What it takes to be a better writer.

So, first, I’m just going to go there.

You have to ACTUALLY read a lot and write a lot to become a better writer. I have some ideas for you in addition, but those are your foundation, baby. There is no way around them.

And frankly, if you’re looking for a way around that foundation, what exactly are you trying to do here?

I run a little program called The 1000 Day MFA (which is basically a self-taught MFA that doesn’t cost $40,000.) We use Ray Bradbury’s advice to writers: read a poem, an essay, and a short story every single day for 1000 days. Write a short story every week. Watch a lot of movies.

So, let’s start with writing a short story every week.

I know that I said ‘besides writing,’ but just stay with me here.

I don’t know if you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. If it’s fiction, I can’t recommend this part of Bradbury’s advice highly enough. There’s magic in completing something that often. (If you’ve been trying to write a novel or a book, then you know how hard it can be to wait months or even years to get to the end.)

So, write a short story every week. If you’re a non-fiction writer, write an essay. A blog post. Put it up on Medium. Just see what happens (that’s Bradbury’s advice, too.) Or write a short story every week. You might like it. It’ll definitely stretch your creativity muscles.

Watch movies and television.

I know, I know. The conventional advice is to the turn off the boob tube and use that time to write. But here’s the thing: there’s a lot of amazing writing and storytelling happening on television.

Movies maybe are lacking in imagination right now. (I still go to the them. At least one a week. Last week, every single preview was for a sequel. It was almost funny.) But, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Watch the oldies. The movies that have stood the test of time and still feel fresh today.

Watch like a writer. Ask yourself WHY this movie or that TV series is working for you. Or why you gave up on it halfway through. What was the stumbling block? Which characters call you back over and over? Why? You get the idea.

For what it’s worth, I think this works as well for fiction and non-fiction writers. We’re all storytellers.

Meet other writers.

You live in the digital age. And if you’re reading this, you have access to the Internet.

That means that even if you’re an introverted cat person who would rather die than go into a coffee shop to face writers you’ve never heard of for a face-to-face writer’s group meeting — you can find your people.

You can start with Ninja Writers, if you want to. We’re a seriously awesome group. (I’m not even going to pretend humbleness here. We really are fantastic. You’ll have to come over to see.)

Look up organizations in your genre. Join up.

Go to a conference. (You’ll have to leave the cats at home — but I swear, it’s worth it.)

Take a non-credit class at your community college.

Do what it takes to start making connection with other writers. And then start sharing your work with them. Swap critiques. Beta read. Get a beta reader.

Put yourself and your work out there.

Have experiences and pay attention.

Even if you’re an introverted cat person.

Volunteer somewhere.

Travel somewhere.

Talk to strangers.

Have adventures.

Be a story sponge.

This goes for fiction and non-fiction writers, by the way.

Make a teeny, tiny goal and stick to it.

My advice is to start with ten minutes a day. Make a commitment to yourself to sit your butt down and pick up a pen (or open your lap top) and put words down for ten minutes.

That’s it.

You can quit mid-word when the timer goes off, if you want to. Or you can keep going. I bet that you’ll keep going. I do, about 90 percent of the time.

I created this little analog tool to help you with this one, if you want it.

So: basically, take in stories in as many ways as possible and pay attention to them. And write everyday. (And, please, make sure you’re reading. Widely. Lushly. With gusto.)

You’ve got this.

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love it if you’d recommend it with a little green heart. ❤

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and the original Ninja Writer.




Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

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Shaunta Grimes

Shaunta Grimes

Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

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