Books, writers, Writing

I is for Improving as a Writer

Authors on A-Z of Writing

Welcome to a series of blog posts titled “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing”. Authors Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Reet Singh, Ruchi Singh, Adite Banerjie, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I — will be posting on a multitude of subjects related to writing. 

Today, I will discuss how we writers improve at our craft and our business over time and experience.

My first book, What Would I Tell Her @ 13, came straight from the heart and got my 100 percent when it came to effort. Even then, it was certainly not my best work of words. Why do I say that? Well, because I think we get better with practice. My second nonfiction book was definitely a notch up from the first in terms of quality. Similarly, my second fiction book  was a step above the first one. And now, after so many short stories and books out there, I realise that we writers will never stop improving; we will just keep on getting better and better.

For starters, most writers are too excited about having their first book published to realise that it is just one tiny step in their entire publishing life. I plead guilty on that account. After the first book, I realised that my research process needed some fine tuning. I needed to save time by taking phone interviews instead of waiting and chasing busy people by e-mail.. I also needed to look at more magazines and local media instead of focusing all my attention on scholarly articles. See, that’s one lesson.

Writing process is important. I few books down, I realised that binge writing in the night wasn’t working for me. It was making me physically ill and not letting me give my best at an hour when I am usually exhausted. So I started writing in the afternoons between freelance jobs and chores. The pages produced in those sessions required less editing time because I was alert and energetic. The word count came faster too. One thousand words came at half the time thanks to the time of day. My night owl days ended soon after I turned 30 and it took about five books to admit that to myself.

As an indie author, I look at improvement in all areas of my writing career — that includes book marketing. You see, when I was a traditionally published writer, I was stupid enough to think people would do all my marketing for me. Then I grew up a little by the time I published my first ebook, and learned the benefits of having a blog tour. So some improvement there. But I was still not doing my part and that was keeping my sales super low. So I read whatever I could get my hands on and understood how vital marketing was to my writing career. So, in the first year of self publishing, I got better because I wanted to know so badly, “What am I doing wrong?”

Fast forward to 2018, I did a Google certification course in online marketing, read A LOT of book marketing material, studied the older, more established authors, and BOOM!, my book sales got better. With every new book, my sales are getting better and more importantly, my author brand seems to be reaching a bigger audience. Improvement in the form of more engagement with my readers and prospective readers on social media. Improvement in the form of a growing number of readers who want to read ALL of my books as soon as they come out.

Writing quality is obviously super important but did you know that sometimes we never realise how much our writing has improved over time? Those who play a sport or a musical instrument practice daily and see progress. Some of us writers cannot or do not practice daily but every finished product – our books – is evidence of our improvement. For instance, in one of my books from 2017, I noticed too many occurrences of the word ‘very’. That is a filler word that really doesn’t need to be all over your manuscript. Then I noticed that my endings were too abrupt. That required some serious changes to my writing process as I decided to dedicate more time and word count to every ending from then on. Reader feedback told me that I did a good thing.

Another author friend learned after three books that his stories didn’t have enough dialogue. Description is cool, but no dialogue for pages and pages can really bore the reader. You knew what his characters looked like and how beautiful their house was from the inside and outside BUT could they really be in silence for six pages? And wouldn’t the reader like the story to move forward with some interesting conversation?

You see, habits aren’t easy to break and we writers improve as we break such ‘bad’ habits. The writer’s life is a learning process and we can get better as long as we welcome that.

9 thoughts on “I is for Improving as a Writer”

  1. My writing life is terrible these days; it’s been a long time, in fact. Late night schedule works best for me because at that time there’s no interruption. Or when the kid is at school.

    And, yes I don’t like books with minimal dialogues, however the dialogues have to be meaningful and should take the story forward. I have read some books where the author has used too many dialogues —frivolous dialogues. Both dialogues and narration/description are important, and as a writer, we need to use them smartly.

    Very insightful post, Sue. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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