Tag Archives: improving your writing

Look Over Here, No Here: The Art of Commenting

Writing isn’t just about writing. Yes, that’s a huge component of it, but if you want to improve your writing skills, you have to do more than write. One way that helps is to comment on other peoples’ writing.

I’m not talking about simply stating whether you liked or didn’t like something. And I’m not telling you to edit someone else’s work, or try to improve their work based on what you’d do if their story were yours. Look at someone else’s work on its own merit. Work on figuring out what that one, individual story is trying to do.

The goal with commenting is to help create well-crafted stories. You want to help other writers improve their work, and in doing so, yours will improve. Be honest…not mean. If you say something that’s a great idea, but makes the writer defensive, your comments won’t be heard.

It’s always nice to say something positive about the work. It’s easy to get on a rant about what’s negative, and though you should be honest, you don’t want to throw the writer into a black hole. Think how’d you feel if someone was so brutally honest with you, you wanted to crawl under a rock and never see the light of day again….Not a great feeling.

There are different types of comments you can give to other writers. I’ve listed some of the areas below:

  • The View From Above. From an overall perspective, how did you feel about the story or the chapter you just finished reading? What aspects stayed with you? What were the best and worst parts?
  • Let’s Get Technical. How was the plot of the story? Of the chapter? Was there a flow from beginning to middle to end? How were the setting, dialogue, and voice? How about the point of view? Where there some parts of the story much slower than others? Was the writing too choppy or flowery? Did the structure of the story or chapter make sense?
  • The Individual Moments. Were there any specific points in the novel that delighted you (this could be a positive emotion, like overwhelming happiness, or a horrible one, like feeling as if you’d experienced a character’s loss first hand – both of these would be good scenarios)? Was there a section that made you doubt the validity of a character? Was there a part that left you wanting more or less?
  • Think About Those Sentences. How’s the sentence variety? How about the word choice? Are there some words that don’t make any sense or throw you out of the story? Is the voice active or passive? Wordy? Too dense? What about the use of figurative language?
  • Why Continue Reading? What makes you want to read on? Do you want to read on? If you’re looking at a chapter, do you have a sense of where the story’s going?

When commenting, it’s important to address different areas. You want to be thoughtful and thorough. Explain why you said what you said. If you only state what was good and what wasn’t, the author won’t know why something works and another thing doesn’t. The author won’t know how to go about changing sections that didn’t work. So take the time and explain your thoughts.

How do you go about commenting?

What Makes a Good Writer?

There are a lot of people who want to write, whether it’s a novel, fiction or non-fiction, poems, scripts, or short stories. But what separates a good writer from someone who wants to be a writer?

First off, being a good writer has nothing to do with writing literary fiction over genre fiction (despite what many writing programs and the academic world tend to believe). It has to do with the impact your writing has on its intended audience.

Did your writing connect with your audience? Did it engage them?

Three ways to get better at the technical side of writing:

  1. Education. Learn the principles of writing. Study proper grammar and know when it’s ok to break the rules. Educate yourself about pace, tone, theme, and structure. Accept that no matter how much you learn there’s always more to know.
  2. Practice. Write. Rewrite. Write often, every day. Some days you’ll produce crap. Other days you’ll hit a goldmine. Sometimes you’ll have to let your friends go out and have fun without so you can stay home and write (making writing a priority).
  3. Comments and Criticism. Feedback is very important. It gives you views you wouldn’t think of. Your friends, critique group, teachers, family, etc. will point out what you need to work on, which, though might temporarily hurt your self-esteem, will help you improve.

However, there are some aspects of a good writer that can’t be taught.

  1. Imagination. This allows you to create fictional but believable worlds. It allows you to see problems from different and fresh perspectives. Imagination gives you the ability to be sitting at your desk and create things that couldn’t possibly exist in the real world, but are tangible in your make-believe one.
  2. Empathy. This is a big one. The ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and going beyond that, the ability to put yourself in the mind of your characters. Without this fictional characters wouldn’t be believable.

Imagination and empathy can’t be taught, but they can be gained. By living fully in the real world, your life experiences will fuel your writing. Find things you’re passionate about. Seek out new and invigorating situations, no matter how strange or uncool they seem.

Not too long ago I was in Canada and one of the people I was with started singing and dancing in the middle of town. A few of the guys acted all embarrassed and said they’d pay her to stop, but I thought it was amazing and joined in. Did we get a lot of looks? Yes. Were people making fun of us? Some, but others told us they thoroughly enjoyed watching us have a great time.

It was silly and has become one of my favorite memories. I have a character in mind based on that experience, and I would never have visualized that character if I didn’t do something ridiculous.

So, indulge in your passions and your imagination. Feel empathy. What you experience in life will spill over into your writing. Writing isn’t all about skill. A lot of it is about emotion and creating a world people want be in. Make a world people care about.

What habits do you have that help you be a better writer?