sol Stein said, “I have never witnessed a writer’s work succeeding notably in a field he doesn’t habitually read for pleasure.” Read what you love: your passion will show in your writing.
Read outside your genre too–fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s literature. Read books about the craft of writing. Above all, read Scripture.
Write every day no matter what. Agatha Christie said of her success, “I assumed the burden of the profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” It’s wise to have several works in progress, so when you lose momentum with one, you can shift to another and keep writing. Journaling may also help you discover your true voice and provide content for future projects.
When you’re ready to share your words with the world, a blog is a great way to hone your skills and build an audience. Create devotionals, articles, guest posts, short stories–whatever will keep the great wheel of words inside you turning. As William Styron said, “The writer’s duty is to keep on writing.”
Listen to your heart and seek God’s leading. It’s easy to be swayed by what the marketplace says will sell or what others think you should write. Dig down deep to find the story you alone are meant to tell. David Hare said, “The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe.” Your hero is not the only one who’s on a journey.
Write about those things that are the hardest to face. The times when you’ve been hurt, the wounds that are still healing, the questions for which you’re continuing to seek answers. God will offer words of comfort, encouragement, and direction for you as well as for your readers. Trust Him.
Anne Lamott said, “Good writing is about telling the truth.” Your truth, God’s truth, the whole truth.
Refine your efforts by learning the fine art of self-editing. My favorite Scottish poet, Robert Burns, said, “All my poetry is the effect of easy composition, but of laborious correction.” True for us all. If time allows, let your writing project get cold, leaving it untouched for several days, even weeks. When you return to it, you’ll see your work through fresh eyes and know what needs fixing.
Henry Miller offers sage advice for writers: “Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.” Working from a hard copy, cover each page with notes and ideas, then transfer the best corrections and additions to your digital draft. A week later, do it all again. Good writing is mostly about rewriting. Embrace the process. As John Updike phrased it, “Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.”
If you are willing to read, write, listen, and refine, your finished novels will shine like well-polished silver, worthy of the King’s table.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 35 books with 4.6 million copies in print, including her nonfiction bestsellers, Bad Girls of the Bible and The Women of Christmas, her award-winning children’s Parable Treasury, and her Scottish historical novel, Mine Is the Night, a New York Times bestseller. Visit liz at www.LizCurtisHiggs.com and www.MyScottishHeart.com.