View Full Version : On improving writing style

10-21-2006, 04:50 PM

I will ask that out head on : How can I improve my writing style?

One more:

Does it matter whether English is your second or first language?


10-21-2006, 05:07 PM
How to improve one's writing style depends completely on what your weaknesses are. Mine include wordiness and a sick love of adverbs. If you feel your style needs improving, step one might be to get competent, unflinching critique from people who know what they're talking about, solely to identify your weaknesses, any bad habits you have, etc.

I suppose it doesn't matter whether English is your first or tenth language, if your use of it is so natural and fluent that native English speakers can't tell. (Way to dodge a question, huh?) Petru Pompescu, who wrote the excellent anthropology-thriller Almost Adam, spent nearly twenty years in the US before he felt his English was good enough to attempt a novel.

Maryn, who sometimes sees a formality or stiffness in the writing of people whose English is a second language

10-21-2006, 09:04 PM
Hi Spider -- Not to be cynical, but I think part of writing is always working to improve your work, whether your working on spelling/grammar or content. If we wrote a perfect draft the first time out, what would the fun be in that? I think writing would get pretty boring pretty quick. :)

Having said that, have you considered joining a writing group? Maybe they have one in your area. Also, just practice, practice, practice! I'm always writing something, and just by writing, you're learning the craft and seeing what exactly you need to work on.

Good luck to you! :D

10-21-2006, 09:19 PM
You write a lot and you read a lot. Run a few million sentences through your brain and it starts to know how to make a good one.

And you have to realize that every single word matters. The first time I put my stuff up for serious critique, I was shocked that people were dinging me for my choices in tense. I literally thought, "What, I have to care about every single word?" But that's how it is.

You have to be willing to struggle with a sentence, a paragraph, a page for a long time. Write it fifty different ways to find the right one.

Having a style requires precision. It's a lot of work and it necessarily will take some time to develop.

10-21-2006, 09:29 PM
Ditto what Maryn, Freckles, and Bottomless Cup said.

The key to writing is to practice, practice, practice. Same thing for learning a language (and I actually know that from first hand experience because I'm a 2nd language speaker, too)(and I DON'T practice my 2nd language every day...thus, I'm crappy at it).

Practice as much as humanly possible and your style in both will improve and win you many, many friends. Writing groups help, too, if you find a good one.

:) Amy

10-21-2006, 09:30 PM
I've learned the most from having someone who 'knows their stuff' read and edit/critique my work - a published writer (mine is a script writer with a degree) or in a writing class (my classes with a published writer and past editor have been invaluable). I cannot stress how helpful they have been to improving my writing. I also have a writing group.

There is a plethora of great books on the subject as well.

Julie Worth
10-21-2006, 09:38 PM
Does it matter whether English is your second or first language?

If it matters, are you willing to change?

10-21-2006, 10:18 PM
<reading along>

Simon Woodhouse
10-21-2006, 10:36 PM
I've found reading books that aren't very well written has helped me. First of all they're a lesson in how not to write, and secondly they're inspirational if that can find a publisher/market then so can I.

10-22-2006, 01:26 AM
I think maybe you are talking about "voice" here when you say style.

My take on this is that it comes when you've mastered technique. My wife is my first reader and also proofs my stuff. At first she would sit there with "Strunk & White" in one hand, a red pen in the other and go to town on my mss. Now she hardly does that at all. I've learned to be a technically better writer.

Then I had to find out how to write like I write. When you sit down and read Terry Pratchett, or Stephen King, or Barbara Cartland, would you know it was them if you just picked up pages? That's the voice.

That, to my mind, can't be taught or even learned. It just comes from having written a lot of words and finding how you best tell a story. Like your ears - you grow into it.

10-22-2006, 01:49 AM
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Honestly, there is no shortcut.

10-23-2006, 12:17 AM
Thanks, everyone. It's good to know that it's pretty simple (not easy, but simple) -- read a whole lot, then write a whole lot, read a whole lot, then write a whole lot.....until one day you wake up to find you have discovered your voice!

10-23-2006, 07:57 AM
Yeah, I would definitely say a whooollle lot of reading. Especially of any writer whose style really grabs you. Try not to become fixated on only one author though, you don't want to copy, just emulate a bit. Also, honest criticism is invaluable. There are just things that you are never going to notice as the author, and you can't have people tell you its good if its not. You need other people to read it, and to tell you exactly what they think so you can learn from your mistakes.