How to Become a Better Writer

These days, I have lots of conversations with people who want to do some writing… but for some reason, they’re not.

Their reasons begin as those old chestnuts of “not having enough time,” and “not being sure what to write about” (I never get this one; how can you want to write, if you don’t also know what you want to write about?)

Deeper into the conversations, however, the real reasons start to emerge.  Those of “I’m not sure if I’m good enough,” and “I don’t know how to start.”

These reasons became my inspiration to start The Writing Gym, a private Facebook group dedicated to testing out writing ideas in a safe, friendly place.  Feedback on others’ work is encouraged, too, because reading and forming opinions about different pieces of writing inform your own, so you gradually become a better writer.

Opening my ‘gym’ also made me realise quite how big a part idea-testing and feedback have played in my own writer’s journey (yes, I used the ‘J’ word – what of it?)

Let me take you back in time…

I wanted to be a writer, ever since I finished Enid Blyton’s ‘Adventures of the Wishing Chair’ aged seven.

I’d kept myself awake on a school night just to finish that book, reading it under the covers with my little night-light.  When I woke the next morning, that entire story had felt like a wonderful dream… only there the book still was, on my bedroom floor.  I could pick it up and go back into that dream world whenever I wanted, and it felt amazing!

That was when I knew I wanted to write stories, too.  I wanted to make other people feel the way I just had. 

As I grew up, I used writing to help me not only write stories, but to navigate life.  My diary was my best friend, and I still keep one now.  To be honest, if I don’t write my feelings down, I get angry and frustrated, so I consider regular diary-keeping an act of public service.

Anyway, I wrote to publishers and newspaper editors for advice about becoming a writer – I’ve still got a scrapbook of their responses – I made a weekly magazine for my little sister, and I wrote down idea after idea for stories and articles.

But then school exams, college exams, bewildering life choices, and the need to “go and get a real job” (thanks Dad) took over.  I qualified as an HR Manager, and it wasn’t until I was 26 that I decided to re-visit my dream of becoming a writer.

(I’m 43 now.  Translation: that isn’t the end of the story, so strap yourself in for the rest.)

Carving a writer’s path (slowly)

I wanted to find out if I was any good, so I signed up for a creative writing course to teach me the basics. 

Then, I joined a website called ‘Great Writing’, on which people could share their written work in all its different forms, and get feedback from other submitters.

I posted short stories, novel chapters, and non-fiction ‘personal essays’ (these would now be called ‘blog posts’, but there was no such thing as a ‘blog’ back then. 

God, I feel old.)

As I shared my ideas, I gradually started to learn more about the kind of writing that came naturally to me… the kind that flowed effortlessly. 

Through others’ kind feedback, I discovered that non-fiction essays were my forte, because I could write a good one relatively easily.  Though my short stories were also well-received, they took more time and mental effort for me to write.

Meanwhile, through sharing my own feedback on others’ work, I honed my critical skills, and connected with several other fantastic writers... some of whom I’m still friends with today, and whose opinions I still seek out.

When blogging finally became a ‘thing’, I started one of my own.  I titled it ‘Fake Blonde Procrastinator’ and I updated it at least once a week, mostly with my rambling observations about life.  I did that for years, gaining a small but dedicated band of followers along the way.   

(My blog was later turned into a book, called ‘Procrastinations’.)

And that’s the story of how I became a better writer*.  I tested ideas, I read other people’s work, I both sought out and provided feedback, and I kept on writing.

Getting better helped enormously when I finally left HR behind for good, and started life as a freelance writer.  It helped because I already knew I could write well, and I already knew what kind of writing I could do to earn myself a living.

If you’d like to become a better writer, why not join The Writing Gym, do some reading and some feeding back, and test out a few ideas of your own?  There’ll even be an interactive Gym Class next week… legwarmers optional.

(If you’d rather have someone else do the writing while you get on with the things you do best, I can help you with that, too – just ask!)

*The picture illustrating this piece is the front cover of ‘The Anthology of Great Writing’ – a collection of “some of the best and/or most interesting writing” from the site’s first 18 months. 

They were nice enough to include a short story of mine, but when I read it back nearly 15 years later, it made me cringe!  You can’t buy this book anymore, but as proof that I really did get better with time, here’s the first page of that story.)


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